Administrative control over the Delhi Police has repeatedly been a source of tussle between the Central Government and the Delhi Government. The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal in his meetings with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Rajnath Singh reportedly raised two demands: full statehood for Delhi and control over Delhi Police. Mr Kejriwal, in his last short-lived stint as Chief Minister also sat on a dharna to force suspension of three Delhi police officers who refused to arrest some Ugandan and Nigerian nationals at the orders of then Law Minister, Somnath Bharati who personally went on a midnight raid on charges of a drug and prostitution racket being run in the area. AAP MLAs too in the Vidhan Sabha raised the demand to summon the Delhi Police Commissioner to be made “accountable” for the law and order situation in the city.
Since the public mobilization around the gruesome December 2012 rape and fatal assault of the physiotherapy student in Delhi, women’s safety has acquired mainstream political salience and the political class is hard-pressed to show some strong action on the issue. However, women’s safety – embedded in a complex socio-political context – resists quick-fix solutions by the Government. This makes the public tussle over administrative control of Delhi Police all the more politically attractive for incumbent Chief Ministers who unfairly often have to face flak for real and perceived inaction of the police. All said and done though, this issue is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. While a Dharna may be imminent, a via media is available that the Delhi Government should explore.
By the order of the Lt Governor of Delhi, there exist Thana Level Committees (TLC) for each of the Police Stations in Delhi, chaired by the area MLA who represents the major parts of the jurisdiction of the Police Station. Members of the Committee include other MLAs, Members of MCD/NDMC/Cantonment Board having jurisdiction of Police Station concerned, area SDM, ACP, SHO and representatives from the civil society. The Thana Level Committee, which is to meet every two months has a wide ambit including advising the SHO on the ways and means to check crime in the area; nature of public grievances against the police; matters affecting communal harmony in the area; and encroachment on public land. These and other such Committees become defunct because of lack of intent at all levels facilitated by lack of transparency and are usually populated by henchmen of the elected representative and the public authority in question. The Committee meetings are thus perfunctory and often not convened altogether. It is true that the recommendations of the Committee are advisory but an astute politician will recognize the immense political value of such a platform. In the ongoing tussle for control over Delhi Police, the Delhi Government can at least push for empowerment of the TLC wherein the Central Government must mandatorily respond to its recommendations in a time-bound manner.
The Aam Aadmi Party has swept into power on the back of strong public interest intent and effective anti-corruption measures. Restoring the oversight role of these Committees is one opportunity to make good on its assurances. The role of an elected representative – in addition to legislative decision-making – is to provide oversight into the functioning of the Government. However, pressures of re-election in conjunction with the First Past the Post System which enables election of a candidate by a very small percentage of the electorate have degraded the institutional oversight role into one of patronage, wherein the elected representative selectively intervenes on behalf of his constituents directly arbitraging political power (formal and informal) for votes.
Converting the Thana Level Committee meetings into public hearings the MLA can virtually transform the functioning of the Police Stations under his/her jurisdiction by raising all instances of alleged corruption, excessive use of force, non-registration of FIRs, undue detention etc in the public domain. The AAP has 67 out of 70 MLAs and if each of its MLA were to hold public hearings on the functioning of the local Thanas under his/her jurisdiction, the political mobilization will be powerful not just to enforce action against errant officers but also initiate institutional reform, which would have truly emanated from the people. Meeting minutes and action taken reports will create a powerful trail of documentary evidence of corruption and inefficiency, impossible to ignore by the Police Commissioner or Home Ministry. Furthermore, people’s participation will lend recommendations legitimacy that a dharna is unlikely to have. The public hearing format if used has additional benefits of bringing into public notice interference by other political functionaries and institutionalizing the collective strength of the citizenry as a model to hold the powerful accountable. At the same time, working through such institutional measures will provide a check on the worrying vigilantism of AAP representatives as evident in the Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid incident and more recently when two AAP MLAs clashed with police in Burari.
More importantly, this can help institutionalize the considerable informal power exercised by elected representatives and provide a model for how elected representatives and political parties should truly function. An elected representative is elected by a subsection of the electorate but once elected is constitutionally bound to represent the interests of the entire constituency. This is possible only if the oversight is at the level of process instead of individual petitions, which are susceptible to pick-and-choose. At the same time, political parties can be held accountable only through individual representatives. However ironically despite the rhetoric of “swaraj”, the AAP model of politics is that of centralized power embodied in the artless charm of its honest crusader, Arvind Kejriwal (the powers of Mohalla Sabhas appear to be largely municipal and it’s not clear how they will be reconciled with the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act) . Its promises to the electorate are derived from centralized state power and revolve around policy change, expansion of state capacity, and top-down anti-corruption measures. These are all legitimate areas for State action and having known some of the protagonists, one does not doubt their intent; however, political accountability will have to locate its center in the individual elected representative and not the political party. In the absence of this, the electorate is reduced to recycling power between limited options of the 2-3 political parties likely to win elections. Voting in this election was strongly on party lines instead of individual candidates with the AAP winning 96% of the seats. With Opposition thus decimated, it is even more important for the AAP to devolve power internally by strengthening the institutional role of the elected representative rather than centralizing power in the Party itself. That would herald a new kind of politics.