First Person | The Right Lessons

Inter-uniform rivalry is alright, derision is not

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Before the Uttarakhand tragedy pushed everything out of the television studios, a retired Indian Army general was holding forth on how the war could be won against the left wing extremists. As erudite expert, who probably has read most of the manuals on counter-insurgency published anywhere in the world, the general liberally punctuated his statements with examples from various theatres, inside and outside India. With an impressive flourish of his hand he said, ‘…and that’s how we can finish them all.’

But just as it was obvious that he had read all the books, it was evident that he had neither ever been in the theatre nor spoken to any of the forces, police or the Central Paramilitary (CPMF), deployed in the Naxal-affected areas. Yet, such was his confidence in his acquired knowledge that he was unwilling to listen to even the retired director general of police from Andhra Pradesh, which has generally been regarded as a success story against the Maoists.

The credit for success in Andhra has jointly been shared by the then political leadership which pushed through land distribution and reforms (a long-standing demand of the tillers in the state and one of the earliest grievances that the Maoists cashed on) and the determined police force, which carried out targeted killings of the Maoist leadership through surgical operations. Of course, there were allegations of state-sanctioned assassinations and human rights violation, but both the government and the police brazened it out. The ex-police chief was recounting all this making the case for complete synergy, based on mutual confidence and faith, between the police and the political class.

Maybe the DGP was taking too much credit, and maybe the Maoists problem in Andhra has not really been solved; it has merely been pushed into other states. But still the DGP’s story and point of view was worth listening to, because he was the man on the ground with both first-hand experience and lessons in retrospect. But not only the general didn’t want to listen to him, by constant interruptions, both verbal and through gestures, he ensured that nobody else paid attention to him either.

I am not making a case of rudeness against the general. Indian news television today unfortunately demands a certain degree of rudeness and abrasiveness for the sake of entertainment. And probably most of it is simply play-acting. My point is different. The general was not being rude; he was being dismissive of a non-military officer. And he is not alone in this attitude of condescension. A large number of senior Indian Army officers suffer from this condition. They are convinced that not only they know better than the police and paramilitary officers (even outside the military domain), they can do the police’ job better. Sure they can, but should there be pride in this?

Shortly after the May incident in Chhattisgarh, which nearly wiped out the state Congress leadership, several retired army officers hastened to write articles on how the Maoists problem needed to be tackled, some of which were sent directly to FORCE and many were circulated as forwards on the Internet. Uniformly, all articles poked fun at the police and the paramilitary for their lack of training, initiative and leadership skills. Some mocked the police and the CPMFs’ inability to handle sophisticated arms. Some compared the training and ethos of the military with the police and the CPMFs. Some confidently stated in a back-handed way that it is only a matter of time before the army would be called in to sort out the Maoists. Some suggested that there were vested interests which were resisting induction of the army in the Dandakaranya forests. Of course, the merit of all these arguments is questionable, but that’s another debate.

Inter-service rivalry is expected and acceptable. But it is sad when one uniform has derision for another. The environment, training, KRAs, service conditions, perks and pelf of the military, paramilitary and the police are completely different. They cannot be compared. Just as a police force cannot do a military’s job, why must the military aspire to do the police job, and do it better to spite them? In any case, some would argue that the military can never do the police or paramilitary’s job, but even that’s another debate.

In India, except for the military, which has a well-defined role, every other force is in the process of evolution. In several states, the police’ roles are getting enlarged, going beyond mere law and order and thana duties. From wielding oil-rubbed sticks they are learning to operate sophisticated arms. Similarly, both the CPMFs and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are in a state of flux. Their numbers are being raised rapidly without adequate support and training infrastructure. Their envelope of operations has gone way beyond what was originally envisaged. All these developments have brought along their own challenges and crises, including, in many cases some disconnect between the leadership and the cadre.

This calls for concern, not derision; compassion not comparison. And most of all, since the internal realities of India are changing so rapidly, maybe a bit of re-education. And if you have been re-educated, then a bit of humility won’t be amiss.


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