On the eve of the 65th Republic Day, Delhi witnessed a dharna by the AAP ministers and MLAs in Delhi. As the dharna entered its second day, Kejriwal said there would be no ‘middle-of-the-road’ solution and it would go on indefinitely and even confront the official show of Republic Day parade with lakhs of people on the roads of Delhi. But as the day passed into the evening, the dharna was called off following a face-saving declaration by the Lt Governor of Delhi to send two SHOs on leave.
The dharna gave rise to animated debates in the electronic media. There were voices from the ruling elite describing the dharna as anarchy and as negation of governance while Kejriwal defended the dharna as democracy. Past examples were remembered when elected governments went on agitations against the Central government or on larger political questions. Elected governments are perfectly within their rights to launch agitations in the interest of democracy and the people. The issue is the agenda of the struggle and the purpose it serves for the people the government is supposed to represent and serve.
Kejriwal raised the specific demand of action against three SHOs. A Danish woman tourist was robbed and gang-raped near Connaught Place in the early evening on 14 January. Neha Yadav was set on fire by her in-laws for alleged non-payment of dowry on 13 January in Sagarpur in south-west Delhi. Kejriwal wanted action against the concerned SHOs of Paharganj and Sagarpur. The third instance involves Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti and the SHO of Malviya Nagar PS. In this case the role of the minister has come in for serious public criticism and instead of responding to that criticism, senior AAP leaders ridiculed protesters, defended Bharti and demanded action against the Malviya Nagar SHO for not obeying Bharti’s orders.
Now if there are specific reports of drug rackets or organised prostitution in the area, police must intervene and act according to legal provisions. But evidence indicates that Bharti was not seeking action against specific individuals, but rather, indiscriminate and illegal raids on an entire community of African nationals. The local people may have serious grievances against the police and AAP leaders are justified in taking up the cases on behalf of the local people, but the minister cannot lead a midnight raid with his supporters, making racist comments and instigating supporters to violate the bodily integrity, dignity and rights of African women on the basis of suspicion and allegation of being involved in ‘drug and sex rackets’. There can be no grounds for allowing Somnath Bharti to continue as Law Minister: by doing so, the AAP Government is only proving that there is little to distinguish it from Congress and BJP Governments that have similarly defended the indefensible by their leaders accused of corruption, illegal snooping or communal violence.
Drug and organised prostitution rackets may be serious issues in the area but concerns about organised racist politics and violence in the area ought to be equally a matter of concern for an elected representative, whose interventions must then be in accordance with the principles of human rights, justice and gender sensitivity. People accusing Somnath Bharti of displaying racist attitudes and violating the provisions of law and human rights have serious reasons for raising their point and AAP leaders and spokespersons have only exposed their intolerance for democratic criticism and opposition by ridiculing protesters as pimps and defenders of ‘drug and sex rackets’.
It is ironic that while AAP ministers sat on dharna against the Union Home Ministry, the AAP government dropped the very idea of holding a Janata Darbar after thousands turned up in the first and only Janata Darbar to articulate their grievances. Contract teachers have been on dharna outside Delhi Secretariat for days together even as Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues sat on dharna near Rail Bhavan. Just as the Delhi government is within its rights to demand greater powers for itself, it is also duty-bound to fulfil its electoral commitments to the people of Delhi. It is well within Kejriwal’s powers to make contract workers – at least those employed in Delhi Government institutions – permanent, and he must not lose an instant in doing so. But disturbingly enough some contract teachers were reportedly beaten up at the AAP dharna site.
Kejriwal described the Lt Governnor’s decision to send two SHOs on leave as a partial but important victory for the people of Delhi. How exactly this dharna would contribute to the larger question of urgent police reforms in the country or the agenda of securing full statehood for Delhi is not at all clear. What is clear is that AAP wanted to turn the issue of action against Bharti into a stand-off with the Union Home Ministry and use the Delhi dharna as a launching pad for its Lok Sabha election campaign.
Rather than championing the demand for the police’s autonomy from partisan political control, Kejriwal’s dharna merely demanded a change of political command for the Delhi Police. By insisting on transfer of an SHO who failed to do the illegal and irresponsible bidding of a Minister who was stoking passions against African nationals, isn’t the Delhi Government in fact perpetuating the habits of other Governments which have routinely exercised partisan political control over the police?
Rather than the AAP’s notion of mohalla-based social control over the police (the dangers of which have been demonstrated in the Khirkee episode), what is needed is to ensure the Police’s strict adherence to democratic rights, and alertness to and sensitisation against caste, gender, communal, racial and other biases that are embedded in ‘common’ sense. In matters involving the rights of minorities and sections of people vulnerable to bias and prejudice, the police must uphold the laws and Constitutional norms strictly, rather than act at the bidding of Ministers or mob sentiment.
In Delhi and across India, people are victims of police high-handedness, corruption and repression in their daily lives. Democratisation of policing – defined not as obedience to majority sentiment but as obedience to the Constitutionally mandated norms of sensitivity and rights of all people including minorities - is a key component of the overall programme of democratisation of the Indian society and polity.
This Republic Day let us insist on the urgent agenda of implementing democratic police reforms in the country to make policing people-friendly and bring it in strict consonance with the law of the land, provisions of the Constitution, and democratic rights. Reform the Police! Make Police Accountable to Democratic Rights!! Reclaim the Republic!!!