We have watched in utter disbelief and great dismay TV visuals of the riots and violence in the trans-Yamuna area of Delhi. Shocking videos of rampant vandalism, arson and mayhem have been circulating on social media aplenty. That these incidents have happened in Delhi and in broad daylight as if there is no law enforcement in the city, has shaken the entire country. Besides witnessing the snapping of the fragile communal amity between the majority and minority communities we so much pride on, we have also seen our law and order machinery crumble like nine pins and stand helplessly as mute spectators. To see the police force of the capital capitulate, without even showing as much as a fight, has been distressing, to say the least.
In the recent months, the Delhi Police have been found struggling repeatedly -- be it during the lawyer-police clashes or the student protests against CAA at Jamia Milia Islamia or the clashes between two groups of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University or the dharna at Shaheen Bagh. But the communal clashes in east-Delhi in the last four days leave every disruption of peace far behind. The running thread in all aforesaid situations has been the rudderlessness and ineptitude of the local police. Lack of clarity in what is to be done - whether force has to be used or restraint exercised, whether strong preventive action is called for, whether the strong arm of the law is to be flexed - have been the apparent reasons for unprofessional police response. Why could the police not take stern action against rowdy lawyers at Tis Hazari, why some policemen were allowed to run amok in Jamia, why the police couldn’t prevent masked goons from attacking students at JNU hostel or why the anti CAA protestors, who sat down in Shaheen Bagh on dharna, were not removed quickly before a hundred others joined in, are some issues begging for answers. And now the tragic events in minority-dominated pockets of east-Delhi, in which thrity-two people, including a brave head constable of the Delhi Police and an IB staffer, have lost their lives seems to be the nadir of police. As someone who has been a proud member of the force and headed it during some trying times following the horrific Nirbhaya incident, I have watched these events with untold anguish. Therefore, what I write here is with a heavy heart.
Knowing the force as I do, it has had a track record of dealing with law and order situations adeptly. Its failure during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise impressive run when it comes to dealing with violent mobs. However, like any regimented force, it has always been as good or as bad as its leaders. Under the commissionerate of police system that has been in force since 1 July 1978, the Delhi Police have enjoyed full autonomy in dealing with law and order situations. Functioning under the central government - the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) - that supervises it through the lieutenant governor of Delhi, neither the MHA nor the LG interfere in the working of the Delhi Police on a day to day basis. It is pretty much on its own, free to take on-the-spot decisions depending on the ground realities. Therefore, it has itself to blame if it does not measure up to its tasks.
Every officer of the Delhi Police deployed in the field knows how to deal with a developing situation and is capable of dealing with it ably. He or she has adequate experience and enough exposure to react competently. All she needs is the confidence that her bosses will stand by her if things were to go wrong. She must also know clearly what her brief is. Is it to be firm and tough when things are going out of hand or is it to pussyfoot through it. The impression that one has got during the aforesaid riotous situations is that the tacit instructions are to do the latter.
In any regimented force, it is the leader - the Commissioner of Police, Delhi - who sets the tome for his rank and file. If he lacks self-confidence if he is indecisive, and if he is bereft of moral courage, the message percolates down the line and his persona gets reflected in the responses of his force. I daresay, this is precisely what has been on display in the recent months.
The Delhi Police cannot complain of lack of resources nor can it point fingers at anybody else, especially when it comes to dealing with law and order situations. Zones, ranges, districts, sub-divisions and police stations - units of police administration- are all compact in size and manageable units, given the number of supervisory officers down the hierarchical chain - Special Commissioner of Police, Joint Commissioner of Police, District DCP, Additional DCP, Sub-divisional ACP and then the station house officers. There is neither a dearth of vehicles nor other wherewithals to stand up to tough situations. But when the force lacks leadership, all these are of no use. It then begins to lack the moral strength and the sense of purpose when confronted with difficult situations. Remember, there are no poor soldiers, only poor generals!
It is, therefore, imperative that the government must have a robust system to select the most competent officer available as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi. The city is the capital of the country and deserves nothing less than the best. Merit and merit alone should be the ultimate touchstone while choosing the CP, Delhi. And, one last but not the least point. If, God forbid, the rank and file of the force revolt against the CP, and openly heckle him when he tries to pacify them, as it happened on 5 November, the government should not gloss over the event as if nothing has happened. If it does so, it is at its own peril and the peril of its hapless citizens, as the recent events in Delhi have shown.
(The writer is a retired IPS officer, who also served as Commissioner, Delhi Police. Views expressed are personal)