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Antagonism as a political assertion.

A 15-year-old girl committed suicide in India's southern state of Karnataka after activists of the Bajrang Dal, a right-wing group, humiliated her publicly for having a conversation with a Muslim boy on a bus. The police refused to register a case against those who harassed her saying they did not want to risk the chance of a communal riot.

This reflects how the police in the state have come to be politicised within a matter of months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Some say that the state is rapidly becoming another Gujarat (also ruled by the BJP) and that Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa is following in the footsteps of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The allegation has a ring of truth to it because there seemed to be perfect amity between different communities in Karnataka before the advent of the BJP government.

Parochialism has become the governing principle in BJP-ruled states. The party seems to believe it can land a majority in the coming parliamentary election by dividing society on the basis of religion. The party is convinced it will not find favour with Muslims, who constitute 12 to 15 per cent of the electorate, and is, hell bent on weaning away Hindu voters.

However, the attitude of the Karnataka Police points to something more serious. Sadly, the force has shown a readiness to oblige the ruling party thus compromising its brief, which is to maintain law and order. It should register a case against the culprits without making distinctions on the basis of religion, caste or gender. But the Karnataka incident has brought into the public eye a new face of the police - a force which would rather go by the "interest" or "philosophy" of its political bosses than upholding the law and maintaining order.

Over the years, such elements have reached positions of authority not on merit but because of their proximity to political masters. This state of affairs, in fact, is rampant across India. The police make little effort to enforce the rule of law but often exceed their brief to ensure that the roughnecks in the ruling party are not touched, much less annoyed.

Things began slipping when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the home minister. The ravages of partition racked the police. Still, in those times, police stations worked independently and there were no instances of interference from political bosses.

The watershed was, however, the emergency (1975-77) when even blank warrants of arrest were issued for the police to take action. The force became a willing tool for tyranny. There was hardly an officer who went ahead and registered protest against the open breach of law.

Former prime minister Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, flouted all norms and suspended even fundamental rights. She brought about a dark transformation in the police - it didn't hesitate to detain people without trial, to raid houses of critics, or to demolish entire colonies that were considered hostile. The Shah Commission which went into the excesses during emergency named some officers. None of the accused were punished because Indira Gandhi returned to power before any action could be taken. Election Commissioner Navin Chawla is one of them.

The National Police Commission appointed when Indira was in the wilderness gave its recommendation on how to make the force autonomous but she did not even look at the report. She rewarded officers who had acted as per her whims.

The successive governments have done little to implement the Police Commission's recommendations. Even the Supreme Court's directive to that effect have not been implemented. It is a pity that the states would rather have their own rule than law and order.

The harassment of the 15-year-old girl is not an isolated incident. What poses a danger to the country is that organisations that have the patronage of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - that self-appointed guardian of Hindu morality - like Sri Ram Sene, Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena are trying to ape the Taliban. They have intimidated girls in Pune, Kanpur and Mangalore for wearing jeans or frequenting restaurants with boys.

It is time that India wakes up and takes note of what has happened in Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari has admitted that successive governments have failed to take timely action against the Taliban. New Delhi should directly intervene if a state does not take action against those who try to hijack an open, democratic society.

Meanwhile, the BJP has retrieved the Ram temple from the debris of the demolished Babri masjid. The party did not rake up the issue in the past decade because it found no takers. All of a sudden, the party's national executive meeting early this month at Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS, surfaced with the agenda of building the temple on the disputed site and also revived the battle cry of Hindutva.

Why the BJP has chosen to revive these issues two months before the parliamentary elections is not hard to guess. The party reckons the Hindutva plank has found currency in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

The RSS and its cohorts are said to have assessed public opinion and concluded that the Mumbai carnage and "Pakistan's attitude" have set in motion anti-Muslim sentiments which can be harnessed for political gains. The party's reaction to Islamabad's positive response has been that it is "too little and too late".

But this has not been to the liking of the BJP's allies. The Janata Dal (United), one of the allies, has distanced itself from the BJP. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said that he is opposed to the building of the Ram temple. The Akalis have said many a time that they do not accept the Hindutva thesis. The ruling Biju Janata Dal in Orissa too has said that the revival of temple-masjid controversy is regrettable.

The BJP should be seen as the Hindu version of the Jamat-e-Islami which wears religion on its sleeve. While the Jamat has never done well in Pakistan and was routed in Bangladesh in recent elections, the BJP has been gaining ground since the emergency. It is often said that it is not the BJP which wins at the hustings, but the Congress that loses. Yet the fact remains that the BJP is in power in six states and it is part of ruling alliances in three more states.


Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the UK and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 21, 2009
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