To end the current bickering between cadre and IPS officers, government must give former its due
First, the ground situation as it exists today. The world is in the grip of one of the worst global pandemics in recent times. While over six million people have been affected worldwide, nearly 3,72,000 have died. In India, more than 200,000 people have been infected by the Covid-causing Corona virus, and over 6,000 have died.
Doctors and experts insist that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The seemingly modest figures in India are the consequence of low-testing. Once the testing facilities are ramped up, the numbers will rise too.
Lives apart, the major and long-lasting impact of the pandemic has been on the livelihoods of people. According to conservative estimates, nearly 50 million people (both in the organised and unorganised sector) may have lost their jobs. This figure is likely to increase once economic activity commences and companies realise that they are not able to sustain even their reduced workforce. In fact, never before has the government job (in any class) appeared more lucrative and powerful than today simply for its security and clout.
Economists anticipate the worst recession since Independence with growth slipping to negative. Despite the economic rehabilitation package announced by the government, the overall sentiment is one of despair. The package, more than anything else, revealed government of India’s complete lack of ideas and control over the economy. At a time when people need instant support, it has promised long-term reforms. Curiously, one of promised reforms to help the economy get back on its feet is raising the foreign direct investment (FDI) ceiling in the defence sector to 74 per cent from the earlier 49 per cent. Ironically, while the government insist on saying no to foreign goods (in the name of self-reliance), it wants foreign money to come in, and that too in a critical sector like defence! Clearly, the government is overwhelmed by the crisis.
As if our plate wasn’t already full, on May 5, the soldiers from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sauntered across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Pangong Tso area of eastern Ladakh. A few days later they also transgressed into north Sikkim and finally into the Galwan Valley north of Pangong Tso (see the cover story). Since then, they have been busy building their defences, including ammunition yard, even as the government of India struggles to project both a sense of control and domination over the situation. Neither is easy to project given the ease with which surveillance technology being accessed by non-government analysts is frequently putting satellite imagery in public domain. Yet, we persevere.
Meanwhile, in a possible realisation of Indian military’s worst nightmare, all is not quiet on the western front either. In a recent interview to Press Trust of India, General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Baggavalli Somashekar Raju said that both the terrorist training camps and their launch-pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) are ‘full’. “These terrorist cadres are desperate to infiltrate with the help of Pakistani Army”, he said. This clearly will lead to a hot and busy summer in the Valley. In other words, expect more pain in Kashmir—both for the civilians and the security forces, across the colour of the uniform.
Given the tension on both military lines and enormous human distress within, one would have expected that the government would do its best to keep the lid on domestic fissures, especially those that compromise the discipline and efficiency of the forces responsible for internal peace and security.
The long-brewing discontent between the cadre officers of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) has progressively degenerated into a public slugfest, being played out both in the media and on social media. Yet, despite the accusations of condescension of the IPS towards the cadre, and latter’s resentment of the former, there was an unsaid code. None questioned another’s professional capability publicly, private recriminations notwithstanding. This boundary was breached by inspector general of police, Kashmir zone, Vijay Kumar.
On April 29, in a meeting in Baramullah (Kashmir), which was attended by members of all security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations (CI-ops), Vijay Kumar said that the Central Reserve Police Force’s (CRPF’s) name simply gets linked to CI-ops, whereas the main work is done by the state police and Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles. Present at the meeting were the director general J&K police as well as senior CRPF officers.
Vijay Kumar’s comments could have been dismissed as a consequence of the less than cordial relationship that the J&K police have shared with the CRPF for decades now. The paramilitary forces (then they were still called that) like the Border Security Force (BSF) and the CRPF were inducted in great numbers in Kashmir in the 1990s when the state police was found ill-equipped to quell the roiling insurgency. Over the next few years, the state police, commendably, clawed its way back into reckoning, often carrying out long-drawn operations on their own. However, the relationship with the central government forces, especially the CRPF, remained of mutual distrust.
Given the mandate of the force, CRPF is supposed to operate under the police of the state it is deputed to. While several states, with limited police force and equipment, give reasonable autonomy to the CRPF, this has not been the case in J&K, where the police insist on determining CRPF’s deployments and roles. Until a few years back, CRPF was deployed on the CI grid in south Kashmir, where in several districts it carried out independent operations. In other places, it operated alongside the state police and the RR. A large number, however, was deployed on static duties such as guards, escorts, perimeter security etc.
Young CRPF officers, eager to participate in ‘real action’, read CI-ops, resented this constant downgrading of their role by the state police. Meanwhile, to justify the relegation of the job, the police frequently cited their incompetence as the reason. Sure enough, the relationship, though civil, never became cordial. Piquing the ties was the fact that the senior leadership of both, the state police and the CRPF came from the same pool of officers—IPS. Sometimes old course mates, sometimes friends and always fraternal officers who frequently met—both professionally and socially. The cadre officers, outside this exclusive club, remained unseen and unheard.
However, the silence did not mean acquiescence. A few years ago, petition-writing and protest letters led to the appeal in the high court which saw merit in the arguments of the petitioning cadre officers across the CAPF. The court ruled that the CAPFs should be deemed Organised Group A Services (OGAS) like the other central government services and should be eligible for Non-functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU) at par with the civil services. This meant that even if an officer is not able to pick the next rank, he/ she would be eligible for time scale salary and perks commensurate with his/ her years of service. In February 2019, the Supreme Court of India upheld the verdict.
The underlying sentiment behind the court order was that no service can be treated as inferior to another. Every service has been raised for a specific role and trains for it. If it is unable to fulfil that role, then either the entry level testing is faulty or the training is. In neither case should an officer of one service be considered any less than the officer of another service if they are at the same rank.
However, this was easier said than done. The services under the omnibus CAPF—BSF, CRPF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)—were asked to form internal committees to review how the high court order, upheld by the Supreme Court, would be implemented. Committees were duly formed, headed by the senior officers of each service, ironically, the IPS. Meanwhile, the ministry of home affairs (MHA), which is the parent ministry for both the CAPF and the IPS, filed a review petition in the high court seeking clarification on the judgement. The matter thereby became sub judice.
From ministry’s perspective, the clarification was necessitated because the cadre officers insisted that implicit in the high court verdict was review of their recruitment rules (RR). The argument was that as OGAS, the CAPFs promotion and deputation policy must be akin with other OGAS. In other words, not only should the cadre officers be eligible for promotion to the top-most positions within their own services, they could also be sent on deputation to the ministry as other service officers. This would limit the number of vacancies for the IPS officers in the CAPFs. Worse, it would also open up the director general rank to a cadre officer.
Given that this would tantamount to a revolution, and would put the MHA under great stress from the IPS lobby, it petitioned the court for clarification. Even as the matter of RR was under review, the services’ committees that were to decide on NFFU continued to drag their feet. Meanwhile, despite the matter being sub judice, the ministry carried out the cadre review of the ITBP, which was approved by the Union Cabinet in October 2019. After this review, in addition to increasing the strength of the force and creating more vacancies, two new commands have been created. The commands, in Chandigarh (western) and Guwahati (eastern), will be headed each by an officer of additional director general rank and assisted by inspector general.
Eventually, by autumn 2019, the cadre officers of other services, mainly the BSF and the CRPF, started to get restless. While the retired officers started writing articles and giving interviews to the media criticising the vested interests among the IPS that had over the years stalled the growth of the cadre, anonymous social media handles indulged in blatant name-calling. In response, more anonymous handles appeared, seemingly aligned with the IPS association to mock the cadre. It was free for all.
Adding the proverbial fuel to fire, select retired army officers started speaking in favour of the cadre officers, making the case that the CAPFs are actually paramilitary forces. Hence, instead of police officers, they should be led by the army officers. What’s more, the government must provision greater lateral induction of army officers into CAPFs. Since the common foe was the IPS, the cadre officers lapped up the army support, despite the fact that it meant replacing one outsider with another.
Perhaps, all this had frustrated Vijay Kumar when he blurted out his deep-rooted prejudice against the CRPF. Whatever be the reason, the timing couldn’t have been worse, given the present realities.
Three factors have brought about present bitterness.
First is the legacy or the philosophy of their raising. The CRPF was raised by the British in 1939 to quell the domestic unrest which had engulfed the country in the throes of the freedom struggle. Hence, like the British Indian Army, Crown Representative Police (as it was then called), was officered by the British. Since it was supposed to comprise only foot-soldiers meant to tackle civilian miscreants and not armed militaries, the force was pegged somewhere between the army and the police, both in terms of investment and output. Similarly, when the ITBP and the BSF were raised after the 1962 and 1965 wars respectively, they were envisaged as a lesser version of the military, given that their role was to only guard the borders in peacetime and support the army in war.
Since these were the armed forces of the MHA, the higher leadership was provided by what was considered the ‘elite’ law enforcement service of the ministry—the IPS. This was somewhat akin to the paramilitary of the ministry of defence, the Indian Coast Guard, which till a few years back had fixed vacancies for the Indian naval officers, especially in the critical senior ranks, such as IG and above. One of the former DG ICG went on to become the chief of naval staff.
In the early years, it made sense that these forces be led by qualified and trained outsiders for the simple reason that its own cadre was still growing. Ideally, over the decades, the cadre should have been nurtured to take on the leadership roles, instead of remaining stunted. However, that did not happen. The only plausible explanation for that would be the reluctance of the IPS to let go. In fact, about 12 years ago when the cadre officers first started demanding more rights, there was a clamour against the IPS officers. It was argued that being police officers, the IPS did not have expertise in leading paramilitary forces. The ministry then, in its wisdom, changed the nomenclature from paramilitary to central armed police so that it fitted better with the ethos of its top leadership. The fact that in the event of war, both the BSF and the ITBP are meant to go under the operational command of the Indian Army is irrelevant.
Second, despite the event-specific beginnings of the CAPFs, successive Indian governments never felt the need to upgrade their status. They remained inferior to other services, both civil and military. Over the years, this led to a sense of entitlement among these elite services (IPS and the Indian Navy) that it is their right to command the paramilitary forces. This sense of entitlement is evident from the article, titled ‘CAPF must stop slandering IPS, shows lack of discipline’ that former director general police, Uttar Pradesh and also former DG, BSF, Prakash Singh wrote last year (October 2019) in the wake of very public bickering. According to him:
‘A force that forgets its history and tries to erase the memory of its great commanders can have no future. CAPF officers would do well to remember that all central forces, except the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Railway Protection Force (RPF), were raised and nurtured by IPS officers. If these forces have generally given a stellar account of themselves, it is under the leadership of IPS officers.’
One would have thought that given the ‘indiscipline’ and ingratitude of the CAPF officers, the IPS would, out of hurt, shun postings there to teach them a lesson. Interestingly, that is not happening. The senior IPS brass has been trying to strike a compromise bargain with the CAPF officers, assuring them more vacancies at the higher level as well as speedy implementation of the NFFU. The reason is simple. Senior postings in CAPF are too lucrative to be given up.
The seniority ensures that they remain ensconced in cities, either the national capital or wherever the sector headquarters are located. In the article mentioned above, Singh alludes to this. ‘A number of IPS officers on deputation to the central forces have preferred to serve at the headquarters, spending minimum time at the frontiers. There are officers who give an impression of avoiding tough assignments.’
Nobody knows this reality better than the CAPF officers. A serving CRPF officer shared the list of vacancies in November 2019 with me. The first level of entry for outsiders is deputy inspector general. While four positions are reserved for retired army officers, 23 are reserved for IPS. Cadre officers get 181 posts at this level. Despite being a starred rank, DIG is still is a field posting. Hence, no surprise that of the 23 vacancies, only one was filled. By a woman officer. Not just entitlement, but male entitlement!
At the next rank, inspector general, the positions are equally divided between the cadre and the IPS—23 each. Here, the IPS had only five vacancies. The next level is additional director general. The cadre gets one officer, while the IPS gets three. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, it managed to post four ADGs! Thereafter, the IPS has allotted to itself the position of four special director generals and finally one director general. All of them posted in Delhi; with attendant staff and perks! What else can it be other than the selfish interest to stay close to the corridors of power?
The third cause for the present state of bitterness is the changing profile of the cadre officers. In the last decade, the CAPF has increasingly been getting better qualified officers, including engineers. The training has also undergone substantive changes. In addition to traditional training, various CAPFs have tied up with international organisations for specialised training of their officers. Clearly, these officers have more aspirations than their predecessors. They are not happy accepting a perpetually inferior status simply because the ministry is reluctant to disturb the status quo.
Truth be told, review of recruitment rules and limiting/ stopping deputation of the IPS into CAPFs won’t be an unprecedented move. After all, the ministry of defence has done this with the Indian Coast Guard. All Indian Navy deputations to the coastal security force have stopped. It is officered entirely by the cadre officers now. Surely, this wouldn’t have been an easy transition, but it has happened.
Seen from the cadre officers’ perspective, how can she serve an organisation to the best of her abilities if she doesn’t take pride in it? How can she put in her best if she believes that no matter how well she does in her career, a ceiling of prejudice will always stop her from rising further; that she will always be deemed inferior because of the service tag on her shoulders? Can an organisation deliver optimally if the people that make up that organisation suffer from low self-esteem and poor morale?
Today, with the kind of name-calling that has been going on, it would be a miracle if the cadre and the IPS are able to work together. The distrust is too deep. About time the ministry steps in and gives the cadre its due. In national interest.