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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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Cynical manoeuvres

IN REQUISITIONING THE services of three senior IPS officers of the Tamil Nadu cadre, including the Chennai Commissioner of Police, Mr. K. Muthukaruppan, the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime has demonstrated that it would not feel `constrained' by such factors as Constitutional propriety or democratic conventions - particularly those related to a federal polity - while seeking to settle partisan scores with a political adversary either on its own volition or under pressure from a coalition partner. First, it made a scapegoat of the then Governor, Ms. Fatima Beevi - against whom the political executive at the Centre had been nursing a grudge for having appointed Ms. Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister without even consulting it - and decided on seeking her recall. Then, calculatedly, it had a campaign drummed up for imposition of President's Rule, despite the obvious impracticability of the Article 356 option, and only ultimately settled for a non-mandatory `warning' to the State Government, with the clear message that action be taken against the police officers responsible for ``high-handedness and human rights violations'' in the process of taking Mr. Karunanidhi into custody.

The Centre's latest `requisition' move - the three officers picked up by it are among the ones `marked' by the DMK as `culprits' - has to be seen in the context of its running battle of wits with the Jayalalithaa Government, which however cannot be said to be standing on a higher moral plane. In a dubious counter move, the Jayalalithaa Government had set up a judicial probe and thereby bought time politically and sought to `protect' the errant police officials against any imminent action. Incidentally, the case of the former DGP, Mr. R. Rajagopalan, the fourth IPS officer to be requisitioned by the Centre for appointment as Director-General of the NSG, is however somewhat different in the sense he does not belong to the DMK-targeted category of officers whom the Chief Minister would want to `protect'. If Ms. Jayalalithaa, whose actions right from the day she assumed office in Constitutionally-challenged circumstances smacked of personal vendetta of a rare order, has had little compunction in operating the governmental machinery to realise her ambition of `fixing' her perceived tormentors, the Centre, for its part - and driven as much by narrow partisan designs - seems to be inexorably set on a dangerous course that threatens to undermine the framework of Centre-State relations.

Quite ominous indeed is the assertion of the Union Law Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, that the Centre had ``over-riding'' powers in the matter of requisitioning IPS and IAS officers. Well- established conventions have it that such Centre-State or inter- State transfers - which are in the nature of a deputation - are effected with the concurrence of everyone concerned, the Governments and also the individual officer. And the proviso that says the decision would lie with the Centre ``in case of disagreement'' - one on which Mr. Jaitley has chosen to rely - is obviously intended to cover exceptional circumstances. Nothing could be more perverse than to invoke it for legitimising a blatantly score-settling move of the type made now by the Centre. To do so would inevitably inflict an irreparable damage on the very institution of the All-India Services and the symbiotic linkage it provides to the bureaucracy nation-wide, apart from demoralising its personnel. Going by the cynical manner in which the key political players have been responding to the outrageous events of June 29/30 that shocked the entire civil society across the country, there seems to be the real risk of the basic issues thrown up by the murky episode - the most critical of them being the accountability of the law-enforcing agencies for their `excesses' - getting buried amidst all the crassly self-serving political manoeuvres resorted to by them in total disregard of democratic values such as the supremacy of the rule of law. Which is to say that, at the minimum, there should be no attempt to turn the Raman Commission into a farce or to use the levers of governmental power to tackle issues which need to be settled in the political arena.

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