Homeland Security

Military-Police Relations : The Kolkata Syndrome
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Issue Vol 22.1 Jan - Mar 2007 | Date : 07 Dec , 2010

Internal and External Security

Post-independence, with the Indian Police Service becoming a separate and distinct entity, internal and external security unfortunately began to be perceived as divergent imperatives. In fact, the police force began to adopt bureaucratic culture . The common entrance exam conducted by the UPSC has been detrimental to the efficiency of the police force, as more than 90% of IPS officers actually have aspirations of becoming an IAS officer at the time of taking the exam. Psychologically, they are not attuned for a life in uniform and therefore seek non-uniform openings in organisations like IB and R&AW. Their reluctance towards their job at executive levels can be gauged by the fact that even occasional patrolling by ASPs and above has become a rarity.

That police officers consider themselves to be in a different bureaucratic league even in uniform…

No unit commander, no fellow officer, no set of troops can be a mute witness to a fellow officer being locked up in police custody and humiliated.

That police officers consider themselves to be in a different bureaucratic league even in uniform is apparent in the fact that they only man the senior positions (DIGs and above) in BSF and CRPF without executive level experience at the level of Assistant Commandant, Deputy Commandant and Commandant.

During hostilities the Border Outposts (BOPs) serve as the first line of defence and have to be accordingly beefed up and tactically re-sited in consonance with army’s plan. Does any police DIG on deputation to BSF, posses the basic knowledge of sitting and coordinating a company defended locality? With this kind of professional attitude, which breeds a false sense of superiority it is only natural for police officers to treat the army officers as inferior beings, fit enough to be dealt with at the level of the SHO. I

n the post independence power conscious society-a hangover of the colonial period, the civil society has contributed no less to this phenomenon. The hefty dowries that police officers receive in some parts of the country are a testimony to the prevailing upstart values.

A former Chief Minister of a state once asked a relative of his, an army officer, to look for a suitable boy for his daughter. The army officer asked if the arena of choice could be extended to the armed forces. The Ex-Chief Minister’s reply was a categorical ‘No’, and he further clarified that if at all from the uniform community, it could be from the ‘Police’. Ironically, the same person was effusive in his salutations to the martyrs of the Kargil War. This private and public posturing is atypical of political decision-makers and indicative of their approach to internal security and external security. While they view the internal security apparatus as a tool of political power play, their occasional posturing on external security and armed forces are mere demonstrations to establish their nationalistic credentials.

It is this compartmentalised and misplaced approach that is partly responsible for prolonging and festering of security problems in the country and is responsible for the growing chasm between police – paramilitary and the army. Even under most serious and threatening internal security environment, moves to create a Unified Command is resisted and the political decision-makers instead of giving firm executive orders are happy to see the rift grow.

Inherent Rivalry

To an extent the rivalry between the military and the police is inherent and is prevalent in most countries including Britain, USA and Pakistan as well. Each organisation perceives its job more difficult and important. In the South Asian countries, the police is generally perceived as corrupt and inefficient by the military. On the other hand, the police personnel in these countries resent the deployment of army in aid to civil authorities, as they feel that it casts doubts on their ability. Beyond a point, this rivalry results in antagonism. Each organisation then begins to assert its power and muscle whenever an opportunity is perceived.

During the colonial period in India, army officers served on deputation with the police. The SPs of many districts were Captains. Even today, in some parts of India, the SP is alluded as ‘Kaptan Sahab’. Most of the potential rivalry was therefore eliminated as the respective organisations were conscious, knowledgeable and aware about the needs, imperatives and limitations of one another.

Subsequently, the Indian Police came into being and subsequently post-independence the Indian Police Service. Just how inherent is this rivalry is illustrated by an argument between a DIG and a Colonel during the organisation of an event in the national capital, which fell under the joint responsibility of army and police. The Colonel alluded the Joint Commissioner as Mr (his surname). The commissioner took umbrage and tried to chastise the Colonel saying that ‘in India we call our seniors Sir’.

The Colonel retorted that he would call him Sir, once the junior police functionaries under the commissioner extended a similar gesture to him. In a matured, settled and confident society such basic issues should not be allowed to derail cooperative mechanisms.

Image Problems of the Police

Most Indians grow up hating the police. This is true of even police personnel, which includes the officers, before they joined service. Law abiding citizens should view the police as friendly but it is not the case. The best of people avoid lodging complaints in police station for the basic apprehension of their self-respect being robbed by the police authorities.

Even retired bureaucrats and police officers have been subjected to this ignominy. Unfortunately, most police officers do nothing to reform the system. Some of them who attempt to do so are dissuaded or sidelined by their superiors and political masters for partisan ends. Eventually, they not only become part of the system, but develop a cynical attitude towards those whose security they are paid to protect.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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