Trapped in legacy

Published : Apr 25, 2008 00:00 IST

The book presents a comprehensive analysis of the issues confronting the Indian police system.

A NUMBER of former senior officers, who held important positions in Indias security and police systems, have written books on the basis of their experiences in protecting the country.

The memoirs of B.N. Mullick, Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) under Indias first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, published in the early 1970s, was one such early work that brought out a senior security officials perspective on issues relating to governance, politics and the management of the law-and-order machinery. In recent years, more and more retired senior officers have taken to recording their experiences.

Many of these publications have got noticed for their sensational disclosures about some phase in the nations history or about a well-known personality or a variety of personalities in the countrys social and political life. Some of them generated controversies arising from allegations that the writers had violated the Official Secrets Act (OSA). Cases in point are former I.B. Joint Director Maloy Krishna Dhars Open Secrets, Indias Intelligence Unveiled (2005) and Major-General (retired) V.K. Singhs Indias External Intelligence: Secrets of RAW (2007).

But former senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer K.S. Subramanians Political Violence and the Police in India (2007, Sage Publications), does not fall into the category of controversial books on the Indian security system. It does not strive to make sensational disclosures or generate a shock. The book offers a methodical and near-comprehensive analysis of issues that confront the security of institutions which the author refers to collectively as the Indian police system. His analytical tools are manifold but inter-related.

Socio-economic problems such as terrorism, communal violence and naxalite extremism, which the system is compelled to tackle on a day-to-day basis, are discussed at some length. Along with it, the multi-dimensional structure of the system is examined with specific parameters. The net result is a unique historical perspective that brings together academic evaluation of the macro issues on the security front and a distinctive perspective that encapsulates an understanding of even organisational matters at the micro level.

More specifically, this is a perspective that could have been developed only by a person who knows the system from inside and at the same time has adequate academic credentials to advance a sociological discourse.

Subramanian has been associated for more than three decades with the system in various capacities, starting as an I.B. officer in the B group (B for Bolshevik) that kept an eye on the activities of the Communist parties and later holding higher positions such as Director of the Civil Rights Cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs. All through his service he displayed a penchant for academic pursuits, doing stints in organisations such as the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, England.

Both the narrative and analytic components of Political Violence and the Police in India reflect Subramanians exposure to the academic and organisational streams as well as his deep concern for human rights.

The book addresses eight core issues confronted by the police system. It starts with a broad analysis of political violence and the states response.

This delineation leads to a discussion of the crisis in the system and highlights concrete issues such as communal violence, especially state-sponsored violence against the minority Muslim community, violence against Dalits and Adivasis, political violence in the north-eastern States, the growth of Maoist-naxalite violence in different parts of the country, the rise of the central paramilitary forces (CPMF) as a parallel police force and the use of I.B. as an instrument of partisan politics by those in power.

Subramanian defines political violence in a double sense. At the very outset, he points out that political violence refers to violence that calls for a political response and implies that in a situation of large-scale institutional malfunctioning, politics acquires an appetite for all spaces, both public and private. Thus all violence becomes political, in a sense.

Drawing upon earlier studies, including that of human rights lawyer K.G. Kannabiran, the author points out that terms such as law and order, public order or security of state are often used to unleash state violence with impunity. He also takes into account the points of the subaltern perspective, which views the nationalist movement as elitist and as having betrayed the interests of the popular movements, thus paving the way for political violence and violent political movements. The subaltern school holds the view that activities such as the naxalite violence are expressions of this ontological divide. Subramanians exposition of the idea of political violence in a double sense also underscores the view that this kind of violence calls for a political response.

However, successive Indian governments have relied on the police machinery not only for gathering information on social conflict and violence but also for analysing and interpreting the phenomena. The reason put forth by the book is that the Indian police system essentially reflects a process of continuity in the working of the police since the colonial period, with its emphasis on control, coercion and surveillance rather than crime prevention and public order management.

The book points out that the colonial Irish Constabulary became the model for the Indian police system, with the state even emulating it in the creation of the centralised paramilitary organisation. It also asserts that the CPMF has repeatedly failed to fulfil its specified tasks in various situations, which include controlling political and religious militancy in the north-eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir as well as those perpetrated by Maoists in different parts of the country.

Still, the book points out, the legacy of the system, its shortcomings, and the failures caused by these shortcomings have not been examined seriously in independent India. Subramanian makes out a strong case for the removal of the paramilitary and the repressive political-organisational features of the police structure.

He examines the historical perpetuation of the colonial legacy and analyses the manner in which it strengthened the urge to centralise. The author points out that the perpetuation process started right from 1947 on account of the imagined, motivated or real fear of fragmentation of India. An important revelation in this context is that it was during the counter-insurgency operation in Telangana that the I.B. first emerged as an all-India agency for the collection of political intelligence.

There is also the revelation that the Central Reserve Police Force was formed in 1949 as an organisational continuation of the Crowns Representative Police raised a decade earlier for the protection of law and order in the princely states.

This process got further strengthened as the Congress, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, initiated manoeuvres to undermine the growth of Opposition parties. Subramanian points out that the role of the I.B. as an instrument of political disruption was developed during this period.

In this context, the book records the I.B.s role in the deployment of the Army in the Naga areas in 1955 against the advice of the Army, the State Governor and the Ministry of External Affairs, the unconstitutional dismissal of the E.M. Sankaran Namboodiripad-led first Communist party government in Kerala in 1959, and the imposition of Emergency in 1975 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, as cases in point.

The use of the police for propagation of communal violence led to another form of centralisation. Referring to the Gujarat police strikes of 1979-86, he says that fascist tendencies in Gujarat had their beginnings in the socio-political climate of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The author refers to the study by an Uttar Pradesh Police Officer, Vibhuti Narain Rai, who analysed the role of the police during 10 Hindu-Muslim riots between 1931 and 1993 and came to the firm conclusion that the police did not act as a neutral law enforcement agency but as a Hindu force.

In recent years, the book points out, the governments counter-terrorism initiatives have become instruments to advance the process of centralisation. With particular reference to the naxalite movement, Subramanian points out that in spite of the talk of addressing the socio-economic conditions of the socially and economically deprived people in order to wean them away from the influence of Left extremism, the I.B. and the State governments continue to be the main official sources of information.

Given the historical evolution of its organisational and political structure, the intelligence system, the author says, has an inbuilt tendency to view militant struggles of the rural poor as attempts at incipient insurgency threatening the existing political order.

He also points out that in their approach these agencies do not take into account the fact that naxalite violence is, in part, a retaliatory violence against the increasing violence against Dalits and Adivasis. Subramanian recommends a mutual symbiosis of state and society approach in order to address the problem of Left extremism.

Significantly, he says that neither the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, nor the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities), Rules, 1995, came up for discussion in the high-level meetings convened by the Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss the issue of naxalite violence in several States, which is rapidly growing with the support of the S.C.s and S.T.s.

Subramanian has no doubt that reform is the only way to correct the maladies in the system. However, he does not find the delineation of a correct line even in the eight-volume report of the National Police Commission in 1980 on police reforms. In his view, such Commissions would be of no use if the system continues to thwart internal mechanisms that could help develop a social perspective.

A case in point is the winding up of the research and policy division in the Ministry of Home Affairs. With its closure additional inputs of knowledge, skill and vision from multidisciplinary research and policy analysis were no longer available.

Subramanian has suggested several concrete steps to address some of the issues he raises in the book. One suggestion of fundamental importance is the creation of a National Commission of Violence in India on the model of the one set up in the United States after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The recommendations made in the book as well as its narrative and analysis will certainly take forward the public debate on police reform.

Undoubtedly, Political Violence is a kind of primer for any student of the Indian police system. However, Subramanian himself can think in terms of coming up with a more elaborate study of the issues and problems he has addressed through the present volume.

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