Army vs police: who should maintain law-and-order?
The peacetime activities of an armed force have a bearing on its wartime capabilities and its relations with the civil society.
Although it has been the stated government policy for at least a decade to use the defence forces as sparingly as possible the Indian army has been continually engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.
“Excessive and continuous involvement of the Army for internal security is not good, neither for the Army nor for the nation,” former army chief Ved Prakash Malik said four years ago.
“Most of the states have neglected their armed police,” he said.
When the al Qaeda recently threatened India with more Mumbai-like attacks, the first response came from Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
“Our army is ready to face any threat from anywhere,” he said.
Internal security is the responsibility of the Home ministry and the police force.
“There is an increasing trend to rely on the army for internal security,” strategic affairs expert Jasjeet Singh told Reuters.
“We have got into the habit that the moment there is the slightest disturbance the administrator picks up the phone and calls for the army.”
They also interfere with the training of the armed forces for conventional warfare, he said.
Was it then the defence minister’s remit to respond to that threat?
The army’s apolitical stance makes it something of an exception in South Asia.
However, concerns had been raised after the Malegaon blasts case where a serving army officer has been charge sheeted.
Does the army’s involvement in internal security duties make it vulnerable to politicisation?
Singh thinks that Malegaon is an aberration but “what is aberration today in twenty years will be regular.”
He suggests reforming the training and recruitment of police so it can tackle internal security challenges on its own.
Police being a state subject under the Indian constitution, personnel are recruited locally and therefore are more sensitive to local sentiments. This makes the police more conducive to handling internal security duties provided it has the capacity.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favours the strategy of letting the local police maintain law and order in the state.
Should that be a nationwide initiative?