The escape of an important underground leader from Porompat police custody yesterday, proves two things: one the incompetence of the police and two the ingenuity of the man who escaped. Or on second thought, it was probably both. The man dug a tunnel and escaped through it in the night. The script sounds like a black and white World War-II Hollywood take. Unfortunately this story is happening in the 21st Century Manipur. It is quite ironic that this atrocious lack of vigil and commitment happened even as the Manipur director general of police, DGP, Y. Joykumar Singh was vaunting how the Manipur police was being modernised with state-of-art modern policing equipment, including extensive close circuit television monitoring system to keep track of everybody in important public places. The incident has brought to the fore once again what ace cyclist Lance Armstrong so beautifully said that “it is not about the bike” in his autobiography under the same catchy title. Armstrong beat cancer first and then the cycling world. It was not his bike which made him do this, but his own indomitable determination and untiring commitment to the sport. So no matter what the DGP says of modernising the police with the latest policing hardware available in the world, nothing is going to change unless the change begins from within the police organisation first.
This being the case, we cannot help being in two state of mind. One cannot help extend congratulations to the man who beat the so called “modern” police system so ingeniously and escaped through a tunnel he dug through the police cordon to freedom. If ever he gets to be back in the so called “mainstream” politics and gets himself elected to the state Assembly, he can become a strong candidate for a new ministerial portfolio handling mining. In the same breath, one cannot also help extending the choicest boos to the police establishment for being so badly and easily outmanoeuvred even as its top brass continue to drum their chest Tarzan-like, claiming victory and declaring acquisition of the best armoury available in the world. Can any absurd theatre get more absurd than happenings in Manipur? Now the ritual of stable door bolting after the horses have fled has begun. Seven lower and mid rung police personnel were suspended from service, but there was no move to institute an independent inquiry into the incident. There were also no indications any police top brass or the political leadership in charge of the department stepping forward to take moral responsibility for criminal lapse. In more responsible environments, beginning from the chief minister, to the home minister to the DGP would have come under intense scrutiny and even may have cost them their jobs. Not in Manipur, even the escape of an important underground leader is treated as routine affair and in a show of incomprehensible non seriousness the police casually announced an award of Rs. 1 lakh for information on the escaped man, as if this is all that is needed to exonerate it of its criminal neglect and inefficiency. As for the political leadership, it goes without saying that the chief minister is also the home minister, and by protocol, the home minister is answerable to the chief minister. In actuality it will be about Okram Ibobi answering to Okram Ibobi for the expensive and unpardonable bungling. Can governmental accountability be short-circuited so brazenly as it is constantly in Manipur?
A little disciplining and a major infusion of morale is what the Manipur police needs today. This process also has to begin from the top. The attitude has been, in counter insurgency situations everything is excusable. So far it was police high handedness, now it is something else. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, does not cover the police, but nonetheless the climate of impunity that the AFSPA guarantees Central forces is proving infectious and police has been acting as if it were also protected by the Act. The BT Road broad daylight killing exposed courageously by New Delhi based magazine Tehelka is just one very prominent example. Although the police is not protected by the AFSPA, the department and indeed the government has found its own brand of protection – simply turn a blind eye to police excesses. There is a difference though. In the case of the AFSPA, it is the law allowing these atrocities. In the case of the police the atrocities they commit are against the law and their only guarantee against penalty is skewed politics. But as the saying goes, what goes around comes around. The police had been allowed for far too long to jump the law. This laxity is now coming around to erode the organisation and its morale in a major way.