Vigilante acts

Politics has plumbed new depths. Last week Aam Aadmi Party vigilantes literally took the law into their own hands in two separate incidents. Law minister Somnath Bharati, planned a midnight raid against an alleged drug and prostitution ring operated by Ugandan nationals in his constituency. A police patrol ordered to accompany them wished to act with proper search warrants and women police on the basis of more evidence in keeping with due process. 

They were overruled by the minister who declined to issue written orders and implied that his word was law and could not be defied by the police. Four African women were held captive in a taxi as they were returning home and then forcibly taken to AIIMS hours later for a medical examination that included body searches and a urine test. The tests proved negative and they could only return home around 9 am. The minister has asked his constituents for a list of suspected ‘vice dens’ and intends to get volunteers to ‘inspect’ them. The ACP present held his ground against the minister’s peremptory orders and the matter is now being investigated by the Lt. Governor, Najeeb Jung. The lawless treatment meted out to the ladies caused alarm in several African embassies causing the external affairs ministry to scramble to express deep regret and provide reassurance against any racist intent. 

Meanwhile, welfare minister Rakhi Birla, rushed to follow up a dowry harassment case in her area at 9.30 pm. The local SHO said the husband had been arrested but the minister wanted to inspect the scene of the crime. The house was locked and upon being broken into at 1.30 a.m was found deserted. The minister felt that the police had not followed up the alleged dowry burning case promptly or rigorously.

In both cases chief minister Kejriwal, defended his colleagues and expressed annoyance at what he said was police non-cooperation. While the LG’s inquiry into both cases will take up to four weeks,Kejriwal has demanded that the four SHOs and ACPs concerned be suspended.

Kejriwal, however, has a point, like Shiela Dixit, in demanding that the Delhi police be placed under the state government, perhaps barring the NDMC area or an extended Lutyens zone. The Delhi government has a responsibility for law and order but no instrumentality as the police is not under its charge. But going on dharna, seeking to by-pass due process and seeking to overawe the police cannot be countenanced and can only lead to anarchy. 

The AAP has also been impetuous and populist in retracting the Delhi government’s earlier given consent to multi-brand FDI in retailing. The benefits of backend and forward linkages, efficiency, prevention of wastage, and gains to both producers and consumers of farm produce by eliminating middlemen have been thoughtlessly discounted.

Corporates, investors and even friends of the AAP have been disturbed by such sudden turnarounds. 

Vote bank politics

At another level, Rahul Gandhi’s ‘anointment’ at the AICC meet last week, a media-hyped non-event at any time, produced a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. He remains the party’s election campaign leader and sought to rouse party fervour firing furiously on three cynlinders of cooking gas! That is all he could offer by way of his vision of a brave new India that he has simply been unable to define over the past many years.

 Regurgitating a commitment to secularism and welfare is old hat while the party’s addiction to playing cheap vote bank politics and indulging in giveaways like more subsidised gas cylinders undermine both its secular credentials and the nation’s fiscal health. 

The party’s best hope now is to leave it to Manmohan Singh to move forward boldly with the UPA’s stalled legislative and reform agenda. Let those who would thwart this answer why they are determined to halt India in its tracks. Apart from signalling fast clearances to some 21 stalled projects accounting for huge investments and employment opportunities, the forest advisory committee is fast-tracking plans to clear another 22 key projects, including the Arcelor-Mittal 12 MTPA steel plant in Jharkhand that has been hanging fire since 2005. Environmental sustainability should not be rashly sacrificed but procedural delays and fussy objections must go. 

The argument that Moily cleared these projects speedily, denotes a policy change, no more. In the midst of this political commotion, the Delhi high court‘s gag order on the media reporting Justice Swatanter Kumar’s alleged sexual misconduct case based on an intern’s complaint has come in for strong criticism on grounds of curbing reportage. While this is understandable, the court did not bar ‘fair reporting.’ While hearing a defamation suit filed by the impugned judge, it did state that allegations should not be likened to charges and that repeated front page coverage with the judge’s picture would damage to his reputation by media trial. This caution must not be ignored. 

Likewise, the statement made by the former home secretary, RK Singh, now with the BJP, that his then minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, sought to protect an associate of Dawood Ibrahim and influence Delhi’s police commissioner in the matter of appointments and postings, constitute very serious charges. The former official says his differences with Shinde were well known and he brought these matters to the attention of the cabinet secretary and the PMO. If nothing happened thereafter, the home secretary should have gone public, sought a transfer or resigned. It is not enough a year or more later to make public such charges from a political platform. Ranking officials are under oath and carry a great responsibility to uphold high standards and not to take cover under silence.

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