People Get the Police they Deserve

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After DG Vanzara’s letter claiming mere agency for himself and scores of his colleagues cooling their heels in the jails for all the gory deeds that are being attributed to the police in Gujarat comes the allegations by the police that they were forced by the UP administration to wink at communal bloodbath.

Ambitious police men often betray their calling in pursuit of the strange gods in whom they repose total faith and the gods in turn absolve them of all their sins. It is only when their gods fail that the world comes to know, through the testimony of the apostate, what it knew all along intuitively. Those who stand up are summarily dealt with and the community is in no position to throw a lifeline is equally true.

If we start retracing the history of the Independent India, sooner or later we reach the fateful conclusion that the abuse of police appears to be, in Rawlsian diction, part of an overlapping political consensus. Thus the simple personalisation misses the point. It would be a mistake to view it as a problem of police brutality; the political class that abuses police is the greater problem.

The foundational principle of the Indian police involves a punitive use of its power under the garb of rule of law, without let or reserve. By locating the source of exploitation and tyranny in the "native police”, the colonial authority sought to displace the awareness of the oppression to a third party and maintained its facade for fairness and rule of law. The Indian politics found this instrument far too valuable for their purpose to dismantle it.

Once crime is linked to the state, then it summons to the mind weightier judgment like mass murder and genocide. But even then the issues are discussed because of the criticality of the political ramifications. There is a cacophony of hypocritical and opportunistic pronouncements, over determined by immediate political gains and it is the competitive opportunism – who got away with more - is clearly evident behind the fake moral outrage.

The endless disclosures of complicity of administrations in cold blooded killings and of corruption in governments have exposed the opaque relations between power and privilege, and the hidden continuities between the legal and the illegal. But, like spectators up in a pavilion, we are watching the gladiatorial contests between mutually hostile political formations. We seem to have no stakes in the mater - only a prurient interest. Was Vanzara’s disclosure engineered by rival political factions? Are the UP officers sending out signals to their former patrons or is it a counter for blackmail?

There are no signs of a broad emancipatory movement developing to counter the abuse of police. Most of us have already accepted with diligent apathy the inability of democratic politics to produce viable solutions to social and economic problems. We seem to be now well on our way to accept the all-encompassing control of the state security apparatus over our lives.

Secularism and eradication of corruption, the two avowed goals of contemporary politics would best be served by urgent police reforms. An independent police acting independently in accordance with the dictates of the law would not have let politicians turn their constituencies into a communal cauldron nor would corruption in public life have metastasized to engulf the entire body politic.


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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