It is unfortunate that the Government has failed to take cognisance of the deteriorating law and order situation in the country when one expected it to act responsibly
A little less than two weeks ago, the national capital witnessed unprecedented protests by hundreds of policemen. The personnel gheraoed their headquarters, demanding intervention and support of senior officers with respect to the clash that took place between them and the lawyers at the Tis Hazari district court complex. On their part, the lawyers have been on a strike and have threatened to continue with it unless their demands are heard to protect them from what they call the high-handedness of the police.
While the origin of the dispute is unclear, it has been reported that the clash was over a parking dispute. Whatever be the reason, the scuffle between them escalated into something much more serious. It was reported that three lawyers were shot and as a result of the struggle, more than 30 people were severely injured. Police vans and vehicles were set on fire and the lawyers’ chambers were ransacked. The dispute continues to linger till the date of writing this article and peaceful ground between the police and the lawyers looks far away. Both sides have stuck to their guns, holding the other side responsible for the scuffle.
Almost a year ago, a similar dispute had erupted, which had led to the breakdown of the law and order situation. Again, a Central Government agency was involved. In October last year, an internal rift between the then Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Alok Verma and his number two, Rakesh Asthana, had become a public spectacle. Both Asthana and Verma hurled corruption charges against each other and approached the courts to ensure protection against legal action. In an extraordinary move, the Union Government sent both officers on leave and with effect, divested the CBI Director of all duties. This move was extraordinary because the CBI Director enjoys a tenure of two years after his appointment by a high-profile committee, which includes the Leader of Opposition.
However, this committee was bypassed to remove Verma, who among other voices, had cast aspersions on the Government for subverting investigations into significant cases. While I have written about the crisis of credibility in the past, the reason I want to recount this incident is because both the present crisis involving the police and lawyers as well as the last incident involving the CBI have two things in common: First, both situations make a mockery of the law and water down safeguards that are essential for a democracy to thrive. Second, in both cases no one from the Government took responsibility for the mess or showed interest to ensure that the situation is diffused in a responsible manner.
The failure to maintain law and order is unfortunately becoming more frequent over the last few years in the country. The law has been abused by individual law-makers in power. It seems the rule of law has now changed to the law of rulers. Therefore, I will not go through these details again.
The fact, however, is that we now live in a country where we have been immunised against impropriety in general. This is not necessarily always in the form of cases like Swami Chinmayanand and the Uttar Pradesh Police’s handling of the rape case against the said BJP leader. Sometimes, mockery takes different forms. For example, the unilateral manner in which demonetisation was pressed upon the citizens and the lack of scientific examination into it that has had a tectonic impact on the country’s economy.
Another example is how the Right to Information (RTI) Act was watered down or how fake news and hate speech have been allowed to thrive on social media. All of these instances, while completely unconnected at the first blush, have a disconcerting common thread running through them: They are all symptoms of a weakening democracy. The clash between the police and the lawyers is only the latest symptom of a more serious problem.
Now let’s talk about the second issue, which relates to the fact that no one from the Government has taken responsibility for or ensured that the stand-off between the Delhi Police, which comes under the Union Home of Ministry, and the lawyers, is settled responsibly. It is here that questions about leadership arise. Through the entire dispute we saw senior police officials stepping in. We have seen numerous voices throw their inputs into the mix. But what we did not see was the intervention of the Union Home Minister on this issue. We have seen the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi in the front and centre but none from the Union Government intervened. This is especially disappointing because it follows a trend where during the good times — typically election victories — we get to hear many representatives of the Government speaking on television for great lengths.
However, just as often, during times when the Government is faced with a crisis, we do not see any official offer an explanation or provide reassurance. In a few instances, where we have seen Ministers taking questions during difficult situations, we have been left a little concerned than reassured. One example of this was how the Finance Minister responded and reacted to the economic crisis. While taking questions on the slowdown of the auto industry, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman deflected the blame to cab aggregators like Ola and Uber for the plummeting sale of cars. A response like this seems to be disconnected from reality and displays a desire to deflect blame rather than taking responsibility to fix the situation.
Not one person can be held completely responsible for a crisis. In an economic/job crisis, for example, external factors matter, too. However, as things stand today, there should be little debate on the fact that there are internal governance issues, which have exacerbated the problem further. It would have been nice to see the Finance Minister talk about redressing these issues rather than worrying about image management. The former is the kind of leadership that can help India steer itself through crisis.
The showdown between the police and lawyers calls for a brand of leadership where people are reassured that the Government is capable of taking steps to ensure that the crisis is averted with minimum loss and with maturity. I am fortunate to see the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at work. I have seen it taking steps while at the same time encouraging brand of leadership. No doubt, there will be instances where we may fall short, too, but I am optimistic that we will not shy away from the problem, no matter how uncomfortable.
I will instead face the problem head-on. This is frankly what our voters expect from us. Similarly, I think we should not be shy of demanding same standards from other political leaders, too.
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer