Last week in my column, I wrote about the arrest of independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani by the Assam police. A group of police personnel from the Assam police took him into their custody from his Gujarat home. Similarly, last week, the Punjab police arrested Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, a Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, from his Delhi home. Unlike Gujarat and Assam, the Punjab police were under the control of the Aam Aadmi Party, whereas the Delhi police were under the BJP-led central government. Amid legality, politics, ethics, and drama, the most important thing remains the misuse of the police force. These are definitely creating dangerous precedents against the federalism of India.
Bagga was arrested by the Punjab police for his social media posts against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The Indian Express reported, "The case against Bagga is for allegedly making provocative statements, promoting enmity, and criminal intimidation over his tweet abusing Kejriwal on the CM’s speech on The Kashmir Files."
The Punjab police immediately took him to their car and drove him to Mohali after his arrest. Meanwhile, the Haryana Police, which comes under the BJP government of ML Khattar, stopped the vehicle at Kurukshetra based on an FIR against the Punjab police by the Delhi police. Based on the complaint by Bagga's father, the Delhi police registered a case for the kidnapping of Bagga by the Punjab police. The Delhi cops also alleged that the Punjab police had not informed them about this act, and, therefore, violated the law. Later, Bagga was brought back to Delhi from Haryana and is free. The issue is subjudice right at this moment. But the drama and misuse of power remain intact.
It would be wrong to say that the misuse of the police is anything new in India. But, the way the cops of one state are going to the other state to arrest political rivals is something worrisome. The federal structure of India is very strong. Law and order are entirely state matters, and the central government cannot interfere. If a state does not sanction the CBI to probe cases in the state, then the central agency can only probe based on court orders. This means the state government even has the power to give sanctions to the central probe agencies.
Before every state election, central agencies like CBI and ED file cases against the opposition leaders. The simple reason is to intimidate these leaders. Such intimidations from the central government have reached a point where today the opposition states are trying to do the same with the BJP. The arrest of Bagga sharply sends that political message.
Until the Punjab victory, the AAP was only in power in Delhi. In the national capital, the police are not under the state government. Therefore, the hands of Arvind Kejriwal were tied. But Punjab is a full state, so the police are under the AAP. Before this incident, Punjab police also visited the home of another Delhi BJP leader, Naveen Jindal, for questioning.
There is no doubt that Bagga is a hate monger and has a shady past. Many years ago, he entered the chamber of senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and physically manhandled him. He is also infamous for his provocative speeches, but here the point is, the misuse of power and political vendetta.
Today, several questions are in front of us. Firstly, can India afford to lose its federalism to give the BJP a taste of its own medicine? Secondly, can making the police force a mere political tool help the country in any way? Thirdly, can political vendetta be the best way to fight political rivalry?
In the mind of any citizen who has respect for the democracy of India, the answer to these questions would be negative. The problem is that this kind of politics has no end and it will only increase. At the end of the day, the police force will become the cadres of the ruling political parties. The force, which is responsible for providing justice, will have no standing point and there will be growing distrust among the citizens of India against the police force.
For example, in the last year of Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's third term, several incidents of violence have occurred in Bengal. In most of these cases, the family members of the victims have demanded a CBI probe. Similarly, the Calcutta High Court has ordered a CBI probe into more than seven incidents of violence and corruption cases in Bengal in the last year alone. There is a growing distrust among the people and the judiciary of Bengal against the state police. The reason is political misuse. This is both shameful and dangerous in every possible way. This is not restricted to Bengal, and this sense is now across the country.
The wrong precedents are the most adaptive ones in politics. A similar political vendetta was recently observed in Maharashtra. After threatening to read the Hanuman Chalisa outside the Chief Minister's residence, the ruling Shivsena-NCP-Congress government arrested independent MP Navneet Rana and her husband, MLA Ravi Rana.
The question here is not whether Mevani's arrest was justified because he is a vocal critic of the BJP or whether Bagga's arrest was justified because he has a history of alleged hate speech. In a democracy, no one should be victimised by political rivalry. Anyone who has truly committed a crime must be punished in a fair and free trial. But most importantly, it is time to immediately stop the political misuse of the police force and the central agencies. If these forces just become a tool to punish political opponents, then the constitution and democracy of India will be at stake.
(The author is an independent journalist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Center. Views expressed are entirely personal. He tweets as @sayantan_gh)