Challenges for Home Minister | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 22, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 22, 2012

Straight Line

Challenges for Home Minister

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Politi-cally speaking, by the Indian sub-continental experience the home portfolio has not been a particularly sought after berth and some say that the pragmatic politician does not feel comfortable in being the skipper of home affairs management. In our situation, such an observation assumes special significance, especially in the penultimate year of a political government when mood, expectations and delivery are extremely demanding.
In a scenario as above, the assumption of charges of home ministry by Mr. M.K. Alamgir, a veteran bureaucrat and a tested politician who has seen the system working from both ends of the power game, raises hopes and apprehensions. This scribe would like to hope that despite the enormous odds of our confrontational and polarised polity Mr. Khan would make his mark. Such hope is strengthened by the fact that he has intimate knowledge and experience of the modus operandi of both the developmental and regulatory management in our parlance.
The tasks, however, are multiple and daunting. In particular, the alleged human rights violations pertaining to extra-judicial killings and the enforced disappearances demand special attention. Our credentials as a democratic polity would not attract adverse observations if we could firmly reject and disown the mentality that those who could not be dealt with within the law have to be dealt with beyond the law. The new minister's opening remarks to the media in this regard are undoubtedly admirable.
Another disconcerting complaint that comes to mind relates to the so-called political withdrawal of criminal cases. Although late in the day, it may still be beneficial to examine if such withdrawals by administrative fiat are an undermining of the criminal justice system. The transgressions of law and morality are a constant concern and we would like to believe that it would be the concern of the minister too, as he had been a student of law.
Coming to specifics of policing, can our citizens expect that the alleged selective application of law against opponents, whether political or personal, at the behest of persons of influence will not become a norm? Shall we make genuine efforts to ensure that the police are not perceived as agents of the party in power and are in fact members of an organisation publicly maintained to enforce the law? The police need to be a provider of service to the community and not an entity to subdue and subjugate.
Mr. M.K. Alamgir who in the not-too-distant past was demonstrably earnest in establishing the rights of public servants of the republic would know better that the police in their professional capacity have to be apolitical and impartial in their application of law. One would be stating the obvious by insisting that interference with the statutory duties of the police contrary to law has to be firmly deprecated.
As far as basic reform is concerned, it is still not too late to initiate action. Our politicians know very well that policing in Bangladesh has been by and large a one-sided affair; with communities having little or no say in local policing plans and strategies that affect them most. Our politicians, including legislators, know very well that the Police Act of 1861, the mother police law, is silent on the issue of community consultation. This law focused on the responsibility of communities to ensure order and should any member step out of line, the whole community would face vicarious punishment. The situation has not changed meaningfully.
Therefore, one may very logically ask as to why the politician-legislator is not demonstrably concerned about the necessary amendment in this law to facilitate organisational and operational changes entailing meaningful public-friendly ramifications? Is it not necessary to witness a change in the mindset of the politicians of our country to usher in a modern, progressive and forward-looking police service in line with the enlightened system elsewhere? Whose interests do we serve by remaining bogged down in an archaic Police Act?
The politician's mind has to appreciate that the Police Act, 1861 was principally aimed to administer a static, immobile and backward rural society living in villages and small towns. It envisaged exercise of authority without local accountability. It presupposed a society without any constitution, basic and fundamental rights, organised public opinion and mass-media projecting and agitating the public interest. The need, therefore, is to initiate informed debates and ultimately succeed in enacting a suitable Act, as has been done in a neighbouring country.
A French general once asked his gardener to plant a tree. "Oh, this tree grows slowly," the gardener said. "It won't mature for a hundred years." "Then there is no time to lose," the general answered. "Plant it this afternoon."
In the context of our charged political scenario and the compulsions of a penultimate year, the above expectations might be dismissed as boy scout stuff. However, the optimist would like to believe the memorable saying that even one week is pretty long time in a political existence. The test of leadership lies in taking on the adversity and delivering. Will our new home minister of the republic dare?

The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.

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