Is there any doubt that India is now a police state? Koi Shaq?
Bharatiya Janata Party’s approach towards policing, writes the retired IPS officer, has been consisted. It has empowered the police and used it against critics and political rivals
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Zibalatt, in their book “How Democracies Die: What History Reveals about Future” said, “Democracies can die with a coup d’etat- or they can die slowly. This happens most deceptively in piecemeal fashion, with the election of an authoritarian leader, the abuse of governmental power and the complete repression of opposition. All these steps are being taken around the world- not least with the election of Donald Trump- and we must understand how we can stop it.”
All these signs are now manifest in India. An authoritarian leader, silencing of the opposition and dissent and the abuse of governmental power are all in our face.
Police remains the most powerful instrument in the hands of any government. The power arm of the state, police is an instrument to maintain law and order, prevent crime, investigate crime and protect people in the exercise of their rights. But universally police is used as an instrument by the state to suppress the opposition and citizens who are not in agreement with policies and actions of the government. The government tends to give more and more powers to the police. Gradually the democratic set up turns into an authoritarian set up propped up by the police. Other institutions of the state are also then transformed and fall in line.
Ever since 2014, BJP’s approach to the police has been consistent. Police in every BJP ruled state has been given more and more power and a free hand to deal harshly not only with criminals and law breakers but also with dissenters and political opponents. Draconian laws like UAPA, Sedition laws and National Security Act have been modified to serve the purpose. As a result, a large number of intellectuals, writers, social activists and even lawyers and human rights defenders have been booked under UAPA and NSA. Bheema Koregaon case is a dreadful example of it.
Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are the states where police suppression has been the worst. In UP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave a free hand to the police to bump off perceived criminals without any due process. The state police carried out over 5000 encounters, killing more than 100 people and injuring others. Not surprisingly, the highest number happened to be Muslims followed by Dalits and those from the most backward class. The Gujarat model of encounters carried out as state policy is being faithfully followed, sometimes surpassed, in Uttar Pradesh. A very large number of people have been detained under NSA. The number might surpass those detained during the Emergency.
“The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 too has been modified to suit the muscular state. This Act had only four sections. For violation of government orders under this Act, Section 3 provided for a maximum punishment of one moth’s jail and a fine of Rs. 200.
But in March the Union govt. amended it to enhance the maximum punishment of imprisonment from three months to five years and increased the fine to be paid to a whopping Rs. 50,000 to two lakhs for causing simple injury. For causing grievous hurt to Corona warriors, imprisonment from six months to seven years and a fine of Rs. One lakh to five lakhs have been prescribed.
In addition to it there is a provision for recovery of damages to the property at the double cost of loss. Such draconian provisions have been used to terrorise migrant labourers as well as anti-CAA/NRC protestors.
As a sign of the times, Delhi Police have made many of the victims of the Delhi riots in February the accused. Anti-CAA/NRC protestors have been booked as conspirators. Even leaders and activists of long standing like Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav Harsh Mander and Prof Apoorvanand or film maker Rahul Roy have also been implicated. A large number of student and cultural activists of Jamia Milia and JNU have been incarcerated. Older laws are being made more stringent. Black laws like sedition, UAPA and NSA are being used more frequently.
The judiciary which could have come to the rescue of the common man appears to be taking the state at face value, accepting even blatantly false statements and sealed covers. People and society seem equally unwilling, unprepared and ill-equipped to contain or counter the onslaught.
(The author is a retired IPS officer and national spokesman of All India Peoples Front)