Policing, a Delhi election issue

As political parties gear up for assembly elections in Delhi they must accept that a central issue is that of violence in the city and the role of the police in relation to it. This may seem an odd suggestion as the problems faced by Delhi's people are many and diverse. For instance, as the capital of a country that seeks to take its rightful place in world affairs it is a setback to have diplomats speak of the toxic air as a discouragement to being posted there. In any case, the threat to the life of its citizens posed by pollution is so great that privileging the role of the police as an election issue may appear quixotic. Two recent events suggest otherwise.

        In mid-December the students of Jamia MiIlia Islamia publicly protested the CAA. This was met with an unusual response from the police. The media reported eye-witness accounts of police entering the University's Library and bludgeoning students. Not even the arson that took place in Delhi at the time can justify indiscriminate violence against members of a university going about their business. A university had to be closed due to the excesses of the police force rather than the more common disruption by students. Within three weeks there took place another act of violence against students in a university, though not be the police. Masked hoodlums entered the JNU campus and attacked students and staff in a targeted way. The pattern of the attacks suggests strongly that it was carried out by right-wing forces opposed to left-wing politics at JNU. The Delhi police we are told stood by outside the gates of the campus while a club-wielding mob prowled the campus for several hours. If the University's extensive security apparatus was unable to quell the violence it ought to have called in the police. There is the allegation that the police was complicit in the attack.

         Partisan conduct by the police in India is by no means confined to the Delhi police nor are their attacks on students of recent origin. However, while in the mob attacks on Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 the police had allegedly only been complicit in the violence, in the protests following the CAA they may have taken the law into their own hands. Thus, from the pressure exerted on students and faculty of the IIM Ahmedabad to not protest on their own campus to entering hospitals treating those injured by police gun-fire in Mangaluru everything points to pre-determined action on the part of a force turning on the opponents of the regime. It is in Uttar Pradesh that the role of the police is the most disturbing though. The death toll from police firing is well over 15. Following this FIRs were registered against persons for damage to public property during the protests. Destruction may well have happened. However, those implicated have publicly denied that they have had anything to do with the protests. Ironically, the list included a retired policeman and a rickshaw-wallah. Gujarat, UP and Karnataka have BJP governments. In Delhi the police are not answerable to the State government but to the Union Home Ministry, also under the BJP currently. Nevertheless the AAP Government has the responsibility to investigate the violence at Jamia and JNU as it took place under its watch. These two parties are the main protagonists in the upcoming elections.

        Events that take place in Delhi resonate across the country disproportionately. So the agenda in the state's elections may be expected to make an impression elsewhere in India. With two instances of staged violence in close succession the role of the police in them needs scrutiny. We are a democracy, and elections are an appraisal of how we are governed.