Efficient policing is the need of the hour (Column: Spy’s Eye)

In the Capital, on the eve of US President Donald Trump's visit to India, a section of Shaheen Bagh agitators protesting against CAA, shifted base to Jaffrabad, a Muslim predominant area of North-East Delhi and blocked the main road there. Violence broke out on Feb 23 night after protest leaders had made militant speeches — rioting by the two communities then continued on Feb 24-25, the days of Trump's visit to India. There were large casualties on both sides at the end of a prolonged spell of action and reaction. At Bengaluru, the violent crowd that indulged in planned destruction in protest against an alleged Facebook comment on Prophet Mohammad, had in it many members of SDPI, a fundamentalist Muslim organisation.

It is now coming to light that the Sino-Pak strategic alliance — which has particularly become active against India in the period following the abrogation of Art 370 of the Constitution relating to Jammu and Kashmir by the Modi regime — could be planning to cause internal destabilisation in India through covert operations. Pak ISI is now using both Islamic radicals under the tag of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS fronts as well as the Islamic extremists of outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad that were already under its thumb, for stepping up acts of terror in India.

The domestic politics in India is currently witnessing the phenomenon of two major streams of anti-Modi forces strategically working together. The Left and the liberals, who ideologically denounced the current dispensation as potentially Fascist and committed to ultra-right, and others who indulged in Minority politics by raising the fears of ‘Majoritarianism' and Hindutva have been acting in concert and even carrying their criticism of the regime beyond our frontiers in a bid to add to their strength. They even question the constitutional validity of the legislative acts of Modi government cleared by the Parliament. India's adversaries in the neighbourhood find it easier to exploit the domestic scene here for creating their own ‘proxies'. The opposition has to realise that in India only a democratic and non-sectarian polity, that recognised the primacy of national security and economic interests in dealing with the international world, can succeed.

In the backdrop of a situation of rising security concerns, it is natural that the performance of our police services is going to be looked upon by the people with greater expectations. Anything that strengthens the perception that politicians in India were capable of exploiting even cases of crime of national importance for party gains, can put public faith in the police on a discount. The recent case of unnatural death of a rising film star at Mumbai became a typical example of how the ruling dispensation of Maharashtra attributed the widespread public criticism of the Mumbai Police enquiry to the alleged machinations of its political opponents. While the role of Mumbai Police was under a critical scrutiny of the people, it is the Home Minister of Maharashtra rather than the Police Commissioner who came forth to make an early announcement to the press that it was a case of suicide. An update on the police enquiry ought to have been provided to the public by those at the top of the professional hierarchy — this did not happen either because there was a needless subservience to political superiors or because ‘incompetence' had overtaken the probe makers in understanding the nuances and dimensions of a case that had attracted national attention.

The contribution of state police to the maintenance of internal security of India in these critical times cannot be overemphasised. The arrest of an ISIS linked terrorist at Delhi — Abu Yusuf, originally from Uttar Pradesh — with powerful IEDs, has confirmed the earlier intelligence that the city was likely to be targeted on Independence Day. Since what is unravelled by intelligence is always the proverbial tip of the iceberg, the Delhi case must, therefore, alert the police of all states to look out for the underground terror modules in their areas. Intelligence coordination between the central agencies and the state, district and Thana police has to be further strengthened and institutionalised through nomination of nodal officers at these levels for this specific function. This is already happening but needs to be pushed down closer to the ground so that immediate action in response to a call would be made possible. Police leadership in the state must prepare the Station House Officers for discharging this responsibility in the sphere of national security. While serving the law abiding, the police station is now required to watch out for suspicious movements, presence of strangers and habitual offenders and circulation of any rumours of unusual activity in its area.

The public credibility of Thana Police should be fully reestablished — this will happen if senior officers make surprise visits there, the DGP's power to suspend an SHO for any blatant failure is restored and the Centre exercises a say in the appointment of DGPs in line with the Supreme Court's advice about a 3-member panel being drawn up by UPSC for that purpose. The leadership of police in India is in the hands of the Indian Police Service, whose officers are selected through a national level competition and then trained and allocated to the states by the Centre. There is no equivalent of IPS in any other country. India's national interests in the spheres of crime control and security must be fully served by this civil service within our federal scheme of things.

India needs to spend more on our civil police that now has a part in the vital task of helping the national security set-up in the sphere of intelligence generation ‘from below'. Constabulary of uncertain educational background and training is not serving the police station that well — a posse of armed police personnel could always be made available for providing physical force wherever needed. Any function of handling crime work should be performed by an ASI at the minimum. The CrPC in the British tradition talks of how even the power of arrest in certain circumstances could be exercised by a ‘Police Officer of any rank' — the emphasis on the word ‘officer' should not be missed. An upgrade of police stations in terms of personnel, status and resources is the first reform we need — the sensitivity about the developing internal security situation in India lends it priority. Ensuring effective, efficient and people-friendly functioning of police stations ought to have been a primary responsibility of the IPS officers at various levels of their appointment — they have to make up for lost time in this regard.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)


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