Mob violence and repeated incidents of lynching in the country have created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity among law abiding people. What is at stake is not just the maintenance of public order but the very survival of a civilised society.

If lasting solutions are to be found, the following four basic questions, which have been staring India in the face, must not be ignored any further.

The foremost concern is about what we have done to the police apparatus in the country. Police is no longer looked upon by the common person as an upholder of the rule of law but has become an extended arm of exploitation by the political party in power.

The image and credibility of the police has reached its nadir. No amount of exhortation by statutory commissions and the higher judiciary has made any difference to the conduct and behaviour of police. This is largely due to the support which the police receive from the political party in power. This nexus between the politicians and the police has become the bane of the system.

This is evident from the fact that even the directions given by the Supreme Court to the state governments way back in 2006 regarding the restructuring of police departments have not been implemented by most states. Some of the directions were aimed at reducing the political interference in the functioning of the police.

The Bulandshahr tragedy brings out how important these directions would have been and why the states are resisting implementing them.

The police being under the influence of the political party in power is evident in the Bulandshahr case. It was interesting to see that the senior police officer addressing a press conference soon after the event in which a police inspector was killed, assiduously evaded answering questions about the association of persons named in the first information report with the political party in power in the state and its associate organizations.

It is shocking to see that the police investigation is concentrated on the killing of cows than on the murder of the police inspector. Efforts are also being made to divert attention from the gravity of the offence by putting forth a theory of conspiracy. As if the murder of the police officer could not have been avoided because of conspiracy!

There is reasonable scope to believe that investigation in such cases may come under political pressure.

I have been advocating for some time that in such sensitive and communally charged cases, inquisitorial system, as prevalent in several European countries, be adopted. Under this system, the courts and its adjuncts (the examining magistrate and the public prosecutor) exercise full control over the investigation and the presentation of the case at the trial. Relevant laws must be amended to permit the courts to order adoption of this system, as the state governments which are interested parties will not be inclined to permit this procedure.

This brings me to the next question of the need to separate religion from politics. The major ailments afflicting India’s body politic require that this issue is addressed urgently. But, it has been consciously neglected by all political parties, though a resolution on the subject moved by Ananthasayanam Ayyangar was passed by the interim parliament on 3 April 1948 almost unanimously, with only one member opposing it. Separating religion from politics was considered to be so basic for India’s survival that the resolution was passed even while the Constitution was being debated. Unfortunately, suitable provision was not made in the Constitution itself at the time. The then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had extended full support to the resolution.

Since then, the country has witnessed several serious catastrophes arising from the intermixing of religion and politics. Demolition of Babri Masjid by frenzied mob of lakhs of kar sevaks in December 1992, the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi, Kanpur and other places in 1984, horrendous communal riots in Godhra, Ahmedabad and Mumbai over the years, to name just a few, and the unabashed lynching by cow vigilantes in the recent years have brought home repeatedly the urgency of taking action to separate religion from politics.

To do so will, however, require a Constitution amendment which will call for a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament and its ratification by more than half of the state legislatures.

During the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the ruling Congress party had a massive majority in parliament and this would have been possible but no action was taken by them. Now it would be possible to bring this about only if all, if not the so-called secular parties, take a principled stand on the subject.

It is disappointing to see that even in the talks of building up a grand alliance, mahagathabandhan, of all secular parties, no one dares to talk about the need for a time-bound action plan for separation of religion from politics. I wonder how long India will have to wait for undertaking this basic political reform which is so crucial for the survival of secular democracy in the country.

This brings me to the next imperative of safeguarding the secularism in India. In this multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country, even at present, minorities account for 20 per cent of the total population. This percentage is expected to stabilise at about 30-35 per cent in the coming years. Can India afford to neglect or treat as second-class citizens such a large portion of its population? Should religious beliefs and practices of Hindus be inflicted on the other communities?

Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were opposed to imposing a ban on cow slaughter. As I had brought out in my book, Secularism: India At A Crossroads (2016), even V.D. Savarkar, who was a staunch proponent of Hindutva, had ridiculed the concept of protecting the cows.

As for the legal sustainability of the ban on cow slaughter, there are two strong, diametrically opposite views. Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar, former chief justice of India and former chairman of the law commission, had invited attention to the observation of the Supreme Court itself that where directive principles of state policy came in conflict with the fundamental rights, the latter must prevail over the former.

The Supreme Court has upheld the ban on cow slaughter by reversing its long held view to the contrary. This judgment ought to have been challenged by filing a review petition. But, even the UPA government did not want to be seen as opposing the ban on cow slaughter. Whatever the outward pretentions, the so-called secular parties are reluctant to come out openly against the demands of Hindus, howsoever unreasonable they may be.

But, even now it is not too late to raise the issue in the Supreme Court. After all, secularism has been declared as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and nothing can be done to undermine or dilute it. If this is to be the reality, a question needs to be raised whether ban on cow slaughter and secularism can go together. I believe that the issue needs to be reopened and placed before the supreme court once again.

Mob violence and vigilantism have taken a foothold in India after the BJP came to power at the centre and in a number of states and started aggressively asserting its Hindutva ideology. These pernicious forces can be controlled only by addressing the basic issues discussed above. Mere window dressing will be futile.

(The writer is a former home secretary and secretary, justice, Government of India.)