Let us shed our hypocrisy in assessing the police encounter against Vikas Dubey
From the Supreme Court to civil rights activists, from a few serving and ex-police chiefs to lawyers and from liberal political commentators to opposition leaders Vikas Dubey's death in a police encounter near Kanpur has been the toast of discussion. Incidentally, Dubey was involved in 69 cases of heinous crimes of murder, attempted murder, robbery, kidnapping, loot, land grabbing, arson, rioting and letting loose a reign of terror for over 24 years. A judicial inquiry has since been ordered to quell the outrage over his extra judicial killing, an exercise that has become too boring to even take notice of.
Wish, a judicial inquiry had also been ordered to find out why there was spontaneous rejoicing and relief expressed by people and why those who killed Dube were being garlanded and fed sweets. The cheering crowd had obviously lost faith in receiving justice within a reasonable time. Those who had suffered at Dubey's hands were thankful because they would no longer have to depose against him without being abducted or murdered or have the mortification of seeing the dreaded gangster roaming around, taking advantage of innumerable weaknesses of a creaking judicial system.
Dubey's encounter has evoked some interesting reactions. Many accept that his killing was desirable but wonder why U.P. police could not script a better story to justify the encounter. We should understand that no script can ever be perfect. However, the end result of all such scripts will be the same, so why fuss over how the narrative has been woven. An incident of 1969 will be worth recalling, here. A dreaded criminal reigned supreme for over two decades because witnesses would not come to depose in any of the 89 cases that he was charges with. He would always come out of bail because policemen, prosecution lawyers and judges were either mortally afraid of him or were on his payroll. One day, I asked an ace investigator to legally fix him. After six months of trial, he was convicted for rape and murder by the sessions court which was later upheld by higher courts. The difference is that in Dubey's case, UP police did not wait to take advantage of the judicial absurdities which I did.
There are many who hold policemen responsible for the murder of 8 of their colleagues, saying that they worked as Dubey's sources and provided him advance intelligence of the impending police raid. There is nothing to be outrageous about it. They helped Dubey because he gave them protection and additional money to supplement their meagre allowances. Unlike them, the martyred policemen refused to oblige Dubey and had to pay the price by losing their lives. No senior police officer, judge, politician, bureaucrat and civil society activist was there to save their lives for doing their duty conscientiously.
Corruption, as Mr. Indira Gandhi had reportedly said, was an international reality. So, why crib when policemen accept illegitimate money from gangsters. Their earnings from corruption are in any case peanuts when you compare the sum with the unrelenting loot that goes on in this country by every section of the society. They have not come from heavens and it is self-deceiving to expect them to remain unaffected by the all-pervasive virus of corruption. The life of 91% policemen in India is of unprecedented misery. Their salary, their accommodation, their archaic weapons and their long and arduous duty hours are something to be seen to believe. The state governments allocate a measly 2% of its annual budget to maintain them. And, we still expect them to be paragon of virtues.
We often use a cliché - police-politician-criminal nexus - to describe why police indulges in reprehensible acts. In a country where you have only nexuses - politician-builder-bank-officers nexus, bureaucrat-politician-corporate houses nexus, banks-business houses-politician nexus, Bollywood-black money-managers-underworld nexus, politician-smuggler-business houses nexus, terrorist-politician nexus, journalist-politician-corporate houses nexus etc., singling out police nexus is hypocritical. If you can live with others merrily, why this extra sensitivity in the case of police. No one seems to have any magic wand to break these nexuses except for willowing over what is amply evident.
By law police is a slave to politicians in power and bureaucrats. Their transfers, postings, well-being and duties get defined by their masters. Their officers do have a say in their working but only until it does not conflict with interests of their masters. Free them from pernicious control of politicians, you will find the same policemen giving you a crime free environment to live. If you can design a police establishment on the model of Comptroller and Auditor General of India and make it accountable to judicial bodies or to an all-party legislative committee, you will see the difference in their efficiency and work culture. It is a different matter that hoping for such a transformative arrangement is like chasing a mirage. We keep complaining why police has become a 'caged parrot' but turn deaf when the same parrot yearns for operational freedom.
Think for a moment, of what we have done to the police. Its primary responsibility is to prevent and detect crime and maintain law and order. But his secondary duties - managing traffic, providing disaster relief, protecting innumerable VIPs, enforcing violation of Corona guidelines and prohibition etc.- keep him far more occupied. Chief ministers across all political parties brazenly misuse them to witch-hunt dissidents and subdue opponents to sustain themselves in power. In a new trend, they use policemen to guard MLAs in hotels and guest houses lest they bolt away to freedom. The situation is only going to get worse because no chief minister will ever let this instrument of repression go away from their hands. Similarly, no crime lord who has a strong bond with politicians and who pays them money and arrange for their votes will brook any interference in their criminal activities. Thus, a policeman's choice is either to act at their bidding or suffer.
Ironically, people also find policemen as cruel and insensitive when they see him beating men, women and children mercilessly, badgering petty businessmen to death in police lock ups and looking the other way when a crime is committed. By its very nature, they cannot be a good Samaritan. For that, Indians will have to follow rules, obey laws and forget about entitlements of all kinds which, of course, is an impossible call. This is one reason, why poor and hapless have to bear the brunt of his frustration. If he is shouted upon, abused, humiliated and made to behave like a spectator for days together, his reaction to a situation is bound to be exaggerated. Decades ago, a constable asked me while we were engaged in a dingdong battle against a riotous mob for 22 hours at a stretch, 'Sir can I open fire?' Surprised, I asked, why? 'Sir that's the only way I can have some sleep' he said and fired without waiting for my reply. This is where we have brought the policemen to. His failings truly mirror how we look like and behave in public life. The choice of having an effective and friendly policeman lies squarely with us.
(Amar Bhushan is a former Special Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing)