Police: Between the Terrorist and the Terrorized

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If we judge by the result, the terrorist strike in Patna failed to achieve its objective. The terrorists seek to disrupt normal life by injecting a deep sense of insecurity and fear, to break the even tenor of life, to disrupt the routine. It kills five and terrorizes a city of five million.

But in Patna the other day, the eight blasts seemed like so many celebratory crackers being burst in a cricket match which was going our way. The people listened to the speaker and left the venue safe, unharmed and unprovoked.

Yesterday was also their day of glory when the humble, much reviled Bihari made a historic contribution to the cause of communal harmony by defeating the designs of the terrorist, treating it as one more criminal incident.

From what has appeared in the media there is no doubt that a lot more needed to be done by the Bihar police but I shall not pile more dirt on my beleaguered former colleagues in the moment of their shame. As it is, the whole world is doing it. But it is as good an occasion as any to reiterate that police in general has – never was - been a professional outfit exclusively geared to its avowed ends of protecting the people.

To mould the police after its own image through extensive systems of formal and informal controls is a typically politico-bureaucratic industry and the political orientation of police leadership often blinds them to the obvious requirements of professionalism. The detractors are already explaining the half hearted approach of the police in the light of the known antagonism and hostility between the two chief ministers.

When professional response has to be factored with political costs the policeman falls between two stools as it happened on the day the funeral precisionists went on rampage in Patna.

It has been evident for quite long that police in Bihar is in the need for radical reforms as well as a massive up gradation of its skills, logistics, and other wherewithal. The government, however, seems to have become a dupe to its own assiduous propaganda about the enhanced capability of its police and the state of law and order, which was being cited as an example for the rest of nation to follow.

A salutary dose of healthy criticism has for so long been missing from its diet that the administration shows the characteristic sloth and lethargy of a diabetic. Having said that, can even the most organized and professional police force prevent a terrorist attack in a society like ours? No matter how pervasive the surveillance, no matter how ruthless the frisking someone, somewhere is going to get past the safety net. Because now the enemy is within; dispersed within the body politic, looking like just you and me, sharing the same neighborhood. Only his mind is controlled by hostile elements sitting across the border. How do you know what is brewing in his mind? What dire motivation impels a man to weaponize himself? To become a human bomb ready for targeted delivery!

So guns and surveillance are alright but should not we be thinking of striking at the root of the trouble - the deeply alienating nature of our politics? Could we not desist from a politics which goes in a state of overdrive to inflame passion, polarize sentiments, put the communities at the throat of each other, stoke suspicion of one caste against the other and is ever willing make a burnt offering of human lives in their hundreds at the altar of electoral prospects? Could the political parties come to some sort of an agreement to cool down the temperature which is already past safety levels?

The battle against terrorism is as much a battle for the control of minds of men as anything else and we seem to be losing it. In fact, in view of the fact that the estranged bedfellows - the JD-U and the BJP – are likely to make more and more dangerous politics in the days to come; the writing on the wall is clear for us. There are no indications of politics ceding control of police and the change of its heart seems nowhere on the horizon.

So till then we must take a lesson from this tragedy. Stoic calm in face of a misfortune which affects both the communities in various ways! We are a state of 100 million people; they certainly could not kill that many!


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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