Opinion Columnists 12 Apr 2022 Aakar Patel | Venal ...
Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist

Aakar Patel | Venal officers target citizens, keeping India as ‘partly free’

Published Apr 12, 2022, 1:31 am IST
Updated Apr 12, 2022, 9:11 am IST
The raids by the Enforcement Directorate (which is controlled by the Union government) on Opposition leaders and parties have become a weekly affair. (Representational Image/ DC File)
 The raids by the Enforcement Directorate (which is controlled by the Union government) on Opposition leaders and parties have become a weekly affair. (Representational Image/ DC File)

What is a democratic government? Often it is reduced to one essential element, and that is the electoral process. This refers to having heads of government who are elected through fair and free elections. This also extends to whether or not all sections of society have the right to participate, that is, to take part in the electoral process. India usually scores well on this count. Even in the rankings of Freedom House, the American outfit which has declared that India is only “partly free”, on the count of electoral democracy, India scored 33 out of 40, which is pretty good. In fact, it is one point more than what the United States of America has scored, which is just 32.

On civil liberties, however, India has only scored 33 out of 60, while the United States has scored 51. And so, the US was rated as “free” while we have been categorised as “partly free” (and Jammu and Kashmir was rated as “not free”). It may surprise some readers that electoral democracy was only good for 40 points while civil liberties was 60 points. But that is how most of the world views democracy. It is about the rights and freedoms of the individuals and not just limited to a single act once every five or six years. This, then, is how democracies are rated and why we are constantly slipping.

However, there is a third aspect to democracies which has not been discussed here, and that is the functioning of the State. The engagement the most citizens have is not with the politician that they elected. It is with the bureaucrat and collector and the police officer and the judge that we have to deal with. For us, it is these people who are the State, and who are the ultimate representatives of the democracy. If they were to be rated, how would it go?

Unfortunately, it would be quite bad. One part is obviously the corruption and inefficiency that we all have to live with. But there is something else, and it is the ability of the political establishment to bend the bureaucracy to their will. The police and the various agencies of the State are unleashed by the politicians in power on their opponents, and there is no resistance to this from within the system.

There appears to be no real morality prevalent among the officers who are staffing the agencies that are used in this way. The raids by the Enforcement Directorate (which is controlled by the Union government) on Opposition leaders and parties have become a weekly affair. And the targeting of those who are especially threatening is obvious. Similarly, the National Investigation Agency, again controlled by the Union government, has been used against many activists. The Bhima Koregaon case was initially about the violence between the Marathas and dalits in the village of Bhima Koregaon, but it was taken away from the police in Maharashtra after the BJP lost power in the state to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). Those in jail in the case include individuals whose work the BJP doesn’t like and doesn’t want to be continued. One of those, Father Stan Swamy, died in prison as the BJP kept opposing bail to him.

But the intent of the political party is separate from what actually happens. Some officer will have to write down a case that is either wholly fraudulent or cooked up in some way or meddled with in other ways. Another officer must approve this file, knowing fully well that what is happening is patently illegal. But they go along with it. These things do not happen in other democracies. We have to accept that. And when they do, these things are caught and exposed and there are consequences. There is none of that here. And that is the reason that officers continue to harass people whom the political leaders want harassed. What can be said about those individuals in government who as officers and as advocates denied Stan Swamy the right to die with dignity? What can be said about those in the police force who, as the courts in Delhi have said, deliberately went after the victims of the Delhi pogrom rather than the perpetrators? You have to be a particularly venal sort of person to do such things. And yet it seems that there are more of such people in the system than of the sort that resist. On such things as the meat ban and the hijab ban, we are finding out that elements that comprise the system are enthusiastic about denying people their rights. It says something awful about us as a society.

It is bad enough that the State structurally does not allow us to exercise our rights and freedoms, as the global indices’ scores show. But it is even worse that within such a restrictive space, the apparatus of the bureaucracy has succumbed to the whims of those who are elected. It is why our road to becoming a modern, civilised, prosperous and free society is long and will continue to be full of obstacles.



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