Last week, a video tape surfaced in which the Karnataka Chief Minister, HD Kumaraswamy, was seen and heard purportedly instructing a police officer to kill the assailants of murdered Janata Dal (Secular) leader, Prakash, “mercilessly in a shootout”. Kumaraswamy has since clarified it was an “emotional outburst”. It was “not my order”, he has said. It is not known if the person on the other end of the telephone call with the chief minister knew that.
What the Karnataka CM appears to be saying on video may or may not have been intended. Yet, this incident from Karnataka can be said to hold a mirror to the carelessness, and worse, with which due process is often treated by those in positions of power. The Constitution upholds the rule of law and protects the right of citizens. The criminal procedure code lists the processes and procedures to be followed in criminal investigations and the courts, over time, have further clarified them. Yet, administrations often prefer to ignore this elaborate architecture in pursuit of quick results. Policing is strenuous, exhausting work, and in the Indian context, the forces, battling systemic deficiencies including shortage of staff, funds, equipment, and training, have a difficult task on hand. The inadequacies and insufficiencies of the legal system can also accentuate the frustration. Instead of pressing for systemic reforms, however, as directed by the Supreme Court, the establishment has sought to brazen it out with short-cuts like “encounter killings”. Courts have outlined processes to ensure that “encounter” deaths are investigated, but rarely are the perpetrators brought to book. The Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case is an example of the farcical turn investigations into police encounters can take. Recently, the court cleared all the accused, among them senior police officials, of the charges against them in the case.
Kumaraswamy is a key figure in the national rainbow coalition in-the-making of Opposition parties that frequently upbraids BJP governments for allowing extra-judicial methods against suspected offenders, be it in UP or Gujarat. The Kumaraswamy tape raises serious questions about his own style of functioning and points to a systemic malaise — while also threatening to blunt the edge of the Opposition’s criticism of the BJP government for showing disrespect to lawful processes and institutions.