This is the transcript of former Delhi police commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma’s interview by Karan Thapar.
The Delhi Police has come under scathing criticism for its handling of the recent riots. With me to discuss the accusations and allegations they face, as well as how the problem can be tackled, is the former commissioner of police in Delhi and the former director-general of the border security force, Ajay Raj Sharma.
Mr Sharma let me start with what Justice Joseph in the Supreme Court said on Wednesday and I’m quoting him, “lack of professionalism of the police is the main problem here, if you had not allowed people to get away with inflammatory remarks all this would not have happened”. As a former Commissioner of Police in Delhi, how do you respond to this?
Well, as his observation is quite correct in my eyes and what he has said about taking action against those who are giving inflammatory speeches and they have not registered any FIRs. In fact, the story begins much before that, this is in between. The story begins with Shaheen Bagh. If Shaheen Bagh had not taken place, this riot would not have taken place and I have analysed the whole thing in my mind as an outsider – I have no internal information – that Shaheen Bagh was leading to communal tension because of the slogans being shouted there. The first mistake of the police in my eyes was to allow Shaheen Bagh to take place. Within a few hours, if they saw people are squatting there and the numbers are increasing, they should have turned them out from there. No question of allowing that. See anything that obstructs public traffic or the roads meant for the traffic, they are committing a cognisable crime. And when a cognisable crime takes place you have to act as a policeman.
So the first lapse on the part of the police was allowing a cognisable offence to happen and continue by permitting the gathering at Shaheen Bagh which was holding up traffic.
Now as Shaheen Bagh, more and more days took place and nothing was being done, the people at Shaheen Bagh and those persons connected, they’re bringing food for them and obviously they have to get food if they are going to sit there for 60 days but all this was creating a wrong atmosphere which was not conducive to peace in Delhi. And then the Delhi state elections came, in which all sorts of inflammatory speeches were being given and the atmosphere was becoming more communal.
And that’s again where the police made a second mistake?
That is the second mistake.
Now those inflammatory speeches lasted for a whole month, it began with Anurag Thakur saying ‘Goli Maaro Saalo Ko‘ then there was Parvesh Singh Verma’s claiming that Shaheen Bagh was going to rape our mothers and sisters. And finally, Kapil Mishra actually threatened that if the protesters were not cleared out in three days, he would himself do it. He said so in so many words and right through this, the police did nothing.
No, they should have acted when these speeches were being made. Actually the system is that a person who takes shorthand dictation should have recorded every word of it or you could have used the tape recorder to record these speeches.
So you would have had proof?
Yes we would have proof
And actions should have been taken by the police immediately?
Immediately after the speech had been completed and it was done, it should have been examined and then at the best they could inform the home ministry – that this person is a minister and he has this offence made out.
So in the case of Anurag Thakur, who’s a minister who was saying ‘Goli Maaro Saalo Ko‘ even if the police didn’t arrest him immediately, cause he’s a minister, the home ministry should have been informed.
Yeah, they should have been informed and then the action should have been taken.
And after informing them, the man should have been arrested even though he’s a minister?
Let me put this to you, you’re very clear even a minister, after informing the home ministry, should have been arrested but look what happened in the case of Kapil Mishra. Kapil Mishra actually made his inflammatory statement standing beside the DCP northeast Ved Prakash Surya and Mr Surya heard it, in silence, did nothing and this was inflammatory.
See things have gone so wrong slowly. Slowly things have deteriorated. I’ll give you an example – in UP, a very serious case of murders took place in which eight people were killed, including two policemen, and the local people, the residents of that area said we will not allow these dead bodies to be lifted until unless Mr. Mulayam Singh comes here, who’s the chief minister. What they were saying was that this has been done by a cabinet minister of Mulayam Singh’s government and an FIR should be registered against him so that action can be taken. The local administration, the district magistrate, the SSP the DIG, the commissioner were just sitting and listening they would not take action because it wasn’t matter of minister. So when things became very bad and those bodies started stinking and there was going to be revolt in that area, then Mulayam Singh either had to go or give orders that the case should be registered but he did neither of the two. He sent me instead. I was the a ADG law and order of the state, so I went and I asked the SSP and district magistrate, I said why have you not registered an FIR, so they said he’s a minister. I said in which section of the Indian Penal Code says or Criminal Procedure Code says that FIR can’t be registered against a minister?
So I said you should have spoken to Mulayam Singh and told him that your minister is this and we are going to do it.
So building on this story because it’s a very important telling story if you had been commissioner of police when Anurag Thakur conducted a rally where he made people say ‘Goli Maaro Saalo Ko‘, you would have had him arrested?
I would have had him arrested after informing the government.
And you would have done the same to Parvesh Singh Verma and Kapil Mishra?
For that, no permission was required.
You would’ve done it immediately?
Yeah for a person who’s an MLA, then only the speaker has to be informed that this man was committing this offence, we have registered a case and arrested him.
And that doesn’t even apply to a Kapil Mishra, he’s not an MLA,
So if I am saying that if it was MLA that is the most and a person who’s not an MLA, there is no obstruction in arresting him.
Tell me what would you have done about Ved Prakash Surya, the DCP northeast who stood beside Kapil Mishra when Kapil Mishra made his inflammatory statement and Mr Surya did nothing. If you had been commissioner of police, what would you have done?
I would’ve called for his explanation immediately that under what circumstances did you not take action or stop him from speaking any further? You see if he had spoken two-three lines which were inflammatory, the DCP should have intervened and told him that please don’t do this, you are doing something which will amount to an offence and we will have to take action.
Instead, the DCP is standing there and smiling.
And if he had stopped that, it was okay. If he had not stopped, then he would have had to.
You would have, as commissioner of police, called for an explanation from Mr Surya immediately?
And if the explanation wasn’t satisfactory?
He would have been removed from his post.
How different is the behaviour of the present commissioner of police?
The behaviour is before everybody, I need not comment on that. As I said, things have deteriorated. In my time we were taught that, after an external aggression, a communal riot is the most serious thing that can happen in the country. It should never be allowed to happen and, if it happens, the local officers have to pay for it.
Let me come to what the Delhi Police said to Justice Muralidhar in the Delhi high court. Justice Muralidhar asked them, “Have you heard these three hate speeches – Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Singh Verma, Kapil Mishra. And the police said no. And if this wasn’t a serious answer, most people have said it’s a joke, it’s laughable. Can you believe that the Delhi Police was not aware, had not heard these hate speeches including Anurag Thakur’s?
I don’t think it is possible but I don’t know what made them say that.
But you don’t think it’s possible that they would not have heard it?
They would have heard it, their officials would’ve heard it even if they were not on the spot and they would have reported it to them.
So what the Delhi police was saying was not the truth?
Yes certainly. They were hiding the facts
Let me point out one other thing. In Delhi, even today, the Delhi police are unable to file an FIR against people who have made hate speeches. They find one excuse or another they keep asking for more time and the Delhi high court has now given them up till March 23. In Hyderabad, in contrast, where hate speeches were made, FIRs have been filed not just against the people but against WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter for carrying those messages. Look at the difference in the police forces.
No, I feel very bad because I’ve been the commissioner of this police and, in my time at least, things were not like this.
Let me ask you this – do you get the feeling that today’s the Delhi police is scared of the BJP or intimidated by the government?
Perhaps there is no other explanation.
You’ve been commissioner of police, your entire career was with the police. How disillusioned are you, how dismayed by their functioning now?
You see things have changed a lot. Although the same law provided them and now. And the same malaise also prevails. Why I am saying that is, that people don’t seem to realise the importance of the police and what a role it plays. You say if the police was to be removed for 3-4 days from Delhi, no police on the road, no police in the police stations, what do you think will happen?
But it seems to me that the present commissioner of police and the present DCP working under him, also don’t understand the importance of the police.
Yes, definitely and there would be chaos and that chaos would be comparable to something like the state of nature which about which Thomas Hobbes wrote in his Leviathan. So that is the importance of the police. Somebody said who did not like the police that police is an evil.
But a necessary one
But it is definitely a necessary one because you can’t do without them, so the better thing is to remove the defects of the police or try to understand why they are not able to function properly.
So you’re, by quoting Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, suggesting that the police by failing to act properly is making life nasty, brutish and short for all of us. Let me ask you a quick question, would you say the police mishandled the rights that have just ended?
See I can say these things emphatically because I am not in the know of many factors. But what I see is on the road, what I see what is happening, I say there it has not been handled correctly.
It hasn’t been handled correctly. And do you feel disappointed as a policeman when your successors do this?
I feel disappointed as a policeman when I find the type of criticism that is being made of the police and the way they are – I mean they seem to be a totally demoralised group of people.
Let me now come to what Mr Prakash Singh, a highly regarded former DGP of UP and, one of your predecessors as director-general of the BSF, has said about the police functioning in Delhi during the riots. He said: “The ongoing violence in northeast Delhi was waiting to happen, it was the culmination of weeks of dithering and selective action on the part of the Delhi Police in dealing with those agitating against the Citizenship Amendment Act.” In other words, this could have been easily prevented if the police had acted. Their failure to act in advance, actually allow the riot to happen.
This is exactly what I said earlier when I mentioned Shaheen Bagh. What I said was that all the time it was boiling and days passed in the same condition and the police never thought about it to intervene.
I take your point that, in fact, the starting point for acting was when Shaheen Bagh, first wrote the law but actually the flying about but actually what Mr Prakash seeing is saying is even shorter and simpler. He says violence was simmering in Jaffrabad from Saturday evening, early Sunday morning. It should have been prevented it could have been prevented and the failure of the police to prevent it, he says is not just negligence, its irresponsibility
He’s correct? So here you’re saying the police were negligent, they were irresponsible?
They were definitely negligent.
Irresponsible as well?
Their action was irresponsible. Most of them must have known that it is their responsibility to ensure that no violence breaks out. But I don’t know what was keeping them away.
I want to come back to that. You’re saying they should have known what was necessary and failure to do that, failure to act is irresponsible?
Yes of course.
Why do you think they didn’t? Was it political pressure?
I can’t say that but fingers will point towards that only.
Political pressure? What about something that’s even more worrying, reports in the papers sugges-t they’re not confirmed – but they suggest that the majority of people being targeted were Muslims they were being done by Hindus. Is there a sense in which the police force is becoming communal and that’s why they didn’t act?
No, I don’t think so.
Yeah, because now you will see that action is being taken, they were taken against both the communities.
But let me tell you why I raised this question – is the police force becoming communal – because there are a series of videos on social media which show the police standing and watching as mobs set fire to Muslim houses and shops. Again, the police using sticks, lathis to prod Muslims lying on the ground and make them sing Jana Gana Mana. There is a video where the police themselves either throwing stones or giving it to people to throw. All of that suggests terrible communalisation.
So the trouble is much deeper that means and we have to find out the reasons why is this happening.
But you accept that these videos are proof of communalisation?
Yes, if I have not seen these videos but in case such videos exist that they definitely go against the police.
And you know the amazing thing these videos have been available on social media for three or four days. There is total silence from the police hierarchy, not a word!
The police should have seized these videos, they should not have allowed them to be shown around because that creates a very bad effect, it’ll make the police ineffective and make the public turn against them.
Once again the police leadership, starting from the commissioner Amulya Patnaik onwards, have done nothing. So when they do nothing doesn’t it suggest that they’re either not worried or they don’t care or they don’t know what to do.
No, it’s not that they don’t care. They are indifferent due to other reasons. They don’t want to get involved in anything which is controversial. So they keep away even though a serious crime is taking place in front of their eyes. Someone’s house is being burnt or anything like that, that’s a serious crime and you don’t take action at that time that is very serious.
You know you use the word this shows that they are indifferent. We’ve discussed the possibility that they’ve come under political pressure. But there is another possibility these people who were leaders of the police lack spine, they lack moral character.
Yeah, they will have to take this allegation now.
They would have to face that. So you agree, this allegation the top policeman, starting from the commissioner downwards lack spine and lack moral character, this is a real allegation.
In the present case, it seems so. I will not say it generally but in the present case yes.
The sad part is that the police inactivity mishandling, failure to act properly – call it what you want – during the recent dairy riots, is not the first time the Delhi police have been accused of unprofessionalism. In December they stormed into Jamia Millia, they damaged the library they thrashed students in the library. Then in January the studio spectators when there was violence in JNU, did nothing and let the violence continue. There seems to be a recent history of the police not acting properly.
Yes, these last few months, they’ve come under a cloud. And they’re seen in light which is definitely not good.
Are you worried? Are you seriously worried?
No, I’m serious because if this thing prevails, and it goes further, then there will be chaos.
So we’re at the point, if corrective action isn’t taken, there will be chaos?
But serious thinking will have to be done. It’s not this that you remove some persons and suspend some persons. This is not going to have an effect.
Before I take a break, you have any sense of how and why this rot in the police began?
There’s only one reason, they are not insulated from politics. I am saying this very seriously and you don’t insulate it for some more time and you will see that there will be no police. They may be police in name but there will be no police action anywhere.
The claim that the police are not insulated from politics, as you know, has been made many times over many years and decades, but has it gotten worse in the last five-six years?
It’s getting worse every day. It is getting worse every day. It is very easy to win an election with the support of the police because police can do anything. It’s very difficult to win an election after doing something substantial to show to the people that we’ve done this. So the best thing is that you get a license for somebody obliged them, get somebody’s license cancelled, suspended or get a person released from a murder case. These type of things people do with the police and officers are behaving in such a manner that they listen to all this.
So I’m going to end this part by just one question, this is a very bad time for the Delhi police?
Yes, definitely a bad time.
Let’s take a break at that point when I come back I want to talk to you about what should be done to correct the situation otherwise as you said we could be hurtling towards chaos.
Mr Sharma has just, this month published a book that I think should be compulsory reading for everyone particularly after what you’ve heard him say in part one of his interview. It’s called Biting the Bullet. It’s about his career in the police force. But now I’m going to talk to Mr Sharma about what he believes needs to be done to correct the rot in the Delhi Police.
Mr Sharma, the Delhi police force is said to be something like eighty-ninety thousand strong. It has an annual budget of 8,000 crore. Prakash Singh says it’s the best resource to police in the country. You just explained to me that the rot has set in so deep that if it’s not corrected we will be in chaos. What do we need to do?
The very first thing to be done is to insulate it from politics. They should have no fear of any politician and they should just obey the law of the land and whatever according to the law is wrong they should take action, that is the first point.
How do you insulate them from politics?
Here in Delhi, there is a commissioner, special commissioners, joint commissioners and coming down to DCPs. There should be no politics in their posting. They should be posted on their seniority and merit and they should have a fixed tenure until and unless they do something, by which they come to notice of doing wrong things or illegal things or indulging in corruption. Till then there should be no interference in their transfer in postings. And if they are getting promoted and their tenure is not complete then of course that’s a different issue.
What you’re saying is very similar to what are called, colloquially, the Prakash Singh guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court 14 years ago in 2006.
What he has recommended is very correct.
Except the problem is, as he himself admits, very few states have implemented them. They’ve actually defied the Supreme Court and even those that have implemented them have only done it in name.
They have not really touched the real issues. For example, if the director-general of a state has to be selected, three-four names, the senior-most should be considered and whoever is the ablest should be given the charge and the others of course, these days these posts are more than one in the state, they can go to the other.
Instead what happens is that chief ministers choose their favourite, knowing he will do favours for them
Yes, that’s correct.
This must stop.
This must stop. This is the first thing which should be done.
You said the first thing is to stop political interference is to isolate the police. What’s the second?
The second is that we must look into our own force and see what’s wrong with them. I find that discipline is not the same. So action should be taken to enforce discipline. I find that corruption is increasing every day, that must be stopped. And third, is professionalism. I’ll tell you something which nobody will say when a common man comes into contact. His first point of contact is the police station and there are constables over there and head constables. Whatever impression they create on the mind of that man that will be the image of police in his mind. He will not meet an IPS officer or senior officers, so we have to upgrade the constabulary, the head constabulary and the thana staff.
They must become more professional they must become very polite and there this can only be done through proper training and the training I think for these people, in today’s world, where the crimes are going up new types of crimes are coming, technical stuff is there, so they have to get a longer training. There is no sense that allowing these boys to continue studying after tenth class or 12 class. There they go to colleges and universities where there’s only politics, they’ll only get spoiled besides their parents have to pay money to keep them going.
You mean the police should train them and educate them?
No, we should pick up these boys much earlier and give them a longer training, make them a graduate. From there should study all the police subjects, there are so many subjects in the police that there is enough to make them graduates and giving them the physical training that is required even the physical training now has to be better than before.
What you’re saying in many ways echoes what the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said and, remember, Ajit Doval has a police background like you do. This is what he said on Wednesday. He said, “People don’t trust the men in uniform, people are doubting the capabilities and intentions of the Delhi police.” You’re saying the same thing.
The police is supposed to be a bulwark between anarchy and order but they are not coming up to that standard at all.
In England, people look upon the policeman as a bobby and a friend. In India, we look upon the policeman with suspicion if not fear. That has to be removed.
So it should be seen. Why did the same people, the Englishmen, create a Bobby who commands so much respect in society and create this constable in India who is not even properly respected?
And this has to change and the police force itself has to do it.
No police itself will not be able to do it but they should do whatever they can. It is ultimately the government will have to realize, You see the whole problem is that they don’t realize what is police and what they are meant for, this law and order and all that’s fine. I’ll tell you a very small thing, an example. In the villages there is only a police station. Actually, practically there is no other presence of government in the village – only the police is there. And you know all sorts of wicked men are there, they’re strong people. On a Friday night, they decide that they should capture this land belonging to Mr X they go and capture it. Now that poor Mr X where should he go? The only place he can go to is the police station, there is no court, there is no justice available over there, so he goes to the police station and the police there is corrupt they are not willing to give justice. What will happen when this man goes to the court on Monday? That man will always already be in possession and possession is half the matter. So he is unlikely to get justice after. That man is already powerful, this man will not be able to win the case so that is the importance people are saying that judiciary simple should be independent, why not the police?
You’re saying a very important thing, your illustration shows that actually in villages which is where the majority of India lives, the only face of government is the police, but if they are corrupt, if they don’t function properly not just administration but justice never happens.
Yes it will never take place.
So in a very real sense, the police are the backbone of administration and justice and governance, particularly in villages.
Now I’ll tell you something more, the judiciary is independent. Now I take the criminal cases because I’m a policeman. They said they say that police has witnesses in their pocket, they can’t get evidence they will give create false evidence and all sorts of things. They will say that they are corrupt, they will create evidence and now these cases that are charge-sheeted by the police go before the judiciary and on what can they give the judgement on the evidence available. If that evidence is not just, it’s not correct, then what is the judiciary going to do?
You’re saying something even more important.
What I’m trying to I am trying to explain the importance of police in the society which I am hundred percent sure that 99.9% don’t understand.
But you’re saying something critical. Even in criminal cases when the police provide the evidence, if the evidence is fake if it’s made up, there’s no justice. And you’re once again suggesting that at the centre of the reforms that India needs is the reform of the police. And you’re saying a lot of this can be done by the police but it has to happen under political direction.
Yes, it will never happen if the direction is not there.
Do you think any politician, not just the Modi government, do you think any politician is aware of this?
I don’t think. I can’t say but the people I have met in my life they don’t seem to understand it.
In other words, there’s no real and hope of correction then?
Generally, due to political interference, what it leads to they don’t understand.
And therefore, they are not willing to correct. My last issue and I’ve deliberately left it to the last. Do you think there is also a need for the police to look at the quality of leadership within the police. I’m going to use the Delhi riots as an example. The chief the commissioner retires tomorrow, he hasn’t had a glorious record. Do you think he has been a mistake?
Leadership is the most important thing required in the police. You know, army leadership is very very important but army has the advantage. Things are in line and they’re all set up, they happen correctly. Police this is not the case. In police all sorts of interference coming they have to face, their holidays are not defined. Their working conditions are very very bad. So leadership is very important. They must still maintain high morale, they must look up to their leader and think that till he’s there, we are well.
So was Amulya Patnaik the wrong man to be made commissioner of police in Delhi?
That will not be proper for me to pass judgement on. The government made him and he has a good record.
Let me ask you a different question. Do you think when you look back on his time does he fail to live up to what the job required of him. I’m not just talking about the Delhi Riots or JNU or Jamia, I’m also talking about the fact that, in November, the police themselves were protesting, their families were protesting and many people said Mr Patnaik was not able to even handle that.
Yes he has been through a tough time and he had to pass a very difficult test all the time
Did he pass it?
Well, I don’t think so but what were his disadvantages, I don’t know. He must be having some constraints. So I do not like to pass a judgement on the present police commissioner.
But the important thing you said is that he didn’t pass the test and I admire you and thank you for your candour. It can’t be easy as a former police commissioner being critical of the force you served for 40 years but I thank you for having done so. Thank you very much.