From better governance to Din Bodol -- Rehman Sobhan National consensus and unity for change -- Dr. Kamal Hossain The state, culture and society -- Serajul Islam Chowdhury Extra-mile the ruling party has to go -- Dr. Syed Anwar Husain Political culture and its impact on governance -- Enam A Chaudhury Political party finance--Muzaffer Ahmad Women of Bangladesh: where are they? -- Nasim Firdaus Women's role in politics- Quantity and quality -- Sultana Kamal To combat violence against women-- Mahmuda  Husain The case of local government-- Tofail Ahmed Withdrawal of Cases Where is the end--Dr.Sarkar Ali Akkas A challenge for political management -- Rounaq Jahan Right to information: Status of implementation -- Shaheen Anam Reforms for democratic consolidation -- Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar Provenance of administrative reforms -- Dr. Saadat Husain Parliamentary committees  Moving from form to substance -- Farid Hossain Politicial spell on bureaucracy -- Sadrul Hasan Mazumder Carrying forward the RTI -- Sanjida Sobhan Governance in the new millennium -- Mahbub Husain Khan Boycott culture crippling parliament --Shakhawat Liton Can we expect an effective ACC? -- Iftekharuzzaman Sycophancy is a two-way road -- Mohammad Badrul Ahsan Three years since 1/11: Expectation vs. reality -- Syed Munir Khasru Police and politics -- ASM Shahjahan Leaky drainage infrastructure of the capital city -- Ershad Kamol Reducing the horrendous traffic congestion -- Dr. Charisma Choudhury Implementation of Dhaka city Master Plan  -- Salma A. Shafi

Police and politics

ASM Shahjahan


"A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues." -- Theodore Roosevelt. The statement is as true for Bangladesh, as it was for America. Political use or misuse of police and administration is a real issue in our country and we have long been avoiding saying anything real on this issue. Politicisation of police has over the years kept on increasing in dimension, occasionally leading to 'politicisation of criminals' and 'criminalisation of politics.' Sometimes politicization went to the extent of using police as political mouthpiece. With the unethical continuation of this malpractice, a nexus of politicians, police and criminals was created. Dragging the police into political controversy led to the deterioration of police image. Knowing this to be a wrong step and continuing to do it over the years by successive governments was morally inappropriate and “what is morally wrong, cannot be politically right.” The need for keeping the police out of politics is, therefore, too urgent to delay.

1861 Police Act was modelled by the then rulers in the pattern of militaristic Irish constabulary, following the 1st war of independence (Sepoy mutiny) of 1857. Control and subjugation of the community was the objective, as the mutiny signaled distrust between the ruler and the ruled. Police was aimed to be used as a coercive instrument to keep the community under control. The need for creation of an 'environment of security' for the public was remote in the minds of the rulers. Contact with the community was kept at a minimum level on the basis of only unavoidable need. Authority and its exercise was the point at issue rather than accountability. There was no universal declaration of human rights and no constitution with emphasis on rule of law, human security and dignity, Our independence was followed by a Constitution with new hopes and aspirations for a community that was looking for a phenomenal change in all governance and economic issues. The constitution has given us human rights and our quest for human rights gave us the constitution. The colonial law continued to be used for policing a democracy though it contained no element of democratic values. Naturally, the police culture could not be more democratic than the background it emerged from.

Over the years we have seen many types of governments assuming power. It is difficult to find a government who used police primarily in the interest of public service. The interest of the government and the interest of the party got priority over public interest and in many cases, police was used to serve the interest of the individuals. Lack of transparency and accountability continued in police domain when the society expected them to conform to democratic values.

Accountability is the cornerstone of democratic policing. Accountability raises the question of policing the police. Sovereignty demands that ultimate accountability lie with the people who pays for police and bears the total cost of running the government. “We should know everything we can about government and the first thing we should know is what we are paying for it,” so said Robert Fulford in Financial Times. It is easy to measure the cost of running a government, but it is not easy to measure the 'value for money' especially the benefit that ultimately goes to the community at large. Is there any way of measuring GDP of police service?

In a democracy police is expected to be civilian, not militaristic, in nature, more decentralised to conform to the local need, transparent in their performance and proactive rather than reactive. They will work in the interest of public service, facilitate access to justice, maintain healthy contact with the community, follow the principles of rule of law; encourage public participation in policing and adhere to the principles of fundamental rights. They are also expected to adopt a culture of minimum use of force and avoid torture.

Challenges to democratic policing are many and varied like existing colonial laws and regulations, colonial culture of authoritarianism, refusal to decentralise and increasing trend of centralisation, use of police for suppression, oppression and repression of political opponents and more protocol orientation than service mentality. Use and abuse of police since independence was manifested in using police to win election, to protect the arbitrary authority of the regime in power, to support the rule of power instead of rule of law, overstep the law, operate above and beyond the law to suit the desire of the ruling regime, indulge in clandestine acts of oppression and suppression of political opponents, indiscriminate mass arrest, torture in remand, indulgence in so-called 'cross-fire,' collection of intelligence regarding political opponents and enjoyment of impunity and political patronage by corrupt officials.

The role of the political leaders and that of the police officers should always be distinct. Political leaders should not take over the operational command of the police. They will lay down the policy guidelines and the police will execute the decisions within the framework of law. The senior police officers will firmly provide correct advice on policy matters. It should be clear as to whose duty is what, who is accountable for what. Responsible government should lay down transparent policy decisions and monitor its implementation by the police. Bangladesh is country with politicians in the driving seat. It should be the duty of every government to enhance the skill, efficiency and professionalism of police.

Politicisation of police is detrimental to the cause of democracy and damages the basic structure of governance. The chain of command is bruised and the discipline essential for skilled functioning of police disappears gradually. Police should be loyal only to lawful orders and obedient to the legal commands. Instead, personal loyalty to the extent of pleasing political bosses overstepping the law of the land brings down the image of police. Politicians were found to punish the police officials who do not follow their illegal orders. External political power brokers should not determine the important service matters like transfer and posting of police. If the career of an efficient honest officer is caused to suffer for doing the right job simply because it goes against the personal interest of a party member, it sends a damaging message through the rank and file of an organisation. Selective partisan enforcement of law is the result of undesirable encroachment and is opposed to the principle of rule of law. Wrongful political intrusion creates an unhealthy environment for any emerging democracy.

The concept of neutrality is at the centre of the prescribed oath under our constitution for the political leaders. Political neutrality and operational autonomy of police tied with accountability is vital for achieving a just society. Unfortunately, politically oriented policing got upper hand over community oriented policing resulting in violation of fundamental rights, and widening the gap between the police and citizens. Growth of professionalism coupled with strengthening the institutional structure of police is essential to overcome the evils of politicisation. Politicisation often leads to witch hunting. Public perception of police legitimacy badly suffers due to everyday intrusion in police work by people in authority or around it. Pretended neutrality is the worst form of discrimination.

It is time to put a stop to the gradual deterioration of Bangladesh police. Depoliticisation is key to the process. The election manifesto of the ruling party clearly stands against all sorts of partisan policing but the pressure on police at various levels gives the citizenry reason to think otherwise. Insulation of police and administration from political interference is possible and I hope the government will rise to the occasion and live up to its promise. Instead of interfering, the government should ensure transparent and merit based recruitment, transfer, posting, promotion and all matters affecting career of an officer. Lawless law enforcement never enhanced the cause of democracy. Police is what the police does. If illegitimate political intrusion leads to police disempowerment, the images of the government and that of police suffer badly. At the moment we hear the huge voice of human rights everyday through the media. I hope it reaches the ears of the concerned authorities in the government. People want every government to be as good as its electoral pledges. Electoral pledges will be paper pledges unless role-models emerge out to practice them everyday.

Does the crime statistics of the police reveal the real human security scenario? No, you cannot improve public confidence in police and government by fudging crime figures. Do the people know the truth about the prevailing crime level of their area? No. People are tolerant of crimes and abuses of power and this tolerance emboldens the anti-social elements to continue to indulge in criminal activities. Government, media, civil society should all encourage lawful demand for rule of law and cessation of all sorts of undesirable intrusion into and influence on police and criminal justice system. Police high ups have a sacred responsibility to 'call a spade a spade' at all times -- in the interest of the country they serve.

Use of police to further political objectives by foul means should be a crime. Use of police resources to suppress legitimate political dissent should be stopped. Political will to resist the temptation of abusing law and lawful authorities for partisan ends should be more openly pronounced and demonstrated.

We can be great as a nation, if we become good as a people. As a nation, are we ready for a meaningful shift in the type of policing, with a view to attaining dignity and justice for the common people? If not, we are really avoiding saying anything real about these real issues. “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.” Confucius.
The author is a former Inspector General of Police and an Adviser to caretaker government.

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