IGP Mahinda Balasuriya has warned his subordinates that they will be taken to task, should election violence occur in their respective areas. It is feared that violence may erupt with the presidential election campaigns hotting up within the next few weeks.
However, Balasuriya is not the first police chief to have made such a promise. We have been treated to such voluble pledges on many an occasion. In spite of rhetoric from top cops in their echo chambers, we continue to witness violence, election after election, with no end in sight.
Ideally, if the police do their job properly and enforce law efficiently, there is no need for the IGP`s intervention. The very fact that he has had to step in and yell at others is an indictment on his department and proof of a grave dereliction of duty on the part of his men paid with public funds to do their job.
It is not warnings and promises that we need as regards political violence but prompt action to put the kibosh on it. There have been many incidents of election violence and complaints against police inaction in the recent past. If the present IGP really needs to eliminate political violence, he should have those incidents probed and punish the errant officers who failed to act so that in future the police will be on their toes, aware that they have a boss who means business. They must be made to realise that they will be held accountable for their lapses. Else, they will not give two hoots about the IGP`s warnings.
In a way, it may not be fair to blame the police alone for this sorry state of affairs. Successive governments have contributed hugely to breaking the back of the police. And those who unflinchingly prostituted their positions to curry favour with political potentates have been rewarded handsomely some of them have become parliamentarians representing the two main political parties! Having reduced the police to mere putty in their hands, politicians are now trying to make an empty sack stand upright!
Some remedies have been attempted to depoliticise the police from time to time. The Independent Police Commission was expected to be a panacea for all ills the police were afflicted with. But, certain flaws in the 17th Amendment, stemming from its architects inordinate rush to draft and ratify it manifestly stood in the way of the working of that solution. The non-implementation of the 17th Amendment has aggravated the situation. It, no doubt, needs to be implemented but laws alone cannot infuse professionalism into the police department or any other outfit for that matter. Constitutional safeguards may help tackle the issue of undue political pressure on the police but how to prevent collaboration of police personnel with unsavoury politicians is the question. Some police officers have been in the pay of even terrorists! Recently, we reported that a young police officer had incurred the wrath of one of his superiors for busting the biggest ever credit card racket in the country.
Thus, it may be seen that the failure on the part of the police in dealing with political violence is only one dimension of a multi-faceted problem which defies piecemeal remedies.
As for his pledge to curb election violence, the new IGP will have to prove that he is equal to the task. His predecessors, we repeat, pathetically failed to achieve the feat of eliminating it.
If IGP Balasuriya could rid the upcoming presidential election of violence, his achievement would be second only to defeating terrorism. (He may claim 95 per cent of the credit for that!) It is fervently hoped that he will not suffer a bloodied nose in the process.
We wish him luck!