An examination of the BJP and Congress manifestos for the 2009, 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections shows that the delivery of this core public good has not been on the priority list.
Priya Vedavalli and Avanti Durani
In 2008, the 26/11 Mumbai terrors attack exposed the severe unpreparedness of the Indian police in combating terrorism. As a result, for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, parties focused on boosting anti-terrorism capabilities in their election manifestos. Then, in 2012, the Nirbhaya rape and assault incident brought to light the dire need for women’s safety and security. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that in 2014, parties focused on women’s safety and gender sensitivity in their election manifestos. As polling gets underway for a 7-phase long national voting exercise, it is an opportune time to take a look at how the two main national parties are prioritising the delivery of sound law and order through police reforms this time around.
In economics, a public good has two distinguishing attributes: it is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. The former means that its utilisation by one individual does not reduce its availability to another. The latter means that no individual can be excluded from availing of it. Law and order is one such good, making itself available to each and every person, and is the foremost responsibility of the state towards its citizens. It is critical for delivering good governance, improved quality of life, and inclusive, market-based economic growth.
Despite this India allocates a mere 0.7 percent of its budget to policing. This is less than the allocation to other social sectors like education (2.7 percent) and health (1.4 percent). The Global Peace Index Report of 2018 estimated that in 2017 crime and violence cost India 9 percent of its GDP ($806 billion), directly (in terms of expenditure) and indirectly (in terms of loss of productivity). The overall economic impact of this violence, which includes direct and indirect costs along with related opportunity costs, was $1,190 billion. There is no corresponding Indian data highlighting this issue, which further indicates that there is a lack of discourse on this matter. While policing is a state subject, it is typically the Centre that pushes for reforms, such as the setting up of various committees and commissions since Independence as well as the police modernisation scheme, providing the guiding vision that states lack capacity to formulate.
An examination of the manifestos of the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party over the past three Lok Sabha elections (2009, 2014, and 2019) shows that the delivery of this core public good has not been on the priority list for governments or parties. In their 2019 manifestos, the parties dedicate about 1 percent of the total number of words to describing their police reforms agenda, while about 4 percent is spent on education and 2 percent on health. This, on average, holds true for the 2009 and 2014 manifestos as well. A simple exercise of looking at the number of times certain policing related words are mentioned, such as ‘police’, ‘crime’ and ‘law and order’, reveals that while the attention paid to police reforms has been improving over time, it remains minimal in the larger scheme of things (See chart). While the amount of space reserved for discussing police reforms has been low, an analysis of the nature of reforms and ideas is also telling.
The key ideas discussed in all three years reveal that parties have primarily been reactive in their approach to police reforms rather than proactive and visionary. The 2019 election manifestos are no different. In 2006, the Supreme Court issued seven directives in response to a petition filed by Prakash Singh on the discriminatory application of laws in favour of individuals with power, as well as the unauthorised detention, torture, and harassment of ordinary citizens. The directives were a move towards bringing about more transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the police. But there has been complete disregard by states for the Supreme Court’s directives and stagnation in police reforms. Studies by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Common Cause conducted in 2018 revealed almost zero compliance with the directives by several states. The reports outline that states have either not moved on them at all or adopted diluted forms of the directives in order to legitimise the status quo. The parties have therefore responded by circling back to the 2006 directives, along with reviving the past reforms on police modernisation and the Model Police Act.
The government’s delivery on these reforms has been lacklustre. As a fundamental responsibility of the State, it is imperative that the subject is brought to the forefront. Parties and governments always seem to be a step behind with respect to police reforms. In a country where law and order and safety is critical to the very fabric of society, parties and governments should be committed to strengthening the police machinery rather than doling out short term solutions to garner votes.(Priya Vedavalli is an Associate and Avanti Durani is a Senior Associate at IDFC Institute.)