Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the states to adopt the idea of “one nation, one uniform for police” and Union home minister Amit Shah’s suggestion that all the states have a uniform policy on law and order not only reflect the Sangh Parivar’s pathological obsession with homogeneity and genetic disdain for diversity but also raises serious doubts about the NDA government’s commitment towards federal principles. That Mr Modi and Mr Shah made their prescriptions for the states clear at a meeting of state home ministers, home secretaries and police chiefs shows the importance the top two leaders of the NDA government attach to them.
The Prime Minister peppered his suggestion with the statement that it was just an idea which he was not trying to impose on the states. He would not fix a time frame, saying it could happen even in 100 years, but he believed that the identity of police across the country should be the same. He would like the idea to be added to others such as “one nation, one ration card”; “one nation, one mobility card”; “one nation, one grid” and “one nation, one sign language”. He would want the police uniforms to be as similar as letterboxes.
Both the Prime Minister and the home minister spoke on the reality of the changing nature of crime. Crimes are increasingly become trans-border, they pointed out and called for better coordination among states, and in the process the two leaders also saw a role for the Union government and its agencies in the whole exercise. The home minister took off from the idea of “one data, one entry” when it comes to fighting terror and cyber crimes. Mr Shah reasoned that states will have to battle crimes that are becoming borderless by having a common strategy. He would, however, want it to be formulated and implemented under the spirit of cooperative federalism.
The Constitution defines India as a Union of states, and has prescribed a clear division of powers between the Centre and them. Public order and police are the first two entries in the list of state subjects enumerated in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. It is sole for the state government to decide the strategies for law and order, police and policing. The states have in the last 75 years developed mechanisms to handle these issues, including trans-border and cyber crimes. The national investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has always been on call to help the states whenever required. And of late, the National Investigation Agency, another federal organisation, has been effectively coordinating with states when dealing with terrorism.
Ideas about strengthening the state police forces and improving their coordination are welcome in that they will optimise the resources of the state police in addressing the changing nature of their challenges. Anything beyond that, including the Union government taking an active role in law and order or even making suggestions to the states on their policies, is against the federal principle of our Constitution.
Attempts to disregard the power distribution distinctly provided in the Constitution and introduce changes which make them irrelevant on one pretext or the other are preposterous, as they could undermine its basic tenets which keep this nation together. Prescribing an extra dose of statist medicine to the nation’s polity to face new challenges is unlikely to help.