For many Indian politicians, breaking or bending the law is a measure of their power. Jharkhand’s urban development minister, Mr Bachcha Singh, allegedly demonstrated his power to his followers by helping a murder-accused escape the police. When an intrepid police officer in Dhanbad sought to arrest him for doing so, he demonstrated even greater powers by practically holding the administration to ransom. Unsurprisingly, higher echelons of the state police intervened to stop the investigation against the minister on a ridiculously flimsy ground. In an all too familiar twist to such events, it is Dhanbad’s superintendent of police who is now made to face his powerlessness against politicians. But the officer who had shown the courage to try and punish the minister would despair even more at the abject surrender of his superiors to their political masters. And this has always been the real problem. The law-breaking politician makes merry because he can beat the law-keepers. Worse still, sections of the police and the bureaucracy become willing partners in the politicians’ dirty games. No wonder then that most policemen decide that discretion is the better part of valour.
The role of the chief minister, Mr Arjun Munda, in this sordid episode has been most regrettable. His silence has been interpreted as approval of the administration’s covert protection to the minister. It has even been suggested that Mr Munda’s own position in the ruling alliance is so weak that he would not dare take a step against an erring minister. Just eight months into his office, he is believed to be completely at the mercy of cliques within the Bharatiya Janata Party which forced his predecessor, Mr Babulal Marandi, to quit. If some reports are to be believed, several officers belonging to the Indian administrative service, including the chief secretary, are anxious to leave the state. They are said to be finding it impossible to work by the book, thanks to pressures from politicians. It is a sad story for a state that is waging a grim battle against Maoist extremists. Such administrative chaos is also bad news for a people who are among the poorest in the country. Mr Munda must move fast to mend his ways before things get worse.