Dishonest and rapacious elements have gained such an upper hand that officers who defend the public interest do so at their peril.

People across India have been devastated by the story of Narendra Kumar, a young officer of the Indian Police Service, who was killed on Thursday in Morena, Madhya Pradesh, while performing his duty. With his bravery and single-minded devotion to duty, he has set an example to the Indian Police as a whole for pursuing the call of duty even if it means danger to one's life.

Occupational hazard

Policing in our country can be hazardous, especially if one wants to check graft and dishonesty. Gone are the days when dishonest elements, both in the polity and society at large, caused officers only minor harm by shifting them from one location to another, so that they cause less inconvenience. Things have now reached such a pass that you can speak and stand for honesty and adherence to the law only at your peril. Physical harm to you and your family are normally to be expected, and it is your luck if that does not visit you. This would not have been the case if these rapacious elements in society have not been lent unholy support by some of our elected representatives. It has been openly acknowledged that a sizeable number of candidates, who were recently put up or elected to the State Assembly, at least in one State, had a known criminal record. There is no public outrage over it.

This is the tragedy of the Indian State. There are no signs of any major stir of emotions among those in the executive and the bureaucracy who matter and are capable of stemming the rot. Many of them are sulking because of the might of those arrayed against them.

What is the practical course of action to prevent the mafia in Madhya Pradesh from striking again? The Chief Minister has ordered a judicial enquiry. This is the best way to ensure the truth about those who were behind the gory incident does not emerge, at least for a long time. It is facile to believe that only a sole tractor driver was involved. It is possible illegal mining is a cottage industry in the area, and had gone unchecked for a while, with a complicit State administration and police force looking the other way.

There is immense scepticism about judicial enquiries but a full-fledged CBI investigation with a rigid time-frame can work wonders. Since I am not very sure the State would agree to it, a PIL and a judicial directive alone can unravel the truth by bringing the CBI into action. Nothing else would be acceptable to Narendra Kumar's distraught parents and his young IAS widow.

Supreme Court reforms

Finally, is it not time for the Apex Court to steamroll the reforms it had so eloquently pushed in 2006, in response to the PIL of former U.P. DGP Prakash Singh? Many former and present IPS officers are disappointed that the pace of reforms ordered by the Supreme Court has been painfully slow. Here again, the truth is that a number of Chief Ministers are opposed to these monumental changes, changes that are aimed at freeing the Indian Police from the stranglehold of small time street-level politicians.

Reforms are definitely not a panacea for all the evils from which the police suffer. But they will at least slow down the process of rot. The mischievous propaganda that an autonomous police would be an unaccountable police has stalled any progress towards the desired objective. Only the weight of public opinion can bring in salvation. Narendra Kumar's is a test case. Many right thinking people in the country would judge the media by its ability to keep the focus on the ramifications of this brutality against a conscientious and public spirited policeman.

(The writer is a former CBI Director.)

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