Ahmedabad: Dalit rights activist Bhanubhai Vankar had made several representations to the Gujarat government on granting land to members of his community. In a drastic step to draw attention to their plight, he set himself on fire outside the Patan district collector’s office last Thursday and died from his injuries a day and a half later, which was followed by a clarion call from the Dalit community for bandh on Sunday.

Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani, a member of the Gujarat legislative assembly (MLA) from Vadgam, was to attend a protest that day, but he was detained by the police near Kalupur in Ahmedabad while on his way. Mevani, known to defy the law, was angered by this and abused the policemen. The police didn’t take too kindly to his behaviour. J.K. Bhatt, the joint commissioner of the crime branch, held a press conference to make his displeasure known and said the matter will be taken up with the state assembly speaker.

But the question is not about Mevani’s behaviour with the police. Anyone wearing the khaki uniform must be respected. A traffic constable manning a crossroads has lakhs of vehicles and people following directions every day—that in itself is one form of respect. What Mevani did was threaten a sub-inspector.

The police are often at the receiving end of criminals’ threats. But Mevani is an elected MLA. I know him personally and I do not like such behaviour from him. But the reason the police are offended by his words is because he won the Vadgam seat as an independent candidate supported by the opposition Congress party. Had an MLA from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) behaved like this, I doubt Bhatt would have held a press conference.

The BJP is into its 23rd year of power in Gujarat, in which time its leaders, of both lesser and greater importance, have insulted policemen all along the chain of command, from constables to Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. When a policeman is the subject of a BJP leader’s insults, he has no choice but to take it lying down, else he’d be in line for a demotion or a transfer.

During the Patidar unrest, a video of BJP leader Jayesh Radadiya insulting an interim superintendent of police was widely shared on social media. The police took no offence.

When Anand BJP leader Dilip Patel tried to usurp the land of poor citizen, a sub-inspector acted on the complaint and arrested Patel’s men. The result: a barrage of abuses from the BJP leader to the policeman. Again, the police took no offence.

Police officers undergo strict training, swear by the Constitution and wear the Ashoka pillar on their caps as a reminder of their duty to protect citizens without any religious, gender or caste bias. But they are brought to their knees by the ruling administration. Twenty years ago, the same police bent the knee to the Congress. As they rise, the policemen fear politicians even more—after all, they have that much more to lose.

The police are right to take offence at Mevani’s behaviour. But during the spate of encounters in Gujarat between 2002 and 2006, there was no objection to the orders from top politicians—probably because the senior officers involved were more concerned about their career growth.

On the flipside, in 1998, Yatin Oza, the BJP MLA and senior high court counsellor who showered abuse on the police, was given a dose of their power by Satish Verma, Atul Karwal and P.K. Jha. Another name worth mentioning is police inspector Anil Valand. Just like there are police officers who are afraid of the political brass, there are those who take immense pride in their khaki uniforms and strive to uphold the law. While there are many of the latter, those who pander to party in power far outnumber them.