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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > January 26, 2008 > Innards Of the Indian State!

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 6

Innards Of the Indian State!

Saturday 26 January 2008, by D. Bandyopadhyay

[(BOOK REVIEW)]

Political Violence and the Police in India by K.S. Subramanian; Sage Publication India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; pages 257; Price 350/-

When an insider writes about an organisation which he had served throughout his career and with which he had had a fairly complex love-hate relationship, one would have expected a light delectable anecdotal fare. Surprisingly, the reader would find in this book a serious analysis of the character of the Indian state which our rulers inherited from our imperial masters. With the clinical detachment of a highly skilled surgeon, Mr Subramanian has laid bare the innards of the Indian state with all its frightening ugliness. Sinister attributes of the state which he has so adroitly and masterfully revealed would fascinate, nay, hypnotise any discerning reader.

The police in any civilised state is supposed to maintain law and order. It is expected to help the citizens of a democratic secular socialist republic to pursue their life and liberty with ease and dignity. The police is there to protect the freedom and autonomy guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution and the law with fairness, impartiality and strictly according to law. The police’s main function is to enforce law and not to break law. But unfortunately the author has painfully shown that in the name of “Order” the police in India very often violated the fundamental rights of the citizen by methods not only illegitimate but wantonly illegal. Citizens are threatened and frightened in the exercise of their right of free expression and association if the police thought it was “anti-state”. So the Kolkata Police Gazette and their website openly show the eminent Indian litterateur Mahasweta Devi and a well-known educationist of West Bengal, Sunanda Sanyal, as “Maoist”. When both of them protested that they were dissenters but not promoters of any violent creed or activity, without any apology their names were taken off from the Gazette but they continued to feature in the website at least as latest as a week ago. In the perception of the police any dissent or protest against the CPI-M Government’s unashamed policy of promotion of capitalist development in West Bengal is “anti-state” activity. So the action of the protesters was as reprehensible as that of the Maoists who believed in capturing power through violent means. This episode and innumerable such episodes bring to the fore the whole question of the character of the Indian state. The author has rightly raised the question: “Is the Indian State losing faith in its own sovereignty and legitimacy?” (p. 26) He gives cogent reasons for this legitimate and serious doubt.

He observes correctly:

The Indian State often remains a mute witness to the non-State violence inflicted by the upper castes against lower castes and the violence of the majority community against the minorities.

But strangely the same State reacts violently if any group vociferously demands implementation of their legal rights which economically and socially adversely affect the rich and the elite. He writes:

The poor in India have to fight pitched battles to secure their minimum human, social and legal rights under the Constitution and the general and specific laws of the land. Development related struggles for land, minimum wages, social justice and dignity by the poor along with their demand for the fair implementation of the rural development projects and schemes by the government, often bring them into conflict with the police and administrative machinery, which, frequently, in collusion with the rural power structure, inflicts enormous State violence against the poor and commits large scale human rights violence.
(pp. 27-28)

It is unfortunate but true that the police and the district administration have become almost totally insensitive to the genuine legitimate and legal concerns of the landless, dispossessed and the marginalised segments of the society who are very often dalits and tribal people. Hence one has to agree with the author’s observation that “there is a need to re-theorise the Indian State”. (p. 26)

The book has eight chapters apart from the Introduction. The core of the book, if one could make a classification of a wholly integrated treatise is in Chapter 3: “Intelligence Bureau: An instrument of Partisan Politics” and in Chapter 4: “Central Paramilitary Forces: A Parallel Police Force?” It required considerable courage, in fact raw fearlessness, and scholarship to give a glimpse of that shadowy and secret organisation called “IB”. A creation of the colonial government to keep track of the freedom struggle and particularly on the activities of the key leaders of the Indian National Congress and other subversive organisations and individuals, the IB has grown into a colossus—a “State” within a “State” with no accountability to any authority about its functioning and/or malfunctioning. The organisation came in for sharp criticism by the Shah Commission of Inquiry set up after the end of the Emergency by the Janata Government. “The Commission viewed with concern some of the secret operations of the IB and the complete absence of inbuilt constraints.” (p. 97) The Janata Government of 1977 thought that the IB should have a Charter of Duties and appointed the L.P. Singh Committee to draft the document. It did suggest a Charter. “No action was taken on the recommendation of the L.P. Singh Committee when the Congress party, the target of the Shah Commission of Inquiry, returned to power in 1980.” (p. 100) One cannot but agree with observation of the author:

Problems do not go away if you ignore them. The crying need for reform of the Indian police system today arises out of the challenges on the law and order front and the increasing human rights abuses by the police in different parts of India, which has tarnished the image of the police in the country. A democratic country with an undemocratic police structure is a contradiction that must be set right.
(pp. 100-01)

Another frightening aspect of the Central policing strategy has been the exponential expansion of the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPF). From the nucleus of three battalion Crown Reserve Police during the British era which used to be deployed for quelling unrest in the Princely States, it grew into a gigantic armed force called the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) of 2.5 lakh personnel. There are seven regular Central armed para-military forces. To these must be added nearly 100 battalions of the India Reserve Force raised by the States on the 50: 50 cost-sharing basis between the Centre and States. The Central Government has the right to call up any State India Reserve Battalion for its use anywhere in the country. Thus the Centre has at its disposal an elephantine size of para-military force of a million men in arms. The author correctly observes:

The existence of a huge and growing CPF amounting to over a million men in 2006 strengthens the Central Government in relation to State governments in the Indian polity and places pressures on the federal democratic structure of governance. (p. 116)

I would refrain from summarising and analysing other chapters of the book so that I do not deny the readers of the delightful and often dismaying facts of the Central policing in India which could be used for destroying political dissension which is the backbone of any democracy. Going through the book one gets the impression that our Constitution has imposed a democratic super-structure on a solid almost monolithic non-democratic, opaque and non-accountable under-structure so skillfully developed by the colonial rulers to protect the Crown and the imperial interests. Our Parliament and State Legislatures, it looks, act as filters to prevent democratic ethos and practices to seep down below. Our political leaders of all hues feel very comfortable with the prevailing system as they feel “protected” against the people whom they are supposed to represent. It seems that the elite across the board being alienated from the masses feel threatened by the people’s demand for adequate livelihood and their aspiration to live a life with dignity. Hence they find security, solace and relief being protected by rings of NSG and or commandos to discharge their democratic duties through remote control.

In a democratic society policing is far too important a subject to be left only to the police. All the stakeholders should have a say to inure the society from the abuses of policing. Tales of fake encounters leading to illegal murder of suspects, rampant abuses of the police power by the lower formations of the police in the districts and cities make one wonder whether we have significantly regressed in time from 1215 AD when King John signed the Magna Carta declaring: “To no man will we sell or deny or delay, right or justice.” In 1829, Sir Robert Peel while introducing “The Metropolitan Police Improvement Bill” said:

It is the duty of Parliament to afford to the inhabitants of the Metropolis (London) and its vicinity, the full and complete protection of law...

Do these statements sound hollow in 2008 in India when “police abuse of power and human rights violations comprise over 60 (sixty) per cent of the complaints received by the National Human Rights Commission every year”? (p. 26)

The book contains explosive expose of one major aspect of policing in India. Chilling, compelling and controversial it should be compulsory reading for all the entrants to the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service. Even if one disagrees one must know what one was disagreeing with. It should adore the book-shelf of all serious students of Indian governance.

The reviewer was the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministries of Finance (Revenue) and Rural Development, and the Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

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