Trigger-happy cop in Lucknow: Mahatma and the murderous state
A policeman in Lucknow gives us yet another reminder of how the rulers have failed Gandhi’s vision of non-violence
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we continue to receive on daily basis reminders 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 practises these two perennial values.
The latest reminder was the killing, by a policeman, of a corporate executive named Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow on September 29 – an example of wanton violence.
Gandhi was afraid of precisely this. Influenced by Thoreau and 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.” And yet his lifelong mission was to demonstrate how and why not only individuals but whole nation-states can and must embrace non-violence. Writing for his journal, ‘Harijan’, on November 12, 1938, he argued, “It is blasphemy to say that non-violence can only be practised by individuals and never by nations composed of individuals.”
The state and violence go together the world over, and there are reasons for it. The concept of the modern state evolved as an understanding between people and the rulers, that in order to safeguard life and property, people would give power to the rulers to use violence against transgressors. Thus, in modern society, the state has monopoly over violence – supposedly to maintain law and order.
If those in power in most nations are not routinely shooting down citizens who did not stop their car for police inspection, it is because there are elaborate checks and balances in place, to contain violence. It is this chain of answerability and the institutions that embody them that are thoroughly missing from the Indian scene.
Also, India has an ironical situation. most modern states were born of violent struggles against the colonial masters or the ancien regime, and thus violence was ingrained in them. But, as the Indian nation came into being after a predominantly nonviolence campaign, the state should have one reason less to resort to violence as an instrument of state policy. Unfortunately, India as a state has continued the legacy of the British rulers, instead of the non-violent freedom fighters.
Gandhi was prescient: nearly four decades before the independence, in ‘Hind Swaraj’ he had cautioned against this possibility of Indian selfrule acquiring the characteristics of the British raj including its use of violence: “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 authorities 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.)
Badlands of the heartland
The trend is certainly not new. The state often mobilises support for its extrajudicial 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. Had 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 like Apple, his extrajudicial
execution would have been largely ignored and cavalierly treated. do we know what happened after the killings in Maliana, Hashimpura or Pilibhit? Was justice delivered and the guilty punished? The answer is: no.
Ironically, there exists an unspoken consensus among political parties in making the culture of violence intrinsic to the statecraft. For instance, Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) attempted to corner the Yogi Adityanath government on this latest outcome of its Mission Thok Denge. SP leaders queued up outside Vivek Tiwari’s residence. But the same SP 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.
Which party is in power matters little, as Uttar Pradesh over the years has become an outlier, developing a political culture in which the state is in race to outdo all other violent elements. Otherwise, how can one explain the killing of Munna Bajarangi, a dreaded gangster, in a jail – which means in a place where he was under state protection? And no incident involving the state and violence is unprecedented: YC Sachan, a key accused in the state’s massive nrhm scam was found killed inside a jail in June 2011.
And, then, Uttar Pradesh too does not have monopoly over state violence. As the all-critical police reforms remain pending for long, every state has sharpshooters on its rolls. As Allahabad’s justice Anand Narayan Mulla put it way back in the sixties: “I say it with all sense of responsibility
that there is not a single lawless group in the whole country whose record of crime is anywhere near the record of that organised unit which known as the Indian police force.” The urban middle class has learned to look the other way when police indulge in misdemeanours – till one of us is gunned down.
Take for instance the encounter in Connaught Place, in the heart of the national capital, 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.
Any rethink would be deemed meaningless
It will be naïve to believe that those at the helm of the affairs are oblivious of 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 amuck 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 then also sceptical about his method of policing. But the manner in which the police have been going berserk to project a macho state calls for an alarm – not only in UP but across the entire 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 the statecraft of intrinsic violence.
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 authorities often sees itself in an adversarial role when it comes to dealing with the citizenry.