Friday, October 9, 2009

Police and Politics

Dear Friends ,

The article below is related to police administration. One of the major issues police facing today is political interference in their day to day administration. And this article is in favour of releasing the police from the clutches of politicians. It supports 'operational autonomy' to police. I have highlighted the important points in this article which can be part of your notes for police administration.


(The article is from 'Frontline' author RK Raghavan)

Police & politics

UNION Home Minister P. Chidambaram brings a whiff of fresh air to the tradition-bound Home Ministry. He said something recently that a run-of-the-mill Home Minister would not ordinarily have said. Speaking at the annual conference of the Directors-Gen eral of Police (DGPs), he bemoaned the fact that police officers in the country were being kicked around like football. Who were the culprits? He left this unsaid.

It was more than obvious that his finger of scorn pointed to the States, which controlled a bulk of the police force in the country. He could not have spoken more bluntly or used a more appropriate term. Do not ask me whether he would have said the same thing if he had been a serving or a past Chief Minister of a State. That is beside the point. What is relevant here is that a man who heads the all-powerful Home Ministry is so forthright, unmindful of giving the impression that he is helpless in the face of a fast deteriorating situation.

Remember, on paper, it is the Home Ministry, which is the cadre authority of the exalted Indian Police Service (IPS). (A “cadre authority” is the Ministry that lays down rules and regulations regarding the career management of an officer and ensures that these are adhered to strictly by both the Centre and the State governments where a majority of personnel of the All India Services, namely, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the IPS and the Indian Forest Service (IFS) operate. The Department of Personnel looks after the IAS, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests controls the IFS). This is the tragedy of the Indian scene. An IPS officer is recruited by the Union government, while the arbiter of destinies of such an officer is the State government.

This is a funny arrangement that nobody outside the country will ever comprehend. If the system has not broken down completely, it is due to the wisdom and maturity of some Home Ministers and a few Chief Ministers. A certain measure of stability seen in the system can also be attributed to the generally high calibre of a large number of IPS officers, some of whom have been commendably resolute and stayed on in the service, undeterred by the grave provocation, sometimes from a few petty and vindictive elements in the ruling class. Their dedication to the public cause is praiseworthy.

The original sin for all this is, however, that of the Founding Fathers, who decided – obviously for assuring States that they were not the minions of the Centre – that “Police” should be under the State List in the Constitution of India. I predict that this arrangement will remain so forever. Politicians in many States get such a hypnotic kick (no pun intended) out of making life difficult and unstable for the DGP and his senior officers that they will hardly agree to the subject of “Police” being shifted even to the Concurrent List, what to speak of the Union List. This strange “fondness” for the police cuts across party lines and the gender divide as well.

I think Chidambaram chose the wrong audience to speak on the subject of police autonomy. He should, in fact, have appealed to the good senses of Chief Ministers and told them that their choice of a DGP and other senior officers such as the Commissioner of Police and the Inspector-General of Police (Intelligence) should be done objectively and solely on professional grounds. Caste and regional considerations or the pliability of an officer should not hold sway as they do now, often, if not all the time.

Also, Chief Ministers should be made to understand that an honest officer, who may quote the rules and be argumentative, is preferable to a “Yes man”, who offers no counsel but who stands out only for his servility and pliability, two seductive qualities that could lead a Chief Minister into difficulties in a real crisis. (A PTI report also speaks of a Home Ministry communication to the States urging more authority to DGPs in matters of internal administration. It would be interesting to speculate on States’ responses. My bet is that if and when States act, it will at best be a cosmetic exercise to appease Chidambaram, something that will not really enhance the DGP’s autonomy in operational matters.)

The politician’s proclivity to lord over the police is not just an Indian ailment. It is seen to varying degrees in many other countries as well. The only difference is that, in India, the disease takes a virulent form, with political interference extending at times to downright illegal directions to the police to change the course and outcome of a sensitive criminal investigation to suit the needs of a ruling party.

In a few advanced nations, political interference takes a subtler form. For instance, the London Metropolitan Police has lately been under some stress from a Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson, who is a maverick. He took over from Ken Livingstone, a Labour Mayor, last year. Since then, there have been distressing signs of an undercurrent of tension between the Mayor and the Police Commissioner.

First, the previous Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, a Labour appointee, was shown the door before the end of his tenure, although, strictly speaking, it is the Home Secretary who appoints the Met Commissioner on the recommendation of the Police Authority (chaired by the Mayor of London) for the Met, a representative body of politicians, civil service and the citizenry, something akin to the State Security Commission recommended by the National Police Commission way back in the late 1970s. Once Boris Johnson made it clear, even in his early days in office, that Sir Ian Blair did not enjoy his (Johnson’s) confidence, the Commissioner had no option but to bow out of office, despite the fact that he could have stayed on with the support of the Home Secretary.

Not that Blair was faultless. He got involved in several controversies during his tenure, including the defence of his officers in 2005 when they shot and killed an innocent Brazilian worker at the Stockwell tube station when they were looking for a terrorist suspect. It was a case of mistaken identity. The manner in which Blair was eased out was, however, in poor taste and smacked of political vindictiveness. It was a frontal assault on the independence of Scotland Yard (the Met’s hallowed other name) about which we had been repeatedly told in our younger years.

More recently, an undiplomatic, if not a tendentious, statement by one of Mayor Johnson’s deputies generated a new controversy. It all started with the Deputy Mayor in charge of policing, Kit Malthouse, claiming in a statement to the Guardian that he and Mayor Johnson had their “hands on the tiller” of Scotland Yard, suggesting that they had seized operational control of the Metropolitan Police. This drew a sharp reaction from the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson (who succeeded Sir Ian Blair), who promptly wrote to the newspaper a letter disabusing the public of any wrong impression that he had abdicated his responsibility. I will be doing justice to Commissioner Stephenson only if I quote him verbatim:

“I do not want anyone to be under the misapprehension that Scotland Yard or the Metropolitan Police Service is under the operational control of any political party…. [Tories claim: we have seized control of Scotland Yard, September 3.]

“While the Home Office and the police authority have a right and duty to set priorities, budget and hold us to account, I set the operational strategy and direction for the Met.... All operational decisions are taken without fear or favour for any individual, political or other interest. I can reassure you that I have no intention or expectation of this changing – now or in the future.”

The controversy has somewhat died down with respective sides showing a measure of discretion and maturity. But the point I want to make here is that the system in the United Kingdom permits a professional police officer to assert his authority in public and say that, in matters of police operation, it is he who calls the shots and not his political bosses. It will be centuries before the Indian political executive will appreciate the brilliance and the logic behind such an arrangement. Until this happens, a police chief in India will necessarily have to bend if not crawl in his daily interaction with the political executive. I am not sure when that glorious day will come when we can witness the same courage that a Metropolitan Commissioner can display in thwarting attempts to inject politics into policing.

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