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Soon, Police Forces From Different States Will Be at War With Each Other

As the Bagga tragi-comedy shows, new police recruits will not be taught the law but how to obey the political party in power.

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The drama of the arrest and release from custody of Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga, a Bharatiya Janata Party member from Delhi, has transformed into tragi-comedy. Our real concern now should be on the changes in the training of Indian Police Service probationers in the S.V.P. National Police Academy in Hyderabad, to prepare the young entrants to a new dispensation.

I was selected through the All-India Civil Services examination and allotted the Indian Police Service. There were 37 officers in the batch, including Govind Rajan, father of the former governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan, who topped our batch of 1953. He retired as the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a job now subsumed under that of the National Security Adviser.

We were introduced to the laws we were supposed to implement, the IPC (Indian Penal Code), the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) and the Evidence Act, the three basic Acts that define the laws against crime and criminals. Incidentally, as a graduate in law, I had already learnt these basic laws in my student years.

In the Government Law College, my teachers included Nani Palkhiwalla, Justice Y.C. Chandrachud (later the Chief Justice of India) and Justice Jal Vimadalal of the Bombay high court. Neither in the Government Law College, Mumbai, nor at the Police Academy, then located at Mount Abu, were we told that the laws have to be enforced not on the basis of equity and the truth established during police investigation, but on the dictates of the party in power.

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We were doubly blessed because freedom fighters like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri were in power at the Union government and freedom fighters like Morarji Desai, B.G. Kher and Yashwantrao Chavan were the leaders who guided our destinies in the then Composite State of Bombay. They were men of exemplary character who ensured that we enforced the law and upheld the Constitution in its true spirit. Any officer crossing the red line of ethical behaviour would immediately be noticed and sidelined.

How would officers recruited in those early years have reacted today when faced with orders to ignore the facts and the truth but arrest and release purely on the basis of the person’s political affiliations? Honestly, I would not have survived for a day. To sell one’s soul for a mess of pottage is not something that would have remotely occurred to the majority of my colleagues of the 1953 batch.

Some names I must mention, because they left an indelible mark on the history of the Mumbai and the Maharashtra Police. Suryakant Shankar Jog, who even served as Delhi’s Police Commissioner with great distinction; Dattatraya Shankar Soman, a particularly close and dear colleague who succeeded me as Mumbai’s Police Commissioner in 1985. People still speak of them with awe and admiration. So do the officers who served the force in those days.

Police personnel stand guard as BJP workers protest against arrest of party spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, at Janakpuri police station in New Delhi, Friday, May 6, 2022. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

I cannot imagine my batch mates in Bengal like Nirupom Som, in Uttar Pradesh like Satish Dutt Pandey, in Madhya Pradesh like Kirpal Singh Dhillon, and in Gujarat like Vijay Tarachand Shah, agreeing to throw all principles of justice and jurisprudence overboard to advance in their careers or even to just survive in a world that turns white into black and black into white. In particular, I think of Vijay Shah, the Director General of Police, Gujarat, a man of rock-solid principles. How would he adjust to the No 2 man in the state cabinet, also a Shah, who incidentally brooked no dissent? It would have been interesting.

I have taken random names of my ’53 batch mates from different states. But many of my batch mates were heads of central police organisations. Hari Ananda Barari was director, Intelligence Bureau and Anant Kumar Verma became the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing. How would they fare under the present regime? It is difficult to tell because intelligence agencies are a different kettle of fish. How would they navigate the waters? How would they manage the Pegasus spyware? To keep their consciences intact, they may have used their clout as spymasters to avoid anything remotely unethical. Of course they would be replaced by more adventurous sorts as soon as they reached the age of retirement.

Let me recollect some of the radical changes introduced by the “party with a difference” in recent times. There was the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide which the BJP tried to exploit to weaken the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government in Maharashtra. When it was clear that Sushant had died by suicide, the BJP in Bihar played on Rajput sensibilities to whip up a campaign against the Maharashtra government.

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Shiv Sena chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s son, Aaditya, had had a fleeting association with Sushant. To exploit this fact of friendship to its own advantage, the BJP in Bihar engineered a complaint from the actor’s distraught father saying he suspected murder for financial gain. The actor’s longtime girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, was made the scapegoat in the grand game of revenge. She spent days in jail for no other reason than she had fallen in love with Sushant. I am aware that many love affairs turn into tragedies since times immemorial, but an idea of registering an offence in Bihar for an alleged murder in Mumbai was conceived.

The investigation was finally transferred by a court to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was what the Union government wished for. In the end, it did not help the BJP to embarrass the Shiv Sena. It only caused grave injustice to Chakraborty.

The next case also resulted in unnecessary indignities to another young woman, Disha Ravi, an environmentalist.She was picked up by a Delhi Police team from Bengaluru, where she resided with her mother, and whisked off to Delhi to face charges of collaborating with Greta Thunberg to design a plan to scuttle the BJP’s farm laws. No transit remand was taken because the Delhi Police team was to travel by air back to Delhi from Bengaluru and the young woman would be produced before a Delhi magistrate within 24 hours.

In the past, police transferred cases registered by them in a state different from the one where the alleged offence occurred to the state that had legal mandate to investigate. But starting with the Sushant Singh case, the Union home ministry has decided to change the rules. The new rules, though not put down in writing, are being now followed by compliant police leaders.

Recently, the Assam Police flew down to Gujarat to arrest Jignesh Mevani, the firebrand Gujarat Dalit politician who had tweeted comments unpalatable to the prime minister. That very act will now empower other BJP-controlled states to swoop down on those critical of the prime minister or his party or his policies in any part of the country.

Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal decided to follow similar practices. His Punjab Police descended on Delhi and “kidnapped” Tajinder Pal Bagga. But here the script took an unexpected turn ending in the police from Punjab being waylaid by the police force of neighbouring Haryana Police — which has a BJP government — at Kurukshetra and detained.

Police parties from adjoining states will soon be at “war” with each other. The only requirement is that they should belong to states controlled by warring political parties. Shakespeare would have brought out the tragedies, born out of comedies, very succinctly in his plays if he was around.

Julio Rebeiro is a former police commissioner of Mumbai, DGP Gujarat, DGP Punjab, and the former Indian ambassador to Romania.