At the time of writing this, the city of Mumbai still does not have a police commissioner since Satyapal Singh took voluntary retirement over week ago. Singh left because he wanted to enter politics and soon after joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Meanwhile newspaper reports tell us that crime in Mumbai has only increased in 2013. Not that we needed newspaper reports to tell us that. Those of us who live in this city have experienced it.
Is it fair for Mumbai’s citizens to ask if the former police commissioner had spent his last days in office concentrating on his job or on his political future? What are the expectations that a citizenry are allowed to have from a government official? What are the safeguards for a citizen when it comes to a job as vital as a police commissioner?
The fact that Singh asked for immediate acceptance of his resignation or retirement implies that he was not even willing to settle the city’s affairs before he quit
The fact that Singh asked for immediate acceptance of his resignation or retirement implies that he was not even willing to settle the city’s affairs before he quit. He just wanted out. Yet the responsibility handed to him was enormous.
Of course, it is unfair to focus only on Singh, in spite of his somewhat regressive views on women and society in general. Mumbai has had more than its fair share of incompetent or controversial police commissioners, especially since 1993. And not surprisingly, over the years, Mumbai’s crime situation has only worsened. It is a joke today to refer to Mumbai as a safe city or even as India’s safest city — which it used to be for women at least somewhere in the distant past.
Instead, we have an even more impossible situation of massive jumps in crimes by juveniles in the city with rape doubling and molestation up 100 per cent between 2012 and 2013. This is indicative, apart from several social and psychological variables, of a lack of fear of the city’s police force. Instead of lectures on the dangers of sex education, some more policing would have been welcome. There is an argument, and it is valid, that a higher crime rate means more crimes are being reported. But sometimes, it also means that more crimes are being committed and the experience on the streets in Mumbai certainly points to that.
But what ails Mumbai police the most, and there is nothing new in this either, is the complete politicisation of the police force. The fact that Satyapal Singh joined a political party surprised no one. He at least has done it openly. But over the years, and especially after the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in Bombay, the bias in the police force was an open secret. Each political dispensation rewarded those police officers loyal to them and turned a blind eye to innumerable transgressions.
The trend that was started by the Shiv Sena-BJP government in 1995 was followed and perfected by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance which has been in power since 1999. The reason why Mumbai still does not have a police commissioner is because the two parties cannot decide who to favour and which coalition partner deserves to have their candidate in this job.
If all this sounds unbearably cynical, it is, but it is no less true for all. A small look at Mumbai’s crime situation ought to make this clear. Honest or upright officers find survival tough and are used to being sidelined by more enterprising colleagues. They also have to deal with the games played by bureaucrats, who have their own agendas to forward.To make matters worse, conviction rates are dropping even as crime rates are going up. The story of the police force has not changed in all that.
It is understaffed, it is under-trained, investigations are unscientific, too much time is wasted in ‘bandobast’ duty and security detail to VIPs or VIP movement and almost nothing has been done in the meanwhile to improve morale or boost performance. When the constabulary sees senior officers sucking up to politicians to get postings and favours and then joining political parties, what lessons does it draw for itself?
There is no need to waste time on old chestnuts like police reforms and Supreme Court rulings. It speaks volumes for us that no one, not the police and not the government, is bothered about routine stuff like that. Right?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona