The Supreme Court's decision to annul the appointment of DIG Jaya Bahadur Chand as the chief of Nepal Police has come as a much-needed blow to the politicisation of the police service in the country.
Politicians' attempt to interfere with the country's police service has been exposed once again. This time it came to the surface in the form of the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Nepal Police. Breaching Nepal Police Regulations, the government on February 12 promoted Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Jaya Bahadur Chand to the post of IGP. The government's decision was challenged at the Supreme Court which annulled the appointment calling it "arbitrary, flawed, unjust and a bizarre example of pick and choose".
The IGP was to be picked from a pool of four DIGs – Nawaraj Silwal, Prakash Acharya, Chand and Bam Bahadur Bhandari. Rule 41 of Nepal Police regulations clearly states how the government has to appoint the new IGP on the basis of seniority as well as merit. Silwal is the senior-most among the four DIGs and is also ahead of the remaining three contenders in the combined score for performance evaluation of the last four years. But the government picked third senior-most Chand as the police chief!
So, it was a welcome move when the apex court annulled Chand's appointment. It is imperative that the appointment of the IGP remains an unbiased process and is free from undue politicisation. Otherwise, the IGP’s loyalties are likely to align more with the leaders who ensured his appointment rather than with the police institution itself. This would endow the political party responsible for the appointment with considerable influence over the police force, thus creating an atmosphere where affiliated political parties could mobilise the police to advance their political objectives.
Sources said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and home minister Bimalendra Nidhi were in favour of Silwal but Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba wanted Chand, the third senior-most officer in the ranks, to be appointed to the post. "Deuba had told Nidhi to resign from the government if he could not ensure Chand's appointment," said a source. As Nidhi (as dictated by Deuba) threatened to pull out of the government if Chand was not made the IGP, Dahal gave in.
Chand hails from Far-western Nepal, the NC chief’s constituency.
Honestly speaking, politicisation of the police force has always been the case, before as well as after the restoration of democracy in 1990. Though there has been discussion on reorienting the police towards a more people-focused service in the democratic period, the parties in power have politicised the force. The parties misuse power to award appointments and transfers, which are biased and determined by undue favours rather than merit. The culture of choosing Hamro Maanche (our person) over Ramro Manche (meritorious person) has been ingrained in Nepali society.
Chand's appointment would have been a severe blow to the morale of many capable police officers and would have served to inculcate wrong values in the minds of young entrants to the police service. However, now the court has ruled that the officer with the best appraisal shall get the post and annulled Chand’s appointment. This means the court ruled in favour of DIG Silwal.
But it seems the government is in no hurry to appoint a new police chief now following the court's decision to revoke Chand's appointment. Sources close to the ruling alliance say now the government will use the pretext of the Election Commission enforcing the code of conduct for the May 14 local polls and not appoint anybody as police chief so that Silwal will be stalled. A source in the Cabinet also said that the government has concluded that the Supreme Court went outside of its jurisdiction to revoke Chand's appointment.
According to another source, Prime Minister Dahal has also concluded that the Supreme Court ruling amounts to interference. “Before the court passed its verdict, the Prime Minister was also in favour of Nawaraj Silwal. But he also wants to seek an alternative to Silwal to send a message to the court that it cannot dictate terms to the government,” the source said.
A system that rewards political loyalties and corrupt practices over job performance and commitment to the law benefits both politicians and underperforming officers with questionable commitment to the people’s well-being. While politicians need money and muscle to keep their positions and win elections, police officers who lack a good track record need political patronage to secure comfortable postings. This explains the emergence of a strong symbiotic relationship between politicians and elements within the police force.
Historical evidence suggests a strong police-politician nexus has the potential to embolden criminal elements. Beholden to their political masters, the police take less interest in the difficult task of enforcing the rule of law and spend more time serving their benefactors. Those with political influence and money have little difficulty in manipulating the police for their own selfish ends. The nexus weakens fear of legal punishment and can create an environment of lawlessness, in which organised crime can spread its tentacles.
Therefore, politicisation of the police force has to be opposed in every way possible. Political leaders elected by the people may argue that they are ultimately accountable to the public, so they have to be involved in decisions about promotions and transfers in the police. However, if policing becomes politicised and the police are seen as partisan, the trust and legitimacy accorded to them by the public will be affected. It will also grant impunity to police officers who are politically connected, and may render the police leadership incapable of disciplining the force and managing their departments.
So the people should pressurise the political parties to mend their ways, and ensure that police officers do not become the stooges of political leaders, but are accountable to the constitution instead.