ON Wednesday, in Nagaur district of Rajasthan, an angry crowd had captured some of the constables from GRP (Government Railway Police). The Superintendent of Police (SP), Nagaur learnt about this and reached Sanwarad GRP police station, the spot of incident, along with young lady IPS officer. On reaching they learned that the mob was attempting to burn the police station down. “We saw some people trying to burn GRP constables alive. When we intervened, the mob attacked us. SP was injured in the attack and I took shelter in a house”, this is what that lady officer said later on. There were reports that the mob manhandled, molested and disrobed her. Thankfully, this was not so, a fact that she later clarified.
Attacks like this have become a common place. Only recently, District Magistrate of Mandsaur district in MP was attacked by the agitating farmers when he went to pacify them. In my own home district, a lady IAS officer posted as Chief Executive Officer of district panchayat was saved by the police from a crowd that had entered her own office and was threatening to heckle her. All three organs of administration at the district level – the District Magistracy, the Panchayats and the Police – are increasingly under attack by anti-social elements of the society.
Being a young officer in such is situation is very disheartening. The lady IPS officer, whom I mentioned earlier, happens to be my batch-mate. Reading about what had happened to her, imagining myself or anyone of my kin in that situation, makes me cringe. It makes me to think, ‘What is the reason for the current state of affairs, in which, the officers of the state, who are supposed to exude and represent the authority of the state, are coming increasingly under attack?’
I have been in service for less than three years. In this time, I have realised that the positions that we, as officers, hold are immensely powerful and influential, and using that, we actually can get a lot of things done. But I have also learnt that it is not about how much power you possess; the only thing that matters is how powerful you are seen by the people. In other words, perception matters more than the substance. An individual or an institution which is able to inspire awe in everyone coming in contact with it is the one which can get work done, and get it done smoothly. Power vested in them can only help for damage control. Somehow, I think, state authorities have lost their ‘awe’, and consequently, are perceived to be as weak – a situation which is exploited by muscle men as well as collection of individuals in a mob.
But how did this come about? How did we lose this ‘awe’? While awe in one sense means admiration, it also means fear. It does not matter how powerful is the position that you are holding; if people don’t see you as a powerful person, and/or are not respectful towards that power, and/or refuse to submit to your authority, you are only a paper-king and you have no real authority. While in an ideal society, people would respect and submit to legally established authority without any force or compulsions, in reality, people submit to law only due to fear of the consequences of not doing so. For example, while some might not mind parting with 30% of their hard earned money as taxes because of their love for their country, majority of us pay taxes because we are scared of spooks in the Income Tax department. So, fear creates awe which gets work done, and power is only then used to discipline bad apples who need an extra-serving of authority.
In recent times, however, this ‘fear’ is on the wane. There is an increasing section of society which thinks that they can do wrongs, derive profits out of it, and not get punished. Our slow, and sometimes defective, justice delivery system reinforces this belief. Every time a person breaks a traffic signal and is not punished for it, he gets bolder; every time a person mugs another person and gets away with it, he gets bolder; slowly and steadily, people who used to break signals start breaking curfews; and those mugging people, start mugging members of the establishment.
Then again, it is the responsibility of the very same state, and thereby responsibility of the very same officers under attack, to make sure that every transgression of law is punished. But this is easier said than done. Unlike ordinary people, officers and agents of state, are held to much higher standards, as they should be. While a mob trying to burn constables finds passing mention in media, a lathi charge by police on a violent crowd gets cover to cover coverage, as an attack on society. While an injury suffered by policemen in a law and order situation is dismissed as an occupational hazard, something similar happening to a civilian opens a series of inquiries and investigations, which consumes and destroys several bright careers. While crowd and mob get organised around a single point agenda, and are not handicapped by niceties and boundaries of ‘laws and rules’, state officials have to care of myriad permutations and combinations. All this, and much more, contribute to erosion of authority.
Even the intellectual class is against a strong state. Recently, in an essay in the periodical Frontline, a member of “the thinking class” compared our present Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, with the perpetrator of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, General Dyer. The reason? Gen. Bipin Rawat told PTI, “[Your] Adversaries must be afraid of you… and at the same time, your people must be afraid of you… we are a friendly Army, but when we are called in to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us”. This intellectual I am referring to, found these comments preposterous. Can anyone say, that in a law and order situation, which has deteriorated so much that Army has been called to intervene, people should not be afraid and keep on rampaging? Absolutely not!!! People who create such law and order problems should even be afraid of my beat constable, leave alone the mighty Army. It can be nobody’s case that such people should behave as daredevils and not be afraid of hands of the state.
So, in conclusion, unless the fear of state authorities is injected in everyone who dares to think of doing anything illegal, it is very difficult to arrest the trend which has set in light of the examples mentioned in the beginning of this article. Comments of the Home Minister of Rajasthan, following the attack in Nagaur is something which builds confidence in members of the administration (click here to see those comments). Support of political class is sine qua non for revival and reestablishment of state authority. People need to remember that those serving in organs of administration are humans too and possess same rights, and are affected by same fears, which affect everyone else.