Homeland Security

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

Challenge will increasingly come from terrorists and non-state actors”“like the one being posed by Naxalites. In fact, there is a need for cross training arrangements between the police and the army.

The cynicism on occasions takes the shape of high handedness. Some police officers find the system so incorrigible and murky that they choose to preside over their subordinates from a distance rather than dirtying their hands at the grassroots level, the level at which the general public and armed forces personnel confront the police on a day-to-day basis. A de-motivated police force without proper supervision, motivation, incentives, public support and appreciation, develops a poor self-image and finally seeks solace through illegal gratification.

Non-Recognition of Military Contribution

Military personnel have the growing feeling that the civil society, which includes the police are either ignorant or deliberately ignore their contribution and sacrifices. A survey carried out by a Divisional Commander in J&K revealed that of all matters the troops are bitter about, it is the feeling of non-recognition by the civil society, as also to an extent their own organisation, which weighs most on their minds. Pay package and facilities figured last on their priority.

Thanks to the media, the recognition during the Kargil Conflict was instantaneous, but is not so in areas affected by insurgency and low intensity conflict. Units, which move from Siachen and other difficult areas, are all the more sensitive towards this factor and the Madras unit at Kolkata is no exception. In these difficult areas, it is the young officers who are lynchpins and provide professional leadership under trying circumstances. On arrival to peace locations, initially they do have a boisterous tendency, which is a natural and desirable soldierly attribute for one any young army personnel having loads of positive energy. Most young officers are in their early or middle 20s.

A decade ago, a journalist covering the air show of the Indian Air Force had commented that the professional discipline and dedication displayed by the young pilots was in complete contrast to the unruly and politicised youth of the same age group, that has become a features of most colleges and universities in India. Some transgressions, unless it is contrary to gentlemanly behaviour or shows the integrity and organisational upbringing of the individual in poor light, should be dealt in a manner that it does not impinge on his soldierly and organisational pride, lest he would become a liability to the organisation for the rest of his service. Towards this, the civil society is as much responsible.

Infringement of Soldierly Pride and Honour

The military is centered around history, tradition, soldierly conceit and organisational pride. Moreover, a military leader is expected to be a role model and lead by personal example. He is also expected to suffer the professional vagaries and hazards more than his troops. Shared hardship, fosters close bonding. Soldiers fight and sacrifice their lives for honour and not for promotions and remunerations. In the face of enemy, he knows no other form of fighting except offense – even in defence he is trained to be offensive.

Therefore, whenever his personal honour or that of his comrades or leader is infringed upon, he may well retaliate violently, if he does not it, it should be a matter of concern for the organisation and the country. This is despite the fact that he knows it fully well that his actions while preserving or redeeming his honour may invite disproportionate punishment and even may spell the end of his career, but then he chooses, and appropriately so, to defend his self-respect and honour, disregarding all other considerations. 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. On the other hand, no set of military personnel will shield a colleague or superior whose conduct brings a bad name to the organisation.

However, the bottom line is that the methods used should not hurt their organisational pride and injure their self-esteem. Armed forces personnel have no reliable and assured channels in the civil to ventilate their grievances and complaints. He does not have faith in the existing civil channels. During insurgency in Punjab, a senior Major while out for evening walk in Chandigarh was picked up by a police officer. He was locked up and beaten. It was a clear case of megalomania and highhandedness on the part of the police officer. An inquiry was conducted by the civil authorities on the insistence of the army. Nothing happened to the police officer.

Recently, the same police officer courted controversy for his highhandedness while dealing with an Indian Express journalist, which was prominently splashed in the media. Military personnel cannot go on dharna, cannot take out processions and cannot call for bundhs. What should they do?

Ignorance of Military Ethos and Judicial System

The civil society and the police must realise that given the nature of job the armed forces have much higher stakes in discipline. Military Law is far more strict, and covers offences and omissions, which may be considered very normal occurrence in the civil. One may consider the number of generals court-martialed or forced to resign, and compare it with the number of IGs or Secretaries dismissed. After the Tehelka episode, it was only the army officers who have been punished, the rest continue to thrive.

Of all the accused, it was only an army officer who had the courage to accept his guilt. In no other government organisation, there are so many accents on truth. An army officer (still serving) as a young subaltern, not more than 21 years old, was serving with his unit in the Ladakh Sector. Like most young officers, he was enthusiastic about driving and took the wheels from the driver. He lost control, and the vehicle and its occupants met their watery grave in the torrential Shyok River. He was the only survivor. When marched up to his Brigade Commander, his opening statement was “they all died because of me”. Amongst the deceased was also his sahayak – a Naga boy.

The officer on the first opportunity went to his sahayak’s village and told the stark truth to his parents and pestered them to adopt him as their son. It was not that the officer was not punished, but the punishment was meted out to him with great respect – something which he continues to command from all quarters of the army. In all interactions and Sainik Sammelans, the aspect of truth and honour are overemphasised to army personnel—and yet as a initial response, more credibility is accorded to the statement of the SHO, hotel staff than that of an Army Officer’s.

Lack of Interaction

In the British days it was mandatory for even junior officers to call on SPs and DMs and other senior officers of civil administration when posted to new station. Today the interaction is occasional and confined to only senior levels. Informal interactions may remove negative mindsets about each others profession. The two organisations must complement each other, especially in the prevailing times when external and internal security have got inextricably intertwined. Future wars are not likely to be over territory but will aim to break the cohesion of nation-states.

Challenge will increasingly come from terrorists and non-state actors–like the one being posed by Naxalites. In fact, there is a need for cross training arrangements between the police and the army. The police officers must shed the IAS syndrome and take pride in their organisation, men and in policing. Surprise checks by them at police stations and on highways may solve half the problems. They must realise the importance of the armed forces, as the ultimate apparatus of national security whose failure could mean disaster and anarchy.

The military does not demand anything from the police except for understanding and the respect that is due to it. Whenever a military personnel reveals his identity, he should be treated as an honourable and reliable citizen of India. The military must also appreciate the constraints of the police and must assure its willing cooperation in all endeavours that helps the Indian society to be secure, progressive and vibrant.

The Kolkata syndrome if permitted to grow could in future lead to acrimony and clashes between the police and the military involving higher rank officers. There is an urgent need to address the problem as the syndrome is far more spread than is actually believed. The security of soldiers and their families must be accorded top priority by the police.

Most importantly, if the dignity and soldierly pride of military personnel are not preserved, it can have far reaching consequences and will ultimately undermine the national security in which the police too have stakes. Lateral induction of some military officers in the police may close the cultural gap between the two organisations and obviate such happenings as the one in Kolkata, and in the ultimate analysis it will be a gain for the internal and external security of the country.

And finally a word of advice to young officers. Dance in the services culture has always been a gentlemanly activity having extremely decent connotations. Service officers must desist from going for dances in an environment monitored by musclemen (bouncers), be it even a five star hotel.

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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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