An open letter to Nitish Kumar

Print edition : December 16, 2005
Dear Nitish Kumarji,

Heartiest congratulations to you on achieving what many considered to be an unrealisable goal. What has happened in Bihar is something revolutionary. Although it is team work that brought about this, many of us believe that it is your personal leadership of the campaign to dislodge family misrule of the State which has made all the difference.

I have not had the privilege of interacting with you in Delhi when I was posted there. I understand from many of my Bihar friends that you are a good man, dedicated to the cause of the poor and intensely committed to the development of your State. More importantly, I am told you do not stand for any single caste, but are interested in uplifting the entire community. This gives you a headstart in what should be a long and difficult journey on roads that are bumpy, both literally and figuratively.

You are an experienced administrator. Your stewardship of the Railway Ministry is still referred to by many in positive terms. Your knowledge of Bihar and its monumental problems is by all accounts second to none. In contrast, mine is limited to the seamier side of the State administration as gleaned from the fodder scam investigation. It did give me several insights into the ingenuity of some in the ruling clique. It demonstrated how, backed by state power, a civil service could be subverted, subsumed and decimated by a rapacious group to whom plundering the State khazana came naturally. This is going to be your real problem: how to get the best out of your administrative class that will find every excuse and quote every rule in the book to thwart your urge to act, and act fast to pull the State out of its current morass.

The day election results were announced, you were asked what your priorities were. You shot back the most convincing answer: governance. You followed this up saying that `governance' included law and order. There could not have been a more accurate diagnosis of the ills that plague Bihar. There is unanimity that Bihar is in a state of anarchy, where murders and kidnappings can be ordered at will to settle scores with enemies or to make a quick buck. There are hoodlums - some of whom hold elective offices - who are ever willing to facilitate these despicable operations in the most efficient manner possible and for a low fee. You also know that there is hardly any incentive for young Biharis with a sense of values to stay on in the State, especially if they want to do well in life. They would rather migrate to Delhi or similar centres of higher education and pursue their goals. This is why you find many Bihari youths opting to go to Delhi at great cost and personal hardship to appear for the Indian Institute of Technology entrance examination or the civil services test. Their resolve not to go back to Bihar gives them the competitive edge over others and enables them to get into the all-India services with unbelievable ease. Don't you think you will need these dedicated youngsters to return to Bihar and assist you in raising the State to levels of respectability? And how would you prevent such exodus of talent to other States? First-aid to a terribly ailing Bihar should be in the form of restoring law and order and the common man's faith in the neutrality of the criminal justice system. Future prescriptions of medicine will not be of any avail unless this immediate step is taken.

The criminal justice system in the whole country is in a bad shape. Possibly it is at its worst in Bihar, as evidenced by the recent Jehanabad jail break-in. You need to do something about this. In the criminal justice system, the police plays a more crucial role than the other two arms, that is, the judiciary and corrections (prisons and probation). In the past few decades or so, the Bihar Police has not exactly distinguished itself. You would have seen Director General of Police D.P. Ohja going on TV a few months ago to describe the travails of the force. His description of the activities of Shahabuddin in particular pinpointed how a ruling party muscleman, supported by a Chief Minister, could dictate terms to the police. You should be clear in your mind as to how you are going to keep Shahabuddins in your ruling coalition at bay. I refuse to believe that there are none of the same ilk in the current Assembly who would somehow like to ingratiate themselves into your camp. Your diktat to your MLAs should be that they shall not interfere in the day-to-day working of the police. They are welcome to bring to your notice instances of police misconduct or tell you how the police should be strengthened in the State. But on no account should they ask for illegal or irregular favours from police stations. As things presently are, this is asking for the moon. You will also become unpopular with your colleagues for trying to convert the Bihar Police into a non-political outfit whose focus is only service to the common man. But do not be deterred by this fallout. You have the common man behind you. As the saying goes, if God is for you, who can be against you? And the common man is your God. Recall what Rajaji and Sardar Patel envisaged for the police in the days after Independence. Politically speaking, they may not have been great successes. They, however, set up a value-based administration that is still the model for all of us in the business of public administration.

My strong belief is that Bihar needs firm policing which is, at the same time, humane and consumer-oriented. There is a fear of crime in the State that is widely talked about. How does one reduce this fear? Mind you, I am not talking here about reducing crime. My appeal is in favour of launching a conscious exercise that solely targets the mind, so that people move about freely without the apprehension of getting mugged or kidnapped. This freedom from fear is possible only by enhancing police visibility. More foot-patrol men in the streets and more police patrol vehicles crisscrossing a locality at frequent intervals give a certain confidence of public safety that is inestimable. This does not necessarily mean pushing up police strength, something that many States cannot afford. Initially, it calls only for effective re-deployment of existing manpower. This is a task that is best left to the DGP and his officers. I am sure that high police visibility, especially in the urban centres, will go a long way in restoring public confidence in the police.

My second prescription is that you should order free registration of crime. You know, and I know, that only a small percentage of reports to the police are brought on record or end up in First Information Reports (FIRs) which call for investigation as prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). The police tendency to suppress crime is universal, and it is the favourite pastime of Indian policemen. Such a tendency is traceable to the current practice of assessing police performance only on the basis of crime statistics. You should desist from this. If all crime reported to the police is registered as I suggest, there will be a spurt in figures that will stand out from the past. In such a situation, your detractors will criticise you. You should ignore such criticism and respond saying that a rise in crime is explained by the police resolve to bring crime on record so that they are investigated and the culprit identified. The greatest case for free registration lies in its off-shoot, namely, renewed faith in the police as a people-oriented organisation. This change in people's perception of the police will itself give your government a positive image that is a bonus in the early years of your stewardship of the state.

If you want the police to acquire the image of a sleek and efficient force, an injection of science and technology into its working is definitely indicated. This is especially in the context of the terrorist problem that you certainly have. Scientific investigation of crime and use of technology in the interface with the public are bound to impress the common man that you are trying to transform the police mind-set. This is an indirect benefit whose value is hard to exaggerate. Commonplace technology such as CCTV cameras in public places, computers for recording crime and storing statistics, improved traffic signals for regulation of movement of vehicles and computer-assisted dispatch of patrol vehicles in response to distress calls from the public will greatly help to build an image of professionalism that the common man would simply love. You need resources to introduce technology in policing. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already extended a hand of friendship to you. This is an index of his anxiety to help you. You should take advantage of this and wrest generous assistance from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the Police Modernisation Scheme that has been in vogue for several decades. You need not invent the wheel again. Several progressive States have been pioneers in the use of science and technology for police. A group of senior police officers in your State may be given the task of studying the innovations in other States and come up with a quick blueprint. This could be a semi-formal arrangement that is an inexpensive but effective method by which you can sharpen policing under your leadership in quick time. For heaven's sake, do not appoint a committee for this purpose. Committees are meant to procrastinate, and you definitely do not want to delay improvement of the quality of police work.

Finally, you need a police force with a high state of morale and motivation. At present, I understand that the average Bihar policeman is demoralised and he is far from being motivated. This is unfortunate. You need to give him every possible incentive that will egg him on to put his best foot forward. Long hours of work, without even a short break, are unavoidable. But then, you can definitely give policemen a reasonable work and living environment. This again requires huge infrastructural investment which Bihar may not be able to afford. Here, the Home Ministry can help. The focus should be on better police stations (with a reception area where complaints are received and a rest-cum-dining room, and a toilet facility for station staff that is usable at all times) and improved police housing colonies. Police stations in Tamil Nadu, especially those in Chennai, are a model to emulate. The Bangalore City Police, thanks to the initiative of a dynamic former Commissioner S. Mariswamy, has an amazing set of modern police stations contributed by the private sector, especially IT companies. Again, the Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation is a success story that is worthy of being copied. Unless you provide hygienic working and living conditions, your policemen will never give a good account of themselves. And unless they rise as one man, you are not going to restore law and order in Bihar. An immediate dialogue with captains of industry all over the country will bring you the resources that you so badly need to upgrade policing. Traditional policemen will tell you that the private sector will only give you aid with strings. Do not believe them. Enlightened businessmen are ethical and have the interest of the common man at heart. They would in particular help an honest leader like you, if only to restore value-based governance in the country.

I want you desperately to succeed. You have the support not only of Biharis but the rest of the country as well. This is because the damage caused by all that has happened in Bihar to the Indian polity is incalculable. We do not want more Bihars in the country. We can hardly afford it when we are galloping towards the goal of a fully developed nation, which is already the envy of many in the affluent West.

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