An insightful book which brings the inherent conflict that policing involves
When we got our Independence, it came with the many Raj legacies, including the police force. From the transient point of being an outfit aimed at protecting the British interests, it had to journey towards being an executive arm of the Central government, and yet have the integrity and commitment to serve the larger purpose of ensuring justice for the man on the street. By the 1960s, regionalism had reared its head, the DMK’s success in the assembly elections sounding the death knell to the state Congress’s ruling spree only hastened the spread of local fervour in other states; trade union movements had entered the conflict zones and in other states like Punjab the Akali Dal was at a gestational phase. By early 1980s, events such as Operation Blue Star and the home grown banditry personified by the likes of Phoolan Devi pushed the envelope on policing.
These events, affecting the common man, occurred at a time when the all-pervasive television news rooms had not come into being, nor had one heard of ‘sting operations’. The only source of information on what happened on ground was the government press releases. Spying on political opponents, custodial death, police brutality and high-handedness were all factors to be reckoned with then, as they are now. For those wondering if the men in khakhi wore integrity as a badge of honour, former Punjab top cop Kirpal Dhillon’s memoirs should settle the debate once and for all.
It could have been a salacious account, but it is a deeply insightful book which brings to the fore the inherent conflict that policing involves. For example, Dhillon gives instances where custodial deaths were covered up smoothly with the ‘voluntary co-operation” of the DRM and those freed from wrongful confinement through action initiated by Human Rights group, turn turtle and file an affidavit stating they were never confined !
This book by a police officer, who strove to rise above the challenges of his job, also had his own vision of what policing ought to be, and gives the reader a great opportunity to be a fly on the wall, and see the world from the ‘other’ side. A policeman has to serve his masters and hence is servile. He also has an oppressive and often violent side to his role. Does one need a more conflicting job description?
One of the early batches to go through formal initiation as an IPS officer and attached to Madhya Pradesh, Dhillon says he went through the grind. The initial years, which includes a ‘fixed marriage’ with a daughter of Civil Service (Dhillon was dithering over proposing to the girl he was seeing, and his boss pushes him to act) mature into days of taking on responsibilities and challenging assignments.
The first real challenge is his posting in the dacoits-infested Madhya Pradesh. A posting which he confronts fully in conformation with his conviction on what is good and correct policing. Even though he does not agree with the way the “surrender” was accepted by the political powers, he is quite happy with his role and the outcome.
Some of the sidelights provided are both interesting and eyebrow-raising. A lot of recreational hunting was possible for the senior government staff who apparently saw it as their right, with no thought to what the law states. Well-stocked bars, access to tennis and riding clubs and most importantly the time to enjoy all these were among the perks taken for granted.
There are many instances narrated by the author of how witnesses are manipulated, how erring policemen are protected and even custodial deaths are covered up as a departmental routine — often with the cooperation of the District Magistrates. In his view, the lowest point in policing was hit during the counter terrorism operations in Punjab with the Punjab Police being given a free run, thereby becoming a ‘lawless’ law-enforcer.
The ease with which they could cover up any misdoing is capable of shocking us even today. If the DGP could get away with his infamous “pat on the back” of a senior lady IAS officer, the reader could easily imagine what an ordinary suspect, possibly at the wrong time at the wrong place must have faced.
The high and the low
Dhillon’s operational postings are followed by staff postings and a steady rise sees him headed towards being the top gun in the state police force. Punjab Militancy is on the rise and the pitch is extremely queer in the aftermath of “Operation Blue Star” at which time Dhillon volunteers for the post of DGP-Punjab. Keenly aware of the sensitivity of that seat, Indira Gandhi personally interviews him before posting him. What follows is both a high point in his career and also a nadir. Initial stages see him highly successful due to his enjoying the confidence of the Prime Minister to who he had a direct reach — a privilege not enjoyed by even Chief Ministers.
During this period he puts into practice ‘Good Policing’, a pet theory of his and the results are very encouraging. The highly demoralised Police get their mojo back and start gaining the confidence of the people. Since their role is very crucial the political masters are happy to let them be and in a truly democratic sense they become a force for the protection of the people. The assassination of Indira Gandhi and the subsequent change in leadership — especially the Governor of Punjab sees a change in the approach and strategy. Arjun Singh, the new Governor, starts playing a different game and by-passes Dhillon for various reasons. The culmination is the assassination of Longowal and the transfer of Dhillon on grounds of incompetence.
Like all high profile murders, conspiracy theories have always abounded, and Dhillon in a most candid and forthright manner alleges that there are enough grounds to suspect that the assassination was an inside job — meaning it was done with the connivance of the security posse assigned to Longowal . Dhillon accepts another kind of challenge: the office of Vice Chancellor of Bhopal University in the midst of troubled times for the institution.
As the narrative sums up, Dhillon started his professional life as a lecturer and ended as a Vice Chancellor, with 35 years of policing in between. A truly well narrated story of a one-of-a-kind cop, whose keen intellect was guided by a balanced view of right and wrong in whatever he was called upon to do.