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

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ajay Singh

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.

Ashish asthana

Arun ku­mar

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