Find common ground for police reforms
In short circuiting due process and deliberate justice-dispensing mechanisms, the police forces acted as mere proxies of their political masters
For the second time in two months, the police forces of two states clashed on Tuesday over the arrest of a person in a high-profile case. In the first case in May, Punjab Police sought to arrest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga for alleged threats issued to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, but was thwarted by its counterparts from Haryana and Delhi. In the second case, Chhattisgarh Police travelled to Noida to arrest Hindi television journalist Rohit Ranjan. Mr Ranjan immediately tweeted to Uttar Pradesh Police, which arrested the anchor and thereby blocked the efforts of Chhattisgarh Police to take the journalist into custody for misattributing a statement by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
It is worth noting that the forces of the five states – Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh – involved in the two incidents appeared to act at the behest of the political parties that controlled the administration of these provinces. It is also worth noting that despite India’s unfortunate history of politicisation of the police, unseemly scenes of the forces clashing physically with each other, or intercepting another force’s convoy on the highway marked a new low.
The two incidents offered a sobering view of the state of police reforms in India, 16 years after the Supreme Court issued a landmark set of directions to divorce law enforcement from political considerations. In short circuiting due process and deliberate justice-dispensing mechanisms, the police forces acted as mere proxies of their political masters, and cemented the disturbing trend of the state using the powers of arrest as an intimidation tactic on people. Without getting into the merits of the cases against Mr Bagga and Mr Ranjan – the charges are serious, merit considered investigation and raise deeper questions about the state of the media and polity today – it is clear that administrations don’t hesitate to use the police forces under their control to settle political scores and bring the overwhelming powers of the State to stymie the individual. It also underlines the urgent need for political parties and governments to find common ground for police reforms, and for the civil society and public to put pressure on elected representatives to form clear guidelines for inter-state police action and end the cycle of one-upmanship.