The Prakash Singh Committee report on the administrative and policing failures during the violent Jat quota agitation in Haryana is a shocking eye-opener. It tells the story of institutional decay in the state’s bureaucracy. The home secretary’s abject confession before the commission that he has no powers, the top police official’s blithe deposition that he was indisposed and therefore could not visit the affected areas, officials taking refuge in inaction as the best option, all confirm what was evident during those five days of mayhem — a failure of leadership from the top downward. Singh, a former Uttar Pradesh DGP with an impeccable reputation, has put down every incident in which officials were found to be “non-performing” and has not shied away from expressing his own opinion about each of them. His report brings out the manner in which the highest echelons of bureaucracy acted with unwarranted trepidation when circumstances required firm and resolute action against rioters. It seemed that instead of controlling the spiralling violence, the state administration was more worried about how they may have to justify any tough measures in the aftermath. One of the most important observations of the report relates to how a parochial law and order machinery is designed for failure. Political interference in recruitment and postings has played havoc with the police force which has come to be dominated by the dominant caste of the state. The fallout of this was collusion with rioters, desertions and an obvious caste bias.
Prakash Singh’s remit was restricted to enquiring into the failures of the administrative and law order machinery of the state. Thus, there is nothing in the report about the failure of the political leadership during the crisis. In fact, he has been generous to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. In an addendum to the report, he credits the chief minister with “remaining alive to the situation throughout”. While he blames senior officials for failing to lead from the front, it is clear that their inaction would not have been possible without political concurrence. He briefly touches upon this issue when he states that officials have started looking upto the political masters even to exercise their inherent powers. But Singh has focused more on the systematic disempowerment of the civil administration and the police by “former chief ministers” of the state who centralised powers in their own office.
This erosion of authority due to political interference over the years is aptly brought out in the report, but the incumbent political authority cannot be completely absolved. After all, the Haryana chief minister is also the state’s home minister. Singh wants the institutional decay in Haryana to be arrested and reversed. Khattar would be remembered in better light than as the chief minister who let Haryana burn if he finds the political will to start that process. With the Jat community threatening to renew the agitation, Khattar’s time begins now.