Are we all agreed that the police have no business dragging consenting couples out of hotel rooms, let alone humiliate them in public, threaten to embarrass them before their parents and do all this by invoking a ridiculous law that cites indecent behaviour in public? The answer would be ‘yes’ for most people, including the Mumbai police commissioner, despite his own policemen displaying such behaviour recently. Should there be, therefore, an example made of such policemen who attach a ‘moral’ before their names, or see easy publicity or bribes, or were settling a score with the hotels where these couples had booked rooms? Or, most plausibly, acted on a mix of all these motivations? Yes, even the Mumbai police commissioner agrees. That was how a senior police officer, under whose jurisdiction the raid fell, was transferred to Nanded from Mumbai. It was as clear a signal as could be sent to the entire department that moral policing will attract punishment. Nanded is 600 km from Mumbai and the amount of money policemen can make comes down in inverse proportion to their distance from Mumbai.
Within days, however, the state government had overruled the commissioner and the police officer was back in Mumbai. The reason cited was the crushing necessity for him to be there to keep law and order during the imminent festive season. He had been transferred citing the absence of an inspector general in Nanded, but because he was not senior enough, that post had been downgraded to DIG. Both reasons don’t sound convincing but that is irrelevant.
No one is really surprised at this chain of events. The only difference this time is that it is happening under the present BJP-Sena government, which had been voted in, promising honesty and good governance. The earlier Congress and NCP alliance government had long given up on any such aspirations. During their time, an MLA, who was the son-in-law of an underworld gangster, had slapped a traffic policeman who had pulled his car over and he had then further humiliated the man by getting the entire Legislative Assembly to pass a motion against him. With masters like these, the police know exactly what they should and shouldn’t do. For a brief while, after the transfer, they thought they shouldn’t raid hotel rooms in search of couples. Now they know that moral policing can be problematic but any fallout can be managed.
The root of the problem is Mumbai itself. It is a great equaliser in which rank and file policemen can get a commissioner’s order overturned. The encounter cops did that for years despite many of their bosses wanting to run them out. This is possible because the city is a pot of gold co-mingling with a pot of power. Any government servant with sufficient enterprise and absence of integrity can make a fortune if he knows who to partner and share it with among seniors in the department and government. Policemen at the top have to be shrewder still to even get those postings. Their continuance is tied in with the interests of many other more powerful people and that is the best insurance that someone can have for his career.