Ram Guha on the politicisation of the Indian police system

Here, in the Telegraph:

Why does a visitor to London trust the police, when even a long-time resident of Bangalore has reservations about the guardians of law and order in his city? This difference has nothing to do with genetics and culture, but all to do with politics and history. If the London policeman is more honest, more efficient, more alert and awake than his Bangalore counterpart, this is because he is part of a system that does not brook interference by the politician or discrimination according to ethnicity and religion.

The head of Scotland Yard does not have to be the personal favourite of the prime minister. The mayor of London has no hand in the selection of the chief of the city’s police force. Promotion and preferment within the British police are a reward for performance and ability. On the other hand, one can be certain that the police commissioners of Bangalore, Calcutta, Mumbai and Lucknow are handpicked by the chief ministers of the states in which these cities are located. The choices may be dictated by the fact that minister and commissioner belong to the same caste, subscribe to the same political ideology, or have a common love of the game of cricket.

This politicization of the Indian police is by no means restricted to jobs in state capitals. A member of the legislative assembly or a member of parliament often decides who shall be posted as the superintendent of police in the district in which his constituency falls. The most prestigious and powerful jobs in the police are allocated, as often as not, on the basis of kin and caste. At other times, they are bid for in the open market. In some states, chief ministers are said to have demanded, and obtained, lakhs or even crores of rupees in return for posting an officer to a district or division of his choice.

Once the top jobs are decided on considerations other than competence, it hard to prevent lesser jobs being allocated in the same manner. So inspectors and station head officers and constables are also often chosen on the basis of caste, religion, favouritism or bribery. Down the line, this puts a premium on the policeman pleasing the man (or minister) who appointed him to his post, rather than focussing on his main job, which is the protection of the ordinary citizen. It also encourages corruption, the desire to make hay before one is suddenly divested of one’s responsibilities when a government changes, an MP fails to win re-election, or the boss retires.

I also liked the last paragraph of the piece:

The rage and anger at the Mumbai attacks is understandable. But it is also increasingly in danger of being misdirected. Rather than calling (as some hotheads have done) for war against Pakistan, this anger would be more constructively channelled towards the renewal of our police force, such that it may function effectively, impartially and promptly in permitting, to the best of its abilities, the free movement of people, goods and ideas that is the basis of the democratic way of life.

Take a look!



3 Responses to “Ram Guha on the politicisation of the Indian police system”

  1. Fëanor Says:

    I am afraid Mr Guha hasn’t been following the recent spate of news on London’s police. The top position for the Metropolitan police is free following the forced exit of the old head by the Mayor of London. Check out this piece in the Economist that details the involved procedure. Note in particular who is actually doing the selection: it’s the Home Minister.

  2. Guru Says:

    Dear Feanor,

    Thanks for the pointer; it indeed is very informative. By the way, what is your feeling, personally? Do you feel that our system is relatively more degraded than others or not?


  3. Fëanor Says:

    Oh absolutely – I agree with Ram Guha’s general argument. We have political interference at almost every level of civil service, which – when coupled with general corruption – means that many things like promotions and transfers and so on are generally driven by political whim, bribes or nepotism. Political pressures at the top of the civil service are par for the course even in the West; the only difference is that the checks and balances tend to work a bit better.

    Slightly off-topic: I remember my dad once saying that the difference between Indian and Indonesian corruption is that with the latter, if you paid someone, you are almost certain of getting the work done – unlike in India!

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