Army vs police: who should maintain law-and-order?

February 25, 2009

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.”

Defence analyst Gurmeet Kanwal said “such operations undoubtedly stretch the army’s budget and affect its modernisation programme.”

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?

22 comments

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I would question what ‘conventional warfare’ is these days? It seems by and large guerrilla-tactics and insurgencies of groups (often labelled ‘terrorists’) against nations. It is rare that one finds two countries directly going to war – there are more subtle and debilitating methods countries use to cripple each other. There is a blurring of the boundaries between internal/external security, which in itself is an artificial bureaucratic separation, and not one that actually operates in practice. This means that the role of the army in wars and battles needs to be re-thought. It also means that the army does become more explicitly political.

Posted by Bianca | Report as abusive

it is surprising how the civil admin falls back on to the defense for every calamity whether man made ( Terrorism ) or natural ( floods/earthquake etc ) and the moment the crisis is over tries to pretend that they dont exist. It is scary when we see ex servicemen giving back the medals quoting discrimination. What if in a few years they refuse or are unable to respond adequately to a situation? Who do we fall back on? Are we walking towards a diaster where we lose the next war??

Posted by Aslam | Report as abusive

A bit surprized as to why there is no mention or focus on the significance of India’s “para-military forces” here. The very origin of para-military forces stems from the “blur” or “fuzziness” that arose between the internal and external security issues/threats. The para-military forces are supposed to be the link between the police and army, an “enabling” force that faciliates the working of both these supposedly “ring-fenced” forces; the police and army.Well, unfortunately, everything looks good on paper, when assessing the domain of these three types of forces, but, in practice nothing works right. Primarily, a lack of governement initiative to invest heavily in the specific requirements of each of these three types of forces and secondly the level of dishonesty that starts with a maxima from the domain of police force and ends with a minima at the military.

Posted by Rupam Srivastava | Report as abusive

I totally agree with Air Commodore Jasjit Singh’s point. Malegaon episode must not be the beginning of end of Armed forces’ credibility. A comprehensive policy stating as to when, how and to what extent Indian army should be involved in matters of internal security is the need of the hour.

Posted by Rahul Mishra | Report as abusive

Vipul:@Does the army’s involvement in internal security duties make it vulnerable to politicisation?–Yes, overuse can make them vulnerable to politicisation. Also Army will lose its value as a last line of defense. Paramlitary forces should be trained for this. There is nothing like local police if it is modernised-modern weapons, training SWAT teams. It mixes well with the local population and from the POV of collecting intelligenece, local police is useful. Atmy can be use sledgehammer but effective police has much more advantages over army in dealing with such situations. But Army should be ready for the call by Police if needed for short operations, not permanent feature.There is no doubt that Indian Army has done so well and saving the nation.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

a very thought provoking article…..i think the call for the state police to be better equipped is a longstanding one…tiring out the army lowers the morale of the force….tommrrow if we are attacked by sm other nation we should not be playing the blame game again…better to be prepared for the worst than to be sorry tommrrow

Posted by manni | Report as abusive

The army deserves respect and thanks for their organization and dedication. During a calamity the military distributes food (including milk for babies), water, medicines. They rescue affected people from death, work as nurses, and doctors. They unhesitatingly collect decomposed dead bodies and either bury or cremate them.But the military is not trained to act as officers for maintaining administrative structures and delivering social services. Police officers are more accessible to the common people, who are scared to contact military officers. Interned citizens in the military barracks die oftener than those interned in “thana” lock ups. The military officers or jawans are not answerable to the judicial magistrates. The role, which the military (the “swadeshi” military is hardly different from that of the raj)played during 1942 movement in Medinipur of Bengal, still sends shivers down the spines.The roles of military and the civilian police must be rigidly separate in the administration of India. The creation of the well armed paramilitary forces are unfortunately obliterating the difference.

Posted by Dr. Ajoy Bhattacharjya | Report as abusive

One of the strongest features of Indian democracy is non-interference of the armed forces in the internal matters of the country. This trend is reversing due to two reasons – incompetence of our police forces and blurring of difference between conventional warfare and guerrilla style terrorist attacks. Engagement of armed forces in the internal security matters can not be ruled out in the forthcoming days. Police forces also needs to be trained to cope with situations like disaster management etc.

Posted by Arun | Report as abusive

The armed forces and the executive have been in sync for all these years, neither interfering in the other’s realm of operations, but as the army gets more and more involved in the day to day policing, which falls under the state’s jurisdiction, not only are the army’s morale lowered, their operational readiness reduced, their budgets stretched, but it also increases their influences in the day to day running of the country. Our neighbouring countries are a glaring instance of the consequences that be, when the army gets over involved in the running of the country, and for a country of a billion(and counting) this would be a disaster waiting to happen.Our forefathers envisioned this and they kept the 3 pillars of our constitution outside the scope of each other, and more importantly independent from each other, but what is happening in the current scenario is undoing what they built; a country that never had a military uprising or a coup, but all that cannot be far behind, if we take into consideration, the colonel’s involvement in the malegaon blasts. We can continue to be what we are, only by letting the armed forces do what they re supposed to do.Then coming to the conventional warfare training, does anyone with a sane mind would want to start a war with our neighbours, both of whom are nuclear capable??? NO, why then wud one need a conventional training when all u are gonna be fighting is the guerilla type warfare with the extremists, both @ home and abroad, as it’s clear that pakistan will be run over by the taliban if not in a few years, a few decades. all things considered, army’s strategy needs a rethink and for that the army should be left alone.

Posted by Navin | Report as abusive

We have come long way as a mature democracy.But still our policing is primitive and functions typically as where during raj days,more for a ceremonial or guarding politicians.Even though we got a world class recruitment in the way of indian police service,only best can be selected ofcourse other selection procedures could not be as good as this.if the police is not modernised or given the maturity and training it calls for,and depend on military for every thing.I think this can spell doom for us. since the future war fare could be more sophisticated in all the fronts including nuclear ,and calls for extensive training,exercise etc.I think army should be carrying out the objective they are being raised.Police should be held responsible for internal security even tackling terrorism and army for external incursion.only clarifying these responsibility would ensure they are held responsible for any lapses.

Posted by krishna kumar | Report as abusive

I am also of the view that frequent deployment of the armed forces is not a very healthy trend. They should be kept for they have been raised, and internal security must be managed by the police and paramilitary forces.

Posted by Om Prakash | Report as abusive

Vipul:@Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favours the strategy of letting the local police maintain law and order in the state.”-Given the history of blooshed, hatred, the situation is tricky In J&K there as far as policing is concerned. In any terrorist hit state, a weak and vulnerable local police or worse having chocolate/water relationship with terrorists, will do a great damage to the state. A strong background check and required measures are needed to ensure that terrorists or their sympathizers do not end up policing the state.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

I believe the army does deserve respect. Even though most Kashmiris would side with Pakistan who is providing covert attacks via terrorists across the LoC. This army is the same one that provides protection against covert attacks when the same India-hating-Kashmiris take a bus across the LoC.I once read that after a Srinigar riot was over a Muslim man was buying milk. However, a policeman prevented him from doing so. The policeman told the man that if he wanted milk he can go and get it from the Pakistan that he supports and loves. So we provide Kashmir with infastructure (rail, roads and airport) and food and they spit on with venomous hatred. If J&K ever ends up with Pakistan, I for one will go to J&K and tear up every pice of road and rail. I will even destroy the airport. If they want Pakistan they can have Pakistan provide them with infastructure.I do not believe for one second that the Kashmiris want independence and be self sufficient. They will become proud beggers of a Begger State with Taliban Sharia. They certainly cannot live off tourism because that is seasonal.Could you imagine a Winter Olympics held in Kashmir.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

Without any second thought I will vote for Army.

Posted by Suman | Report as abusive

For maintaining the effective law and order the personnel from State Police can be drawn and trained at par the Armed Forces. The state police forces need to be modernised and they must be trained to use the modern sophisticated weapon. There is no point in discussing that armed forces should be deployed to maintain internal security. This may bring Pak like situation in this largest democratic country of the world

Posted by Ram Nath Mehto | Report as abusive

Involving armed forces in internal security matters may lead to many problems like the Malegaon blast case.Omar Abdullah’s policy of letting the local police to maintain the law & order of the state should be followed all over India.I kindly request the Indian politicians not to misuse the armed forces.

Posted by Palani | Report as abusive

Indian Army is million strong and should be gainfully utilized. It may be prudent to keep half the army operational and other half be used for security duties – in specific areas. The army officers should be deputed to police postings.The babus have successfully down graded the armed forces during the last 60 years and senior armed forces officers have contributed to the rest of rot. NO one is concerned about the uniformed soldiers & the junior officers. In US nobody, not even the President can utter a word against the forces; every babu, suitwala (poiliticians wear suits in US) have to go out of their way to show respect to soldies.In India babus, dhotiwalas & lungiwalas have systematically harmed the soldier’s prestige. Once Army begins to play a pro-active role; they will be more productive & will earn respect; and have more say in the country’s course.

Posted by KB | Report as abusive

indian army has magnificently maintained its apolitical secular image from past six decades.the only organisation of country on whom common man trust.unlike our neighbours our army never ever interfered in internal matters.today kashmir as well as northeast is part of india due relentless operations by our army against insurgents where it has lost many of its valiant offrs and men.one odd case like malegaon in million plus army can’t be ruled out in any organisation.By in large army offrs can be sent on deputation to police whose roots are corroded due to corruption and politics as done in elite NSG force to check decline in police image.as our army is the only force of world where offrs lead from front.

Posted by prashant | Report as abusive

paramilitary forces are raised as a buffer between the army and police but nowadays the story has changed paramilitary forces have become a puppet in the hands of local administration and police.they are being under estimated or rather exploited. they (cpmf) have been trained to deal all situations wherein the local police fails.we are losing our faith in cpmfs, we should not forget if a parmilitary can save the sanctity of the indian parliament- the representative of the largest democracy, then the can handle all other situations also.they are doing great job in naxal affected areas but the need is that their job should be recognised. they should b given all the benefits which army is entitled for. afterall they are sacrificing their lives for the same nation for whish a armyman dies.

Posted by PARVEEN | Report as abusive

Without any second thought, I would vote for ‘POLICE’. India is a huge democracy and we as Indians should respect the people who are administrating us. Lets be very honest, most of us who have voted for Army probably have had a quarrel with a policeman, and we as the so called intelectual indians have a tendency of believing that the grass on the other side is greener therefore, we have voted for army not realising the repurcussions that might arise when a massive group of higly untrained people who lack the common element of communication with local people and have no accountability start administrating us. Army is supposed to be at the border of our country and please for God sake let it do its designated work.Let me tell you people, its true that most of the civil servants of India are highly corroupt but let us not forget the fact that its because of those sophisticated brains that we are able to enjoy a safe environment in our country and depriving them of their own duties which I personal believe have been quite successful till now and is improving each day is nothing but a clear display of injustice.

Posted by James Cross | Report as abusive

I WILL VOTE FOR POLICE BECAUSE THEY ARE MORE PROFESSIONAL AND LETERATE PEOPLE ESPECIALLY AT HIGHER LEVEL. MOREOVER ALL ARMY OFFICERS FROM CAPTAIN TO GENERAL ARE NOT MORE THAN 12TH PASS.I AM NOT SAYING WE DO NOT REQUIRE ARMY. IT IS ALSO AN INTERGRAL PART OF OUR COUNTRY BUT I WOULD REQUEST TO LEAVE THE LAW AND ORDER MAINTAINING POWER TO THE PROFESSIONALS ONLY. FURTHERMORE THE NEW REFORMS TAKING PLACE IN THE POLICE IN INDIA WILL SURELY IMPROVE IT FURTHER AND CLEAR ALL THE DRAWBACKS.

Posted by Shivam Kapoor | Report as abusive

the duty of maintaing the law and order is of indian police internally and of indian army at borders.but the face of mixed terrorism has created a bit of confusion. the army trained terrorist who r successful in entering the indian premises by a well connected nexus of indian criminals and the terrorists than it actually become tough for the local police to handle the situation.then the help of army officers should be taken. we should not make it a conflictory situation.it s a fact that the army field works and techniques r much deadlier,disastrous than indian police as police first gain the information about the hide outs than charge them.contrary army act like a war and sweeps off everybody who comes in the way.so the role of army s vital and it should b used n the toughest time faced by the country.role of indian army hould b in the local regions when the senior police officers have suggested for the indian army.

Posted by jasdeep | Report as abusive