Muzaffarnagar violence: How politicians wield power over the police

Every time a crisis occurs in India, the political establishment of the day has to mouth some platitude. When the cloudburst triggered deaths and physical destruction in Uttarakhand, the Prime Minister ‘instructed’ quick relief to the victims. Shouldn’t it have been provided without being told?

Now, the latest is the statement by Akhilesh Yadav that he ‘has given a free hand to officers in the district to do their job’. He also gave “strict instructions that no one in the party should interfere” in the Muzaffarnagar riots. Shouldn’t they be doing their job on their own, any political interference always barred?

Forces deployed in Muzaffarnagar. PTI

Forces deployed in Muzaffarnagar. PTI

But we don’t do business that way for not only such instructions go out because the administrations are so trammelled by politics that they seldom can work by the rule. Rules are not observed because the politicians call the shots, always. That is detrimental to governance.

Those in power wield the maximum power. Their wish normally becomes a command. If a local politician, even if of an opposition party, wields influence, then the local administration is quickly called to heel to meet partisan objectives. Money and muscle power, voter strength, are the influencers.

In this context, the sudden transfers of senior police officials who had an oversight on Muzaffarnagar do run counter to the chief minister’s ‘free hand’ claim.  Maybe, had the officials had a free hand to begin with, such communal situations may not have emerged. A new man takes times to gain traction on management of a crisis.

In our system, politics easily mesh with administration because the rule books don’t count. Like Naresh Aggarwal, a SP MP said, ‘simply because officials are from English-language schools doesn’t mean they have all the wisdom’. That means, the officialdom with their mandates is only pawns.

In reality, unless the issues are petty, the officialdom does not act freely because the overhang of the powerful politicians is a reality. An arrest may even trigger a transfer, even a loss of face when the release of a person can be ‘ordered’ leading to loss of face. Loss of face also reduces the bribe-taking index of officials.

They, therefore, constantly look over their shoulders, which is quite tricky anywhere in India, but caste and community based politics of Uttar Pradesh makes everyone vulnerable. Durga Shakti Nagpal faced the risk of independent action. So has Ashok Khemka in Haryana.

The import of Aggarwal’s idea is significant. The politicians with their greater understanding of the ground situations are better placed to deal with them, then, they are the very same people who ought to have stemmed the crisis from emerging. They know the people and what was happening.

However, these people end up with the farcical comedy of setting out on fact finding missions even when the crisis is red hot. Ajit Singh, union minister and his son try to get there and are stopped in their tracts by the government. BJP sends out a team, also to ‘find facts’ and is stopped.

These serve, from their point of view, an excellent purpose. The moment they are stopped, the media swoop provides the platform for allegations, surely to be followed by counter-charges and name-calling fills the air. Suddenly, what is politics is further ‘politicised’; fodder for chat shows later.

Currently, three elements are in play in, and in connection with Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarpur riots. One, is the savage communal situation which already has cost close to 30 lives; two, politicians in full action in blame game; and three, shifting of police officials on charges of mishandling.

They make for a cauldron rich with potential to keep the political establishment on the boil, name calling, apportioning blame on the strength of some basis or in the hope that some would stick on someone somehow. The worst is that the political leaderships of all parties would go scot-free.

Should it happen that way? It needn’t be. But suddenly, in such cases, mostly in matter of days, the politics and politicians swing into action to muddy it so much that the very communal riots, the causes, is more likely to be forgotten than not. When President’s Rule was sought, it peaked quickly.

The shift from the crime to politics is such a routine that the play out is by now taken as a given in India. This escalation is planned in competitive politics.  While, especially since Yadav’s ascent to the Lucknow throne, there have been 200 incidents of communal violence.  Their politics ought to have been cooperative.

To start with politics as practiced in India seeks the administrations compliance to further political ends, essentially partisan, especially to win votes and keep rivals in trouble, and in the process, renders it effete. In the bargain, when legal power is not allowed to be wielded, illegalities, including bribes, become a rule.

In the bargain, while politicians play their games, and officials forced to kowtow, and in most cases, willingly so, we have a poor arrangement which ignores or even neglects the people’s interest. What is happening now in Muzaffarnagar is one that has come to surface though elsewhere too, it is like that only, enfeebling everything except politics.