As a popular pastime, police-bashing is a fairly easy and engaging activity. Though it is a universal phenomenon, it is particularly popular in India. It requires little or no experience, or for that matter knowledge, for anyone to run down the police, especially the Indian Police Service. Your credentials are doubly strengthened if you are a veteran of India’s Armed Forces.
“The Others” by Major Gaurav Arya, an online piece on India’s Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and the role of the Indian Police Service (IPS) in these organizations, casts a very interesting light. Not on the subject matter, but on the pathology and world view (more like tunnel vision) of what I call the Indian military mind.
It reeks of ignorance and contempt in equal measure. And that too from the pen of a military veteran with just about six years’ experience in the Indian Army, where his senior-most responsibility was leading a company-level formation.
Writers like Major Arya, with their sweeping generalizations, create an impression that as an institution, the Indian Armed Forces are perhaps better than the country they serve and protect. It is a belief that they have probably imbibed as an integral part of their colonial DNA.
It is not just Major Arya, but a larger dedicated tribe of military veterans that does endless self-glorification that more often than not crosses over into the expression of outright contempt for most civilian institutions, including the political class, the bureaucracy and, especially, the police.
Reading Major Arya, it appears that humility and an open mind are not regarded as essential traits for officers in the Indian Army. Nothing else would explain the sweeping generalizations he presents as insight and the even more sweeping prescriptions that he suggests as the way forward for redesigning India’s internal-security architecture.
A dedicated tribe of military veterans does endless self-glorification that more often than not crosses over into the expression of outright contempt for most civilian institutions, including the political class, the bureaucracy and, especially, the police
Since he makes a fetish of traditions and history, first a bit of history. Barring the Assam Rifles, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Railway Protection Force, all other Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are post-independence creations by stalwarts of the Indian Police Service (IPS). They are the ones who conceptualized, conceived and nurtured these organizations in their early years.
Major Arya’s father served as a company commander in the early years of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The Border Security Force (BSF) is impossible to imagine without the contributions of K F Rustomji and Ashwini Kumar, and it is similarly so for other organizations. So IPS leadership has been an integral part of the history of these organizations.
These organization have grown by leaps and bounds during the past two decades. The CAPFs numbered around 200,000 in 1990; today they are nearly a million. However, the IPS cadre strength has not gone up proportionately because successive governments preferred to recruit a dedicated cadre for each of these forces. As a result, the IPS has a numerically negligible presence in these organizations. For example, the 4,500-strong officer cadre of the BSF has fewer than 50 IPS officers serving.
But successive governments have thought it fit to place IPS officers in key positions. The reasons for that are not too hard to understand.
These organizations in essence have an auxiliary role. In peacetime they assist the state police and civil administration in various duties ranging from elections to riot control, disaster relief and counterinsurgency operations.
India’s constitutional scheme and federal structure are designed in a way that the civil administration and the police must necessarily play leading roles in meeting these challenges. The presence of the IPS ensures that there is a commonality of purpose shaped by the camaraderie of service, and the CAPFs perform this auxiliary role with minimum fuss and friction.
This is not something that an Army veteran like Major Arya, with his ingrained emphasis on the colonial paltan (battalion) over profession, can be easily expected to understand. The daily demands of administering India cannot be held hostage to regimental rivalries.
The broad points Major Arya makes to advocate the exclusion of the IPS are as follows. According to him, a vast majority of IPS officers do not have any experience with counterinsurgency, internal security, or anti-Naxal (anti-communist) operations. Therefore they are unfit to lead these organizations. If only Major Arya had paid attention to his own father’s career in the IPS while growing up, he would have been cured of his misconceptions about the exposure of IPS officers.
Has he heard of the Greyhounds, an elite anti-Naxal force created and led to brilliant operational success by IPS officers of the Andhra Pradesh cadre? Or the stellar work done by IPS officers in combating militancy in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and the Northeast? I don’t know how Major Arya defines internal security. Do elections and large melas (festival gatherings) form part of internal-security challenges? If so, then I can claim some exposure to internal security – as can every other IPS officer in the country.
As a former infantry officer, Major Arya seems to think the ability to lead platoon- and company-level formations in combat is all that is required to assume leadership positions in the CAPFs. These skills are undoubtedly important, but they are a small part of the role performed by these organizations. So to suggest that only IPS officers with a proven track record of platoon- and infantry-level tactical operations are fit to lead the CAPFs is a gross oversimplification. And it is a prescription that is not followed even by the Indian Army.
Not every brave tactical leader makes a great general. In essence, Major Arya is diagnosing a non-existent disease. Even today IPS officers do stints ranging from five to seven years at a time in the CAPFs at the level of deputy or full inspector general before they are considered for top leadership positions. That is around the same time Major Arya served in the Indian Army, which he apparently believes is sufficient to qualify as one of the country’s foremost television “defense experts.”
I wish our military veterans would devote more energy to carrying out much-needed reforms in the Armed Forces
Here we come to the so-called solutions that Major Arya proposes for the problems of the CAPFs. He has two options, both of which are variations on the same theme. Both involve opening more avenues for army officers in these organizations. It is not sympathy for the plight of CAPF officers that inspires Major Arya. It is a self-serving desire to find avenues for sidelined officers of the Indian Army that drives his analysis.
One cannot help but wonder if these thoughts have the tacit support of a section of serving officers in the Indian Army. I wish our military veterans would devote more energy to carrying out much-needed reforms in the Armed Forces. They may go blue in the face telling us that all is hunky dory in the Indian military but even a casual observer would realize that before pointing fingers at other institutions, the Armed Forces need to fix the roots within.
Every ill and failing that they love to point out in civil society – corruption, nepotism, incompetence – are present to varying degrees in the Armed Forces too. It is purely out of respect that civil society refrains from being openly critical of the Armed Forces.
However, if India’s military veterans are oblivious to their own flaws and observe no restraint and professional courtesy in criticizing others, then they too will face many uncomfortable questions from the rest of us.
What is being done to curb institutional corruption in the Military Engineering Services, Ordnance Corps and Army Service Corps? Is it true that regimental rivalries play havoc with the system of promotions in the Indian Army? Is it true that officers use all kinds of influence to evade postings in difficult areas? Does the army run golf courses for national-security reasons? I could go on and on.
I would like to believe that Major Arya is a patriot. However, it does not absolve him of the responsibility to do more research and show greater awareness of India’s constitutional scheme and national-security challenges before making such half-baked attempts to increase military turf masquerading as serious analysis of national security.