As the nation kicks off two-year-long celebrations for the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we continue to receive reminders on daily basis of how deep is the chasm between his vision of India and the reality, between his faith in truth and non-violence and how the Indian state perceives these two perennial values.
The latest reminder is the killing, by a policeman, of an executive in Lucknow on Saturday — an example of wanton violence.
Influenced by Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy's critiques of the modern state, Gandhi had no illusions about the nature of the beast — be it the colonial government or even a democratic one. "The State represents violence in a concentrated and organised form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence," he had said.
And yet his lifelong mission was to demonstrate how and why, not only individuals but nation-states, should embrace non-violence. Writing for his journal 'Harijan' on 12 November, 1938, Gandhi argued, "It is blasphemy to say that non-violence can only be practised by individuals and never by nations composed of individuals."
Gandhi was so consistent in his belief in non-violence that nearly four decades before Independence, in ‘Hind Swaraj’, he had cautioned against the possibility of Indian self-rule acquiring the characteristics of the British raj including its use of violence as an instrument of state policy: "You want the tiger's nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English."
The increasing instances of violence by the State against its own hapless citizens over the decades only confirm Gandhi's worst fears. The state represented by the police or other institutions often sees itself in an adversarial role when it comes to dealing with the citizenry. In the absence of a moral political authority, drum-beaters for the State defend what is patently indefensible. (If you have any doubt, check how some social media users are trying to justify the killing of Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow.)
The trend is certainly not new. The State often mobilises support for its extra-judicial indiscretions and defends it by inventing many theories. There are thousands of cases of this nature over the decades across the country that got buried deep into the files without getting a glimpse of fair trial. Believe me, had Vivek Tiwari, a middle-class salaried professional like many of us, not been killed in the heart of Lucknow and had he not been associated with a brand name like Apple, his extra-judicial execution would have been largely ignored and cavalierly treated. We know what happened after the killings in Maliana, Hashimpura or Pilibhit. Justice was not delivered and the guilty were not punished.
Ironically, there is an unspoken consensus among political parties in making the culture of violence intrinsic to statecraft. For instance, Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) is trying to corner the BJP government and its leaders are queuing up outside Vivek Tiwari’s residence. But it was the same SP which was in power in the state in 2013 when communal riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar, and an IPS officer of additional DG rank was instructed by a top SP leader to shoot some jats in order to equalise the numbers with those of Muslim victims.
The officer was aghast and refused to obey the instruction; so he was removed. Perhaps the SP leader might have found a pliant officer who could do his bidding.
Those who are perturbed over the Lucknow killing would do well to jog their memory and recall an encounter in Connaught Place in Delhi in broad daylight in the mid-nineties. A special team of Delhi police had gunned down two businessmen merely on the suspicion that they were terrorists. Much before they could plant weapons on them, media persons and the victims’ family members reached the spot and the truth was exposed. However, the then police commissioner Nikhil Kumar, invented a new phrase, “a case of bonafide mistake”, to mitigate the crime.
Such “bonafide mistakes” keep happening with unfailing regularity, reminding us that the Indian state's link to Gandhism is a fig leaf to cover up the features of a criminal enterprise nurtured by a conducive political ecosystem. It requires the courage of conviction of a morally superior political leadership to defang this governance of criminality.
It will be naïve to believe that those at the helm of the affairs are oblivious to this drift. This has been brought to notice and discussed again and again, only to be pushed aside as a meaningless exercise. Let me recount one instance where such an attempt was made. In an annual conference of DGPs hosted by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 2013, Bihar’s police chief Abhayanand presented a paper titled “Law versus Lathi”. He volunteered to share the details of (mis)handling of the violent events in the aftermath of the killing of Brahmeshwar Mukhia, chief of an outlawed, upper-caste militia, in Bhojpur district.
Much to the scorn of the audience that included all top officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS), Abhyanand insisted that though he regretted having let the goons run amok in Patna and hold the city to ransom, he avoided using guns as deterrent only to uphold the rule of law. In his view, excessive force would have killed innocents too. Though his presentation did trigger a debate about the use of force by police, his suggestion was outright rejected. A director general of a central force quipped, “Don’t make such prescriptions for areas affected by insurgents and Maoists!”
In retrospect, Abhayanand who had faced ridicule then now recalls that his only objective was to emphasise the necessity of strict adherence to the rule of law. As a journalist, I was sceptical about his method of policing even then.
But the manner in which the police have been going berserk to project a macho state calls for alarm, not only in Uttar Pradesh but across the country. Perhaps it would be in order to debate if the civil police needs to maintain an adversarial relationship with the citizenry, if it needs to be de-weaponised. Men in khaki inspiring confidence and sense of security would be a far better sight than the image of being a fear monger.
Mahatma Gandhi carried a lathi as symbol of strength, not an instrument of violence, and was always guided by higher moral codes and ethics. As the nation prepares to hold year-long celebrations to mark his 150th anniversary, there cannot be a more genuine tribute to the Father of the Nation by today’s leaders than to arrive at a political unanimity to purge statecraft of this intrinsic violence.
Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 11:05 AM