The neta-police nexus must be dismantled - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

The neta-police nexus must be dismantled

May 05, 2022 07:23 PM IST

Every regime has seen police partisanship backed by executive overreach, with little regard for due process. Break this chain, now

Converting our hard-earned democracy into a police state is simply unthinkable, and if the Assam Police is thinking about the same, the same is perverse thinking,” Barpeta sessions court judge, justice Aparesh Chakrabarty, said while granting bail to Gujarat Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Jignesh Mevani. He criticised the state police for filing a “false FIR” and “abusing the process of the court and the law”. It took a courageous judge in a small town to remind the police of their foremost constitutional duty to the rule of law.

Could an Opposition MLA such as Mevani have suddenly been picked up at midnight from Gujarat by the Assam Police and brought to Kokrajhar without the knowledge of the CM or law enforcement authorities? (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo) PREMIUM
Could an Opposition MLA such as Mevani have suddenly been picked up at midnight from Gujarat by the Assam Police and brought to Kokrajhar without the knowledge of the CM or law enforcement authorities? (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

Converting our hard-earned democracy into a police state is simply unthinkable, and if the Assam Police is thinking about the same, the same is perverse thinking,” Barpeta sessions court judge, justice Aparesh Chakrabarty, said while granting bail to Gujarat Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Jignesh Mevani. He criticised the state police for filing a “false FIR” and “abusing the process of the court and the law”. It took a courageous judge in a small town to remind the police of their foremost constitutional duty to the rule of law.

Ironically, just a day after this judicial pronouncement, India’s power elite assembled at a conference of chief justices and chief ministers (CMs), being held after a six-year gap, in the Capital’s Vigyan Bhavan. Among the front-row attendees was Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s all-powerful CM who is also the state’s home minister. Could an Opposition MLA such as Mevani have suddenly been picked up at midnight from Gujarat by the Assam Police and brought to distant Kokrajhar without the knowledge of the CM or Gujarat’s law enforcement authorities? Two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states were accused of conspiring to teach a lesson to a fiery MLA whose tweets targeted the prime minister (PM). Could there be a more glaring example of the misuse of State power to settle political scores?

This is not an isolated case. Within days of a new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-government taking over in Punjab, the Punjab Police filed a series of FIRs against AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s critics, including his friend-turned-foe, Kumar Vishwas. In West Bengal, CM Mamata Banerjee is accused of using state police to “fix” her opponents. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), Yogi Adityanath’s government has routinely slapped criminal cases against critical journalists, including sedition charges. In Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray’s government is accused of intimidating detractors through malicious police action. Is there any CM who can claim to have not abused their executive authority for practising “revenge politics”?

At the Vigyan Bhavan function, seated on the podium was thePM who, as the pre-eminent national figure, is expected to set the tone for the rest. But can Narendra Modi or the Centre effectively combat the oft-repeated accusation by Opposition leaders of exploiting central agencies to browbeat potential rivals? The actions of the Enforcement Directorate in selectively hounding Opposition leaders leave the Modi government vulnerable to the charge of setting the stage for vindictive politics.

It isn’t as if this streak in Indian politics and the well-oiled neta-police complicity surfaced only in 2014. We can stretch the time machine back to Indira Gandhi and the Emergency, and every regime since to find instances of police partisanship backed by executive overreach that reveal contempt for the criminal justice system.

Recall how the Jayalalithaa-Karunanidhi “war” in Tamil Nadu in 2001 led to the disgraceful sight of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch being dragged out of his bed at 2 am by the police and being bundled into a police van like a convicted criminal. Personal animosities in states such as Tamil Nadu made its political culture especially prone to such acts of brazen retribution.

The difference is that what was once seen as the exception is now the rule across India. The Mevani case is perhaps the starkest recent example, but can there be any justification for the jailing and sedition charges on Navneet Rana and her husband Ravi Rana, for threatening to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside the CM’s residence in Mumbai?

The other difference is that many courts, instead of acting with a sense of urgency and fair play, tend to procrastinate or take a politically expedient stand. Why, for example, have courts dawdled on the numerous habeas corpus petitions challenging the mass detention of Jammu and Kashmir politicians after the effective nullification of Article 370? Why should Delhi High Court (HC) be sermonising on the use of words such as “jumla” by student-activist Umar Khalid, while allowing his bail petition to drag on? And how can the Supreme Court reconcile the remarkable alacrity with which it granted bail to celebrity anchor Arnab Goswami — justly — with its unconscionable failure to grant relief to a less-known journalist Siddique Kappan? After all, if the UP Police is allowed to detain Kappan for 20 months on highly tendentious “terrorism” charges, then we may as well write the obituary of the constitutional guarantees of life and personal liberty.

The biggest difference though is the absence of a concerted civil society pushback. Why, for example, isn’t there greater outrage over how civic authorities used bulldozers to demolish homes in riot-hit areas with scant regard for due process?

Unfortunately, hyper-partisan cheerleaders have allowed personal affiliations and political prejudice to influence their better judgment as law-abiding citizens. Then, be it the case of ordinary Indians or politicians in the public eye, the law must not be subverted with such impunity. The men in khaki uniforms need to be sent constant reminders that their loyalty is not to their political masters, but to the Constitution first and last.

Post-script: Within days of the Barpeta judge’s observations, the Assam HC put a stay on the adverse comments after an appeal by the state police. This raises troubling concerns: Will the judge be transferred for taking a stand in a high-profile case? And will the officers who were willing accomplices in framing false charges be penalised or be promoted instead?

Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author 

The views expressed are personal

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Rajdeep Sardesai is senior journalist, author and TV news presenter. His book 2014: The election that changed India is a national best seller that has been translated into half a dozen languages. He tweets as @sardesairajdeep

SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, February 25, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On