When politics dictates law | HT Editorial

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On Tuesday, the Sushant Singh Rajput case took a new turn with the arrest of actor Rhea Chakraborty in a drug-related case. This newspaper has been critical of the electronic media’s coverage of Rajput’s suicide — and the nature of the sensationalist conspiracy theories that have come to dominate a case which should have triggered a discussion on mental health. But it is not just the media which is in the dock; the problem is with India’s law enforcement apparatus and police agencies.

Irrespective of the merits of the investigation underway, what is increasingly apparent is that all central and state agencies appear to be operating under political directions, for this case is now clearly linked to politics. On one hand are those who believe that Ms Chakraborty is responsible for Rajput’s tragic death. This view seems to have the support, if not the concurrence, of leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — and the social media campaign against her has the sanction of supporters of the party. It is, therefore, not a coincidence that it is central agencies which are at the forefront of implicating Ms Chakraborty in a range of cases. On the other are those who believe that Rajput’s death is being used to target the Mumbai film industry and its leading figures, and there is an attempt to muddy a normal police investigation in the matter. It is not a coincidence that the Maharashtra state administration in general is applying the law against those who it sees as critics.

The issue here is not who is right or wrong. The issue is the complete politicisation of India’s premier security agencies, which seem to act not on the basis of evidence but primarily on political directions. India’s governance structure, of course, has a framework where the state police in the case of states, and other investigative agencies in the case of the Centre, operate under executive control. Political oversight is important. At the same time, there is a desperate need for autonomy — for as repeated attempts at police reforms have shown, it is when investigative agencies are free of political pressure that they can work fairly. There cannot be any rule of law if those meant to protect and uphold the law cannot do their jobs independently. The Sushant case is yet again proof that India needs to find ways to insulate its legal machinery from political masters. Otherwise, driven by an irresponsible media and partisan political considerations, individual liberty will be at peril.

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