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UNIONS OF MISRULE
- The politicization of the police is more dangerous than indiscipline

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

The murder of the police sergeant, Bapi Sen, by fellow policemen, terrible in itself, has been seen by many as symptomatic of the indiscipline and lawlessness that have eaten away at the structure of the police force in West Bengal. Other instances have been cited to make the point — the assault of a deputy inspector general, attacks on other senior officers, strikes, slogan-shouting and so on. It is, however, a little more than that. It is something infinitely more dangerous, which the present rulers of the state do not seem to be aware of.

Many years ago the left parties — notably the undivided Communist Party of India and later, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) once the Communist Party split — worked with a fairly clear strategy. They professed that they did not believe parliamentary democracy was the right way to rule the state or the country, but they would use it to destroy it from within. As a part of their strategy to organize people, they formed associations of the clerical staff of every government office and brought them under the umbrella of the coordination committee.

The Sixties saw these associations and unions become truly powerful, first as agents to destroy orderly administration by not only going on strike repeatedly, but by deliberately creating disorder, using violence, attacking officers and destroying government property. They were the dhoti-clad equivalent of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; intractable, in their views, and intolerant of any differences of opinion within the organizations they controlled.

When the Left Front came to power in 1969, the ideologues in the party obviously lost no time in ensuring that the organizing of employees, which was so complete among the clerks and lower-level staff in all government offices and departments, be extended to the police. The tactics used were the same. Now that their sponsors were in power, it was easy for the unions to become powerful enough to intimidate senior police officers, and impose their version of discipline and their norms of “democratic” behaviour.

If all this formed part of an overall plan to seize power and then destroy institutions perceived as exploitative, serving bourgeois interests, then it made sense. But, having come to power not by force but through elections, and having stayed in power for almost a quarter of a century, these unions have not only consolidated their hold on all government employees, including the police, they have worked in concert with trade unions in virtually dictating terms to employers. They were no longer associations of workers, banding together to secure their rights and to defend themselves from oppression, or exploitation; they were the agencies which told the management of various private industries and officers in the state government what to do, and what decisions to take.

To keep their control they did not, as one could have expected, impose strict discipline on the employees; they let them conclude that being part of such unions meant the right to be lazy, to work only when they felt like it, to come to their workplaces when they wanted to, and go when they wanted to. Loud aggressive talking was seen as an indication of their “democratic” rights; the louder and more aggressive you were, the more the respect you earned from those whose lungs were not as strong.

Not unnaturally, the work-culture in state government offices degenerated; one has only to walk into any office to see what it has become. But the truly dangerous aspect of this has been its spread to the police forces. They may show you statistics to make out that law and order has actually improved; one isn’t talking about that here. One is talking of the confidence and trust that people have in a police force, which has now come to believe that indiscipline, slovenly conduct and dress, and unruly, insolent behaviour with senior officers are the norm.

But this, too, needs to be seen in proportion. No one is saying that other police forces in the country are free from bad, boorish behaviour; one knows only too well how widespread corruption is in all the police forces in the country, and there have been a number of instances of police officials who have been involved in criminal activities. What one is saying, however, is that these grave faults have not been deliberately created, and that, to some extent at least, the authorities do try to control them. Not in West Bengal. The officers there seem to have given up even trying to impose any sort of discipline on the forces. And why should they not' Any such attempt will be met with assault, hooliganism, and all of it will be supported by the ruling party.

We all know that the basis for a civilized society is the effective maintenance of law and order. Everything else follows from this. Is it any wonder that industry has not only not gone to that state but has also moved away from it' True, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation has been making strenuous efforts to get industries to the state; but there was a time when all these efforts and publicity campaigns were unnecessary. Industry came to West Bengal because the atmosphere was conducive to their flourishing there. If that is not happening now, then it is essential for the rulers to consider why. It has, finally, to do with a lack of confidence in the ability of the state to maintain order.

Perhaps the murder of Bapi Sen will make the political leadership look closely at the monsters they have created in the unruly unions and coordination committee; that is what the murder of this brave police officer clearly requires. His death can be traced back easily to the creation of these associations and unions and the vicious culture they have bred of aggressive, insolent, unruly behaviour, which puts a premium on violence, resulting, as one has seen, even in death. And his is not the first. There have been cases of policemen opening fire at times without orders, and killing people. Enquiries have no doubt been held into such incidents; but given the atmosphere, one can safely assume that the findings were convenient to all concerned.

Again, all this needs to be seen in proportion. There is a good deal that the state government has done which is creditable; even though it is not quite the magnificent achievement they make it out to be, the redistribution of land has on the whole been a worthwhile effort; the establishment of the panchayati system is another achievement they can take credit for, and the fact that there has been little or no communal violence. Political violence has of course been more pronounced, as the Trinamool Congress, its ranks swollen by former CPI(M) cadre, has taken on the ruling parties. But then we have to see this in its context; no state has been free of that kind of violence, and no state can equal the horrific record which Gujarat has set.

This apart, the fact is that for a quarter of a century the Left Front has ruled the state and done so as a parliamentary democracy. They have quite often defended the institutions of this form of governance more effectively than the opposition. Obviously, they no longer have any plans to destroy the system from within; the system has overtaken them and they are not, one can see, complaining. If this is true, then it makes no sense for them to keep the monster unions and associations that constitute the one aspect of the state which not only makes effective government difficult, but also induces would-be investors to look elsewhere. This aspect became terribly evident when Bapi Sen was beaten to death; one can only hope the political leadership saw it, and will do something about it.

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