Event ReportsPublished on Jan 19, 2008
Dr K S Subramanian, IPS (retd), a former DGP-level official in Tripura, spoke on the topic, "Political violence and policing in India", at the ORF Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, on 19 January 2008.
Overhaul the policing system to curb political violence

Dr K S Subramanian, IPS (retd), a former DGP-level official in Tripura, spoke on the topic, “Political violence and policing in India”, at the ORF Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, on 19 January 2008. Late last year, the Vice-President, Dr Hamid Ansari, released a book on the same title by Dr Subramanian, who in his speech drew extensively from his field-experience and also exposure to policy-planning in the Union Home Ministry.

Not just the politician, but everyone else forming a part of the system, namely, the State, the Government and the society at large, contributes to political violence, and lack or absence of policing in this regard. Dr Subramanian pointed out that policing in India continues to remain in the colonial era, when it was considered only as a security agency, and not as a service agency. It was just ‘Indian Police’ under the British raj, and it became ‘Indian Police Service’, IPS, only in the post-Independence era. The first 299 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), passed in 1861, for instance, relates to the maintenance of law and order. This reflected a mindset, which is ‘anti-people’, both in form and content. There is thus an urgent need for an overhauling of laws such as IPC, CrPC and the Evidence Act. Selective improvements to the Police Act being attempted would not suffice. But even in such cases, the progress has been tardy, Dr Subramanian said.

Apart from the structural constraints that the Indian police faced, they also have to handle individual politicians in power. The decision of the Government of India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to have Jammu and Kashmir leader, Sheikh Abdullah, repeatedly taken into preventive detention without any formal case against him, that sowed the early seeds of political violence in the years after Independence. Similar acts of State intervention on the directions of individual leaders in power had contributed to increasing the instances of political violence all across the country.           

At the apex-level of officialdom, the Home Ministry too has committed blunders in matters of internal security. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is dominated by the IPS, is the main source of information for the Home Ministry. The State Governments concerned also provide inputs to the Home Ministry, and these are based, again on inputs from the police at different levels. Often times, this arrangement has led to a situation in which the findings of all three agencies, namely, the State Government, the IB and the Home Ministry, remain more or less the same.

The Home Ministry also lacks institutionalised analytical capabilities to arrive at independent conclusions. This is also a time-consuming process. However, under the existing scheme of civilian administration the Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) got to report to the Prime Minister at a short-notice, almost on a daily basis. The argument that the Prime Minister, as the final arbiter of the decision-making process at the political-level, had full freedom to refer back the DIB inputs/reports back to the Home Ministry or other agencies of the Government did not hold water. Apart from the excessive demands on the Prime Minister’s time, which would make post-facto analysis difficult and meaningless, the existing scheme also ends up in important decisions being taken on the basis of raw data, and primary analyses.

From his experience in studying situations of communal violence, Dr Subramanian said that they are often organised, and executed by anti-social elements. In such cases, even when the police have advance information, they take their administrative cue from their political masters. In this context, he cited the ‘Delhi riots’ of 1984 and the post-Godhra ‘Gujarat riots’. He said that in both cases, there were clear indications that the police looked the other way, either to please the political masters, or had read their instructions to imply as much. In States like Assam and the rest of the North-East, there have been many instances in which the security forces, including the Central para-military forces, have been charged with large-scale human rights violations.

The speaker went on to say that the there is a question-mark with regard to the role that the paramilitary forces play. They are under the control of the Union Government, and assist the State Government in the maintenance of law and order. This very situation is incongruous and inconsistent with the Indian constitutional scheme. As Dr Subramanian pointed out, Law and Order being a ‘State’ subject under the Constitution, the existence of para-military forces for the maintenance of Law and Order is untenable, to begin with. In this context, he said that for improving the field-level efficiency of policing and to ensure that it is close to the people, the police force should be made to report to the local panchayats and district panchayats, instead of the current system under which it reports to the State Government, at a plane far removed from the people. 

Points made during the discussion:

  • Bad governance, rather than external threats is the main source of security concern in present-day India. The absence of adequate representation for the people, and their concern, has often been the source of such problems.

  • The mindset of the police officials is tuned to the maintenance of the status quo, and not at either improving the situation or ameliorating the grievances of the affected sections.  The preference for status quo has also denied all initiatives for change and reforms.

  • The term ‘anti-national’, for instance, remains undefined, and this has led to anomalies at the enforcement level of the laws.

  • Field-level officers of the IB and other Central agencies often get their information and inputs from their counterparts in the respective State intelligence services. Hence, there is always a possibility of the same figures reaching the final decision-maker through independent sources, and for him to construe it as accurate. The fact also remains that a posting to the intelligence service in the States is often considered as a ‘punishment posting’. With the result, either bad apple, or disgruntled elements find their way into the set-up. This affects the overall aspects of policing, particularly in the handling of emerging situations, based on advance inputs from the field.

  • The police is doing a very difficult job, and it is easy to comment upon them by hindsight.

  • The police force in most States is highly politicised, and this situation needs to be remedied.

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