Bureaucracy and Police Take Their Cue from the Rulers

A widely circulated video of a young IAS officer posted in Karnal, Haryana, shows him instructing the police to break the heads of farmers who were agitating as chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, was to address a meeting in the town. Following an outcry, the deputy chief minister, Dushyanat Chautala, said action would be taken against the officer for being so ‘insensitive’.

The officer reportedly said that he had not slept for two days and this, presumably, was his primary defence of his orders. It is hard to understand if the man was serious; he had offered no word of regret, perhaps being sure that the state administration expected him to be harsh with the farmers.      

It will take time before the ‘assurance’ given by Chautala shows its worth. But it may turn out to be another deceptive and misleading statement made by him and many others in the present ruling dispensation.

It cannot be said that the government does not take ‘action’ against officials or senior policemen, serving or retired. But it is worth mentioning that almost invariably the action is taken against those who are in the bad books of the ruling party or those who refuse to bend sufficiently. The government goes after retired officials with the purpose of making them repent their ‘defiance’ while in service.    

Some would be tempted to look at the functioning of the judiciary too. There are times when it uses the whip to remind the government about its duties and denounce the manner of silencing people’s voice. But there are also moments when the judgements of the higher judiciary completely baffle the people as well as legal experts.    

The IAS community and the police force in the country have become more ‘politicized’ in the last seven years than before. Top administrative and police posts are decided on the basis of the loyalty record or perception of candidates drawn from the IAS and IPS. Examples are too many and too well known to be enlisted here.

It has become tiresome to hear the cry for ‘reforms’ in the police and the need for allowing the senior bureaucrats to discharge their duty without fear and favour. It is apparent to one and all that no party will opt for it. The ‘caged parrots’ await freedom that seems more distant than ever before. A way out though by no means simple one will be for the ruling parties to respect the ‘autonomy’ of serving officials and top policemen.      

Chautala had no choice but to talk tough against the official. As head of a political outfit dominated by his Jat (farming) community he could not have remained a silent spectator. He and other ministers in the state have been facing protests from farmers wherever they go to address public meetings. He is yet to regain the credibility he lost among his caste and the farming community in his state for joining hands with the BJP after the state assembly polls which he had fought on a platform of virulent criticism of the saffron party.  

The governor of a north-eastern state, Satpal Malik also expressed his anger at the IAS officer. Malik also belongs to the Jat community and he will need their support if he has to return to active politics. By sticking his neck out on the farmers’ issue, Malik may already have given a hint that he will re-join politics as soon as he can, though it may not be as a BJP candidate.

The Karnal episode has ignited the farmers in the state and nearby Punjab. They have decided to intensify their agitation while for the BJP the task of winning over the farmers in the two states has become more difficult than before.

There are no indications that the BJP will bow to the demands of the agitating farmers and, so, the bureaucracy and the police will continue with their present ways of dealing with the farmers in general and critics in particular. The farce of ‘punishment’ for erring officials will continue.    

Some months ago, Malik had reportedly made a statement supportive of the farmers’ agitation which has entered its ninth month. The only ‘punishment’ he received was his transfer from Goa where he was then posted to the Meghalaya Raj Bhavan. 

There is every reason to be skeptical about the Haryana government taking any serious action against the ’erring’ IAS official. It is a case of déjà vu. In the last seven years there have been innumerable cases of bureaucrats and policemen exhibiting ‘insensitivity’ with impunity and in some cases some ‘action’ being promised against them. But there is no letup in cases of violence against the minorities and critics of the government under the watch of the law-and-order officials. Clearly, the cue from the ruling party is not to be ‘sensitive’ against its critics.

The votaries of ‘reform’ and ‘autonomy’, the alleged panacea for heralding ‘fair’ administration, know it well that even after the ‘caged parrots’ have been set free they can still be seeking favours of the civilian rulers. But one advantage of removing the ‘parrots’ fetters will be that instances of blindly working to please the civilian masters will come down and so will the acts of impunity and brazenness.

Yet another way to ensure that the government sticks to its promise of appropriate action against officials will be relentless follow up by the media. What happens eventually to the announcements of ‘action’ against comparatively junior officials is not always known; that is not even important if the cause of the ‘punishment’ itself is acceptable.

  • By TUSHAR CHARAN
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Journalist, South Asian Analyst