The killing of gangster Vikas Dubey by the Uttar Pradesh Police in an alleged encounter has once again put the limelight on the nexus between crime and politics in India. On 3 July, eight policemen were killed by Dubey and his henchmen in a shootout in Kanpur after the gang was tipped off by some local officers about the raid. There are allegations that Dubey was presumably guided and helped by some politicians and police officers in reaching Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain where he was arrested Thursday.
Both his arrest and encounter have raised the hackles of many political parties, except the one in power in Uttar Pradesh — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is being criticised by the opposition. It is being alleged that the UP BJP has eliminated Vikas Dubey to protect all those politicians and police officers who supported his rise from a small criminal to a prominent gangster over the years.
The fact is that no government in Uttar Pradesh, headed by different political parties over the years, took any action against Vikas Dubey. All shielded him and made him a rich politician with no fear of law. And he is not the only one.
India is full of criminals who enjoy the protection of politicians and vice-versa. It is the reason our state assemblies and Parliament have a large number of lawmakers with a criminal background.
Controlling the police
To my knowledge, not one political party in India, regional or national, has ever talked about police reforms or taken any action in this regard when cases like Vikas Dubey’s come up. They only criticise the party in power to score political points. Even US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on police reforms less than three weeks after the murder of Black American George Floyd by a White police officer, while political opponents, the Democrats, passed a bill in the House of Representatives on police reforms.
In India, we are still working with the same colonial police system that existed under the British. The Police Act of 1861 still governs the functioning of the police force in India and makes the police accountable to the executive and not to the law and Parliament.
The reason is simple. No political party in India wants to let go of the control of the police because it serves their political and personal needs. There have been several police commissions, committees, reports, even orders of the Supreme Court of India, suggesting quite a few police reforms but none of these have been implemented in letter and spirit by the central and state governments.
On the other hand, every time there is a change in power in any state after an election, the first official change or transfer that happens is usually of the Director General of Police and a few other police officers down the line. New postings are done on the basis of political proximity, caste and creed, loyalty, personal agenda and sometimes money. As such, the political party that was in power until a day ago starts criticising the new party for the functioning of the police force, as if the police and its functioning changed overnight.
This has been the standard practice in India since Independence, and in all states across the country. The police leadership, too, has sometimes failed to do its duty impartially, and joined hands with the politicians to remain comfortable and enjoy some benefits. They also protect each other in times of any political or administrative crisis. How can, then, the police function impartially?
Time for police reforms
India urgently needs police reforms. The first step has to be the country’s political class giving up the direct control of the police force. Once the fountainhead has been taken care of, the rest will automatically follow. The police should be accountable only to the law of the land and Parliament/Assemblies. Of course, a lot more is required to change the policing system in India, including in areas such as recruitment, training, required strength, postings and transfers, infrastructure, forensic labs, cyber cells, transport and accommodation, overhaul of laws and procedures, as well as reforms in judiciary.
If we want to ensure justice to every citizen, especially the poor, marginalised, women, Dalits, Adivasis, and minorities, and if India has to become an economic superpower, then reforming the police to rid it of its ills must become the first priority. With new challenges in the form of changing technologies, increase in population, emphasis on economic development due to the growing international trade, incoming investments and changing geo-politics, India’s police forces must also change for the better to serve all the stakeholders in an equal, impartial manner.
Since the police is a state subject, according to the Constitution of India, there has to be a consensus among the central and state governments. If the political class decides, for instance, that there is a need to amend the Constitution to bring the police under the Union List or Concurrent List, then all the parties have to be on board. They should realise that they would be ultimately better off in the new arrangement.
Unfortunately, there is a deafening silence on bringing any reform in the police force owing to the benefits of keeping it under political control. Our only hope, as always, is a powerful government at the Centre, which we have had quite a few times since Independence. But those in power also belong to a political party and therefore don’t want to lose control of the police. However, cases like Vikas Dubey are a reminder why they should. It will be in the interest of the police force, and ultimately the nation and its people.
The author is a retired IPS officer. Views are personal.
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