Better Local Governance: Electing vs. Assigning

Much of the US was a structural shock to my system. When I first heard that such key offices as Commissioner of Police and district attorney was elected rather then appointed from a national, rotating pool, for example, I was aghast.

Popular punditry often conflates democracy with the mechanism of elections, but elections today are the epitome of a rigged game, favouring only those with the connections, funds, and social identities most accommodative of popular prejudice. Consider the USA, for instance. A country predicted to soon become – amongst much media headlining – not predominantly white, has not had two black senators serving simultaneously in their version of the parliament. Politics by colour of class might seem regressive on the surface, but the continuing structural violence against groups incapable of sponsoring enough elected members to the House is for all to see.

In the wake of the police brutality at Jadavpur University, though, I have had to reconsidered my deeply rooted colonial stance. On the one hand, it seems generally sensible to select and train officer-level police personnel (that is, those who bear arms and make the decisions) at a national academy, than to accept any average eighteen-year old who hasn’t ever left his home town, and present him with the privileges of uniform.On the other hand, however, there are such civil positions as deans and chancellors and registrars of universities. These fine women and men used to be elected to office from a group of their peers, and in many places perhaps still are. This ensured two things:

  • The person entering office has spent enough time within her new domain of authority to be familiar with its workings and its idiosyncrasies
  • And s/he has earned the respect and confidence of his/her peers to be elected to be the the boss of them.

The two combined is likely to encourage a situation of greater campus democracy, instead of the detached show of might we’ve witnessed. An administrator with an organic connect can help avoid a great deal of avoidable trouble to students, faculty, university productivity, and the public image of the political party at the helm of state-assisted units.

Of course, to be fair, there are several possibilities of exceptions I am not exploring here, and in the general scheme of revolution and resistance this might seem a little dull. But with the #hokkolorob movement intensifying without a clear goal except protesting to tyranny, tedious matters such as this is worth considering.

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3 comments

  1. A huge population is a double edged sword. Make that triple-edged. 1. You have to provide (government) employment to a huge populace so the police department is crammed with ordinaries. 2. Even so, you can’t ensure high per-capita police. While United Nations figures say it is 130 per 100000 in India, DNA (newspaper) has reported only 1 police is available for 761 of “aam janata”. The rest are on VIP duty. 3. Budgetary allocation for training and equipment is pathetic in our country.

    Therefore with a “masses” doctrine in the police department, you can neither expect trained and equipped personnel, nor education or sensitivity. And this ground reality is here to stay for many years to come, unless some miraculous change in policy is wrought. With reference to your point about educational institutions- i cannot comment, but you must be right.

    • Rajib, I disagree completely, but I think you knew that. We actually have a nationalised training system for officer-rank police personnel, and habildars here, while not part of that elite academy, are still taken in after clearing certain qualifications and have considerably lesser capacity to damage, given that their ‘arms’, at the max, are lathes.

      Secondly – and much more importantly – the ability to not be corrupt, to take down FIRs without harassment, and not to be brutal at the flick of the sitting government’s finger are not things that need an enormous budget or accessories to install.

      Finally, if corruption and inefficiency hadn’t afflicted our society to the extent it does, the police would not need special training not to harass women or beat up protesting citizens.

      Now, what alarms me about your comment is that you seem to think a high police to citizen ratio is required, at a time when the city is agitating against appalling police brutality. Why do you think this is required, and what do you mean by “equipped personnel”?

      • I agree with you on corruption. My point was that the quality of the force on the whole is poor. Now that may not have a direct bearing on the corruption, but if the “habildar” had **your** qualifications, then the officer and the political parties, the mafia and the govt. would possibly be unable to manipulate them the way it happens now. My point is simply that a better educated and quality force is the first requirement, and we cannot simply wish away corruption on the basis of desire. How do we ensure less corruption?
        As regards the per-capita issue, obviously the desire for a higher number of personnel comes with an assumption that they are there to help and protect, not brutalize and extort. So yes- that comes after a better force, not the other way round.
        A better equipped force is one which has non-lethal combat power. It has not always worked- Europe seems at match-point these days. But a force that can wield deterrence i feel is better than a force that has to resort to violence.
        What is required? 1. Education. 2. Education. 3. Education. Do this sincerely for 15 years- we will be a different country. Maybe- we are on the threshold. Maybe the real revolution has started, if only in a trickle. In the south, I do see that things are different in many respects.
        BTW- **your** qualifications for a habildar was an exaggeration. đŸ™‚

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