SEEMA MUSTAFA | 3 JULY, 2019
‘Police is More Involved in Pleasing Political Masters Than Enforcing the Rule of Law’
'There is a real threat of police acting at the behest of politicians, many of whom may be criminals'
Prakash Singh, retired from the Indian Police Service, is recognised as a key architect of police reforms in India. He was the Director General of Police, an officer recognised for his integrity. He also served as Chief of the Border Security Force and is from the Uttar Pradesh cadre. He speaks his mind on the current status of the police force in an interview to Seema Mustafa. Excerpts:
Videos in circulation on the social media – the authenticated ones of course – do not reflect the police in a good light. There is an increasing number of images of the police standing by while mobs attack and assault innocent citizens? Is this a direct consequence of increasing politicisation of the police force?
Yes, it is true that there have been incidents where people are taking the law into their own hands and police are mute spectators to the event. This is generally happening in cases where the goons have political support or patronage. Police is more concerned about not antagonising the political masters, if not pleasing them, rather than enforcing the rule of law. We have been campaigning to insulate police from extraneous influences, but the political masters in the states are just not willing to lose their dominant control over the police.
So much so that there are reports now of policemen doing their job being attacked and beaten by mobs. Like the cop who went to the spot answering a power theft complaint and was set upon? Is this because of low respect for the police, respect that has diminished over the years instead of going up?
It is disturbing that there are a number of incidents where policemen are being beaten up. There are two aspects to it. Firstly, it is possible that people are now losing their patience with the inefficiency, incompetence and corruption of the police. When they find that the police will not arrest the culprits for whatever reason, they vent their frustration by attacking the police.
Secondly, it is also a fact that the criminals are getting more emboldened now. This is a direct consequence of increasing criminalisation of politics. Association for Democratic Reforms statistics clearly bring it out, that the percentage of Members of Parliament with a criminal background has been steadily going up with every parliamentary election. According to the ADR's latest report, we have today, 22 ministers or 39% who have criminal cases against them, and that out of these 16 ministers (29%) have declared serious criminal cases against them relating to attempt to murder, communal disharmony, electoral violations, etc.
It almost seems as if the police now is unable to tackle law and order situations on its own. Be it a woman raped, or a man attacked and lynched, and now just recently a woman forest officer attacked by the mob, with the police, if not helping, certainly helpless. Are there any short term solutions for this to be implemented on a war footing?
It may be an overstatement to say that the police are not able to deal with day-to-day law and order events on their own. The truth is there is complete lack of motivation and the police finds itself hamstrung at every stage due to a lack of resources.
However, taking a larger view, it is true that police are not able to deal with any major eruption on the law and order front on their own. They call for central armed police forces at the slightest provocation on the communal front, labour front, student front, or any other. They have shown singular incapacity in dealing with the Maoist threat and other insurgencies on their own. The Maoist threat has been there for more than a decade in states like Chhattisgarh, yet they have not been able to raise the capability of their police forces to a level where they could deal with the threat on their own.
The short term solution is to meet their requirements of manpower and improve their infrastructure.
You have been advocating police reforms for a long time, without much success under different governments. What in your view were the first signs of decay?
Police Reforms are going to be a long haul. We are attacking the strongest combination of forces in government: the political class and the bureaucracy. This combination is able to humiliate the Indian Army, not to talk of the police. And they are not prepared to let go their stranglehold over the police. The Supreme Court has supported us, but even the Court is finding it difficult to accelerate the process of reforms.
Regarding signs of decay, the first sign was politicisation of the police. This has been compounded further and now there are signs of criminalisation of the police.
If we cannot arrest this, do you foresee a not so distant future where the police will be the mob? After all we have seen bits and pieces of this earlier, with the armed constabulary say in UP becoming the mob, but there was some action taken then. Now there seems to be little happening in terms of remedial measures, and punishments.
I do not visualize the Police becoming a mob. However, there is real threat of police acting at the behest of politicians (many of whom may be criminals) and, in the process, not only subverting the rule of law but also inflicting misery and hardship on the aggrieved and disaffected sections of society.
What impact will a compromised police force have on democracy?
Taking a long term view, I would even say that the present trends, if not arrested, may one day lead to the collapse of democracy in this country. The criminals inside Parliament will not allow any legislation or measure which would affect their own status. The number of criminals in Parliament is steadily going up. The day it crosses 50% India would perhaps qualify to be called a criminal state. I hope and pray that day never comes.