Something must be rotten in the police administration in West Bengal. How else does one explain the scandalous role played by policemen when a mob vandalized the Christ Church School on the outskirts of Calcutta? The role that they played was one of a mute force of spectators and was in complete violation of everything that is associated with the police administration. The only thing that was worse than the police inaction was the action that the men in uniform took against the school authorities. No senior police or government official cared to explain the reprehensible role of the police. But two theories about it have been suggested. It has been suggested that the police failed to take action against the rampaging mob as they did not have the necessary orders ‘from above’. And, the principal of the school, it has been hinted, was taken into custody in order to pacify the mob. Needles to say, both arguments smack of a hopeless defence of a totally indefensible position. It is even dangerous to try and defend such failures on the part of the police. The rule books clearly lay down how the police should act in times of mob violence or during any threat to peace and public order. Officers and men of a disciplined force need not look up to instructions from their political or other masters. All they have to do is follow the rules and act by them.
Unfortunately in Bengal, neither the rule books nor the codes of conduct for the police force have the power and the authority that they are supposed to have. Political interference in the work of the police and the civil administration had become the norm during the Left Front’s long reign. Police officials at different levels had been used to taking instructions from party bosses, for whom the party’s interests prevailed over the law and the public good. The result was a collapse of the law-based system and a deep erosion in administrative standards. The rot has gone so deep that it is perhaps unrealistic to expect things to change anytime soon. Mamata Banerjee’s new regime has also seen her partymen slowly taking control of the police administration. True, the Trinamul Congress may not easily match the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s record in this respect. But Ms Banerjee needs to initiate a course correction before things get even worse.