I am one of the many trenchant critics of the Indian Police who are categorical that very little is right with the system. I am particularly very grudging and economical when it comes to praising the police for its good deeds. But today, I doff my hat in appreciation of what the Mumbai Police did during the past few days. First, during the critical illness of Balasaheb Thackeray and later when he passed away. Both at Matoshree, the residence of the much-admired leader, and on the arterial routes through which his cortege moved, they did a magnificent job.
According to one story, news of his death was announced much after it actually occurred in order to help the state administration plan for the event. It also said that the Sainiks, for a change, behaved themselves, and hence the police did not do anything great. This is blasphemy and it deserves to be squarely condemned. By all accounts, the police rank and file rose to the occasion and brought glory to an otherwise discredited force.
Things could have been difficult even if one small section of the huge deployment had been insensitive and indisciplined. If we do not heap praise on a police force which does well at such times, we are not only being ungrateful but are also paving the way for group discontent and demoralisation.
Only police officers who have handled huge crowds in India would be able to vouch for the fact how difficult it is to manage crowds, even when they are not violent. Many foreign scholars and police officers have told me how police forces elsewhere in the world would hardly be able to cope with the rigours of crowd control in India.
How does the performance of the Mumbai Police fit into the overall quality of policing in our metropolises? It confirms that when there is no politics involved, policemen can give their best. Also, fortunately, there were no two sides here confronting each other.
There was near unanimity that the old warrior of Maharashtra had to be given a fitting farewell. That too in an orderly manner which will not hurt the sentiment of his huge follower camp. I would like to believe that the police conduct on the occasion was not aberration or a flash in the pan. It was a spontaneous emotional response to a leader who, despite all the controversies surrounding him, had won many hearts. If the word goes round across the nation that a police force, however demoralised it is — the Mumbai Police has had many misadventures in the recent past — can still perform under stress, that success story should act as an incentive to other forces to emulate.
I believe it is the function of the Union home ministry (MHA) to act as an official channel to disseminate news of such positive happenings. The MHA should not confine itself to the mundane job of providing advice on infrastructure to states on the law and order front.
While praising the Mumbai Police, I cannot but raise a few issues with regard to police recruitment and deployment. The selection process is mired in corruption in a majority of the states. The ruling party plays havoc with the lists prepared by senior police personnel. This is with a view to infiltrating the ranks with party sympathisers. Money also plays a huge role. Both politicians and policemen are guilty of venality. If we still get reasonably good recruits it is because of the large pool of candidates who contend for the constabulary position. A lot has been done to streamline the process and make interference very difficult. Nevertheless, we hear of large scale irregularities.
Apart from this, posting of officers and men in the field is still riddled with politics and corruption. Mumbai Police is one supreme example. Julio Ribeiro has been fighting a lonely battle on this front. His open outrage over the sale of positions has not been able to bring about any great change. To make things worse, the power to transfer even Inspectors of Police has been ‘misappropriated’ by the Home department. In such a situation, how can you expect a Police Commissioner to do his best to protect the community?
The tale in other cities and states is not very different. It is the assessment of many objective observers that things will not change even marginally unless the community rises as one man to fight against politics in policing. I am afraid even the doughty Kejriwal is unequal to the challenge. This is because the role of policemen is so critical that the average politician will not permit inroads into his territory. This is the tragedy of the Indian Police.
(The writer is a former CBI director)