Editor : Satish Ohri    Edition : Jan - Feb 2019

Keep the Forces Out of Politics but First Change the Mindset

It is a commonly held view that politicians have made the law enforcement, taxation and probing agencies their handmaiden. Its harmful fall out has been evident in recent months when the credibility of the premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has nosedived with its two top officials washing their dirty linen in public. How pernicious can be the result of political control of the police force has been on view in UP, the most populated Indian state that occupies an important place in politics. The alleged ‘jungle raj’ in the state is the result of a combination of political patronage of the ‘fringe’ elements and the police tacitly bowing to the politicians in power. This deadly mix has made the life of ordinary people insecure while even the policemen are being fatally attacked by certain groups identified as supporters of militant nationalism. A more unfortunate part of politicization is that it is trying to enter new territories that include even the defence forces, unquestionably the most respected and secular institution in the country. ‘Reform’ is the mantra chanted as a solution to the problem of politicisation of fields that are expected to be independent and free of government control. Reforms as such are indeed welcome. But structural reforms have to be preceded by what may be called mental reform—or to put it simply, changing the mindset. Among the institutions responsible for maintaining law and order, the police force is considered to be the most heavily politicised—working to please the political masters, helping the victims often comes second to it. It is believed, for instance, that the increase in violent activities of vigilante groups would not have been possible without a signal of support from the authorities which acts as a dampener for the police force. But then in many instances policemen have been found to actually speak the language of the vigilantes and other regressive groups. It has been widely reported that when women victims of molestation and other crimes want to lodge a complaint the men at the police station either refuse or put off lodging of an FIR, which is mandatory, or like to lecture the women on moral ‘values’ and ‘sanskar’ (tradition). Most of them have been brought up in an atmosphere where women are considered inferior to the male and, hence, denied due respect. They learn to judge a woman by what she wears, whom she meets and talks to and how late she stays out of home and so on. This is not how a law enforcing agency or its men should be working. You don’t really have to blame any particular political ideology for a mindset rooted in the past. It is something that most Indians inherit. A change in this kind of thinking will not be possible if men (and women) continue to have closed minds and think to hold ‘modern’ views is a sin. Apart from the mindset, there is also a need to change another practice which has become a tradition over the years. It is sycophancy among the top echelons of bureaucracy. It cannot be said that the forces are immune from it. Humouring the powers that be can ensure an even better job post-retirement. The political boss benefits by enjoying the freedom to do whatever he or she pleases without having to face hurdles from the bureaucrats or officers. The trend of senior officials employed by the government landing coveted jobs after superannuation has been gathering momentum for so many decades that by now it looks like an acceptable norm. The job offered in the second innings of a senior government employee may be either ‘ceremonial’—Governor, Ambassadors etc—or outright ‘political’--ministers, legislators etc. Doubts arise in minds when heads of important services talk like ‘politician’ while still in service, supporting the government and criticising the Opposition. The politicians try to win over senior employees by dangling allurements or threats and expect them to come to their defence whenever a controversy breaks out. It is for these targeted men and women, including those from the armed forces, to steer clear of the mud-slinging competition by politicians and maintain their ‘independence’. In the last year or so, the media has interpreted many statements of the current chief of army staff, Gen Bipin Rawat as ‘political’ talk. Some have found the statements as endorsement of hyper-nationalism that is being bandied about so much. One can expect the Pakistani army chief to talk like that because that country is under the thumb of the army. The Indian defence forces continue to be subservient to the civilian government.

Gen Rawat has been frequently in the news for making statements or saying things that are beyond the remit of his office. Of course, it will be wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Indian Army as a whole has been politicisedor has become a tool in the hands of the ruling party. The apolitical tradition of the armed forces, representing the great diversity of the land, cannot be erased easily. It has been built over a long time. The armed forces personnel live a happy a political life and do not hasten to talk about their political predilections publicly. Traditions take a long time to build but can crumble quickly. Examples are there for all to see. There is disquiet over the failure to free the CBI from its ‘caged’ existence. The freedom of the tax and enforcement agencies looks suspect. The stranglehold of the ruling dispensation over these agencies was perhaps never so complete. Institutions like the defence forces look capable of resisting the pulls of their political masters. But it will be delusional to imagine that efforts are not being made by the political masters to change their apolitical culture which will surely undermine professionalism and discipline for which the forces have always been famous. Admittedly, the Indian Army faces a unique challenge, fighting a proxy war launched by Pakistan and its ISI in pursuance of the policy of ‘bleeding India with thousand cuts’. It is an unconventional war, as many, including Gen Rawat himself, has pointed out. It may require an ‘unconventional’ response. But it is not for the army brass to get entangled in or generate political controversies, much less offer any gratuitous advice to Pakistan like asking it to turn ‘secular’, a term which one thought was a taboo under the present dispensation in India.

-Atul Cowshish

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