Independent Police Authority

Some months ago I wrote about the thesis of Fareed Zakaria’s book ‘The Future of Freedom’. This is that the hallmark of successful democracy is not holding elections, or even promoting the will of the majority, but having independent institutions that provide checks and balances to elected politicians.

Mob violence can represent the will of the majority (as in Gujarat post-Godhra). An unelected body, the Supreme Court, has ordered cases against Hindu killers of Muslims to be transferred out of the state, in order to ensure a fair trial. Clearly the Modi government has no interest in providing justice for the killed. India can show its face again to the world, not because it has democratic elections but because it has independent institutions that can discipline elected leaders.

Almost 60 people have died in killings and counter-killings in Bihar and Assam . First, Assamese mobs attacked local Biharis applying for Railway jobs in the north-east. In retaliation, mobs in Bihar stopped trains from the north-east and attacked passengers. Two girls were stripped naked and one was gang-raped on the platform. There followed fresh killings of Biharis in Assam . Parties in Nagaland have demanded the ouster of all Biharis, and Manipur has asked Assam to deny transit to any Biharis.

Various political parties and intellectuals have dutifully condemned the episode. But, lets face it, if a referendum were held , Assamese would probably vote to expel all Biharis, and to hell with civil rights. Referendums in Nagaland and Manipur would surely produce the same result. And I suspect a referendum in Bihar would fail to unequivocally condemn the outrage on Bihar ’s railway platforms. This being the case, it is naive to expect that elected leaders in the states can be depended on to stop outrages that enjoy wide support.

In Tamil Nadu too, cases against Jayalitha are being transferred out of the state to ensure impartiality. The lady strikes such terror in police, prosecutors and even judges that impartial verdicts in the state look unfeasible. Things are worse in Uttar Pradesh. When Mayavati was chief minister, she instituted dozens of cases against Mulayam Singh Yadav. Now, Mulayam has instituted cases against Mayawati. Political vendetta has replaced the supposed link between crime and punishment. The detection and prosecution of crime become a matter of politics rather than justice.

There was a time when voters used to vote out politicians suspected of crimes, but not any more. Since politicians remain out of jail regardless of how much they embezzle or even murder. People vote on the basis of caste and religion regardless of the criminal record of the candidates. Democratic elections do not remedy the criminalisation of politics since all parties now are replete with criminals. The way out, as Zakaria has said, is to have more independent institution that can check political excesses. The most admired institutions in India today are the unelected Supreme Court and Election Commission, while elected legislatures are jeered at derisively as packs of rascals.

The need of the hour is to delink politics from crime detection. The police have two functions: maintaining order, and detecting crime. Maintaining order should be the job of politicians, but surely crime detection and prosecution should not. Justice is supposed to be blind, not the lapdog of the chief minister or Home minister. Japan has an independent Police Commission. Why not India ?

The police need to be spit into two sections. The section dealing with law and order should continue to report to Home Ministry. But the section dealing with crime detection and prosecution should report to an independent Police and Prosecution Authority, having as much independence and accountability as the Election Commission. We have plenty of fine police officers who can stop the rot if only they are allowed to proceed fearlessly.

Politicians, of course, will not commit hara-kiri by legislating such an outcome. We have to look to other avenues of redress. On the grounds of natural justice, a public interest suit should be filed in the Supreme Court asking for a directive that crime detection and prosecution should be entrusted to an independent Police and Prosecution Authority. The Court has already held that the CBI should report to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, not the Home Ministry.

The logic of this needs to be taken further. Not only the CBI but all crime detection forces and prosecutors need to be independent of the administration. Only then can we hope that civil rights will return in places like Gujarat , Assam and Bihar , and that mob killers will be hanged. Only then can we hope that criminals will occupy jails rather than Cabinet posts.

What do you think?