If you love conspiracy theories, I have one. February has been designated as ‘beat up someone for not being patriotic enough month’. Last year it was Kanhaiya Kumar, this year self-proclaimed patriots are beating up students and professors in Delhi University. Patriotic people are also threatening Gurmehar Kaur with rape and murder for basically saying there should be peace between India and Pakistan. Many people are also claiming that Gurmehar is, in fact, an agent of the ISI. The ISI has a very simple recruitment policy. All you need to do is express an opinion different from the currently popular brand of patriotism.
But worry not, because we have a proactive government in power and the matter is being dealt with at the highest level. Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home affairs, has expressed anguish. I am no longer sure what the home ministry’s job is, but Wikipedia says it is responsible for the maintenance of internal security and domestic policy and is also the cadre controlling authority for the Indian Police Service. Therefore you will be satisfied to know that the anguish Rijiju expressed was about how Gurmehar’s mind is being polluted. Priti Gandhi, a spokesperson of the BJP, tagged Gurmehar and told her that Gurmehar’s deceased father would be ashamed of her. All is well. I, however, agree with Rijiju. Anyone who wants to talk about peace and interrupt a country in the middle of an orgy of rage certainly has a polluted mind.
I am not going to launch into yet another rant about crazy ideas like freedom of expression or fascism that no sane person cares about. Instead, I have another radical idea: that the police should prevent/promptly hold accountable anyone engaged in violence regardless of the emotions in the mind of the person committing the violence. Even a motive/emotion as exalted as patriotism. To ensure that the police do this, it needs to become professional and free of political control. Politicians survive on popular opinion, if popular opinion is murderous, or if politicians provoke people to become murderous then they often direct the police to look away from people committing violence. Sometimes they also direct the police to frame people who haven’t committed any crime.
Even in matters free of political ramifications/crimes that the average Joe/Jill often becomes a victim of, the common perception is that the police are corrupt. That access to influence and/or wealth is critical to ensure that the police will treat you with respect /discharge its duty well. A friend whose car got stolen went to the police station only to be told by a head constable that he had two options: a) leave twenty-five thousand rupees in a packet, and the car would be delivered to him the next morning b) Scream and shout about this demand of bribery and get the FIR for car theft registered and wait for justice. He paid, and the car was duly delivered.
In 2006, in a PIL filed by Prakash Singh, who retired as the Director General of the BSF, the Supreme Court of India delivered a judgment directing the State and Central governments to bring about police reforms. The judgment, inter-alia, directed governments to ensure that the function of investigation is handled by a part of the police force free of all other duties (this would radically improve the quality and pace of investigation); form a police establishment board that would decide on transfers below the rank of Superintendent of Police; fix a minimum tenure for police officers etc. All this was intended to free the police force of political interference. More than ten years later no government has seriously implemented these reforms. Yesterday even the Supreme Court seemed resigned to this fate. During a hearing in the case seeking implementation of the judgment, the court observed: “Nobody listens to our orders”.
The BJP, which rode to power promising to remove all corruption, overhaul all institutions, and is being led by the greatest prime minister in the world, has also done zilch to implement these reforms. Which is understandable because the home ministry is occupied with the urgent task of identifying each and every anti- national person in India. The police can stay the way it is, patriotism will cure everything.
To be fair, Narendra Modi has done one thing: coined an acronym. In 2014, he said the police need to become S.M.A.R.T. = Strict and Sensitive, Modern and Mobile, Alert and Accountable, Reliable and Responsive, Techno-savvy and Trained.
Unless we enjoy being distracted by this frenzy of patriotism, maybe it is about time we become smart too.
This article was first published in Mumbai Mirror