Just prior to Diwali was the ugly incident of Bomdilla involving the local police and jawans of an Infantry Battalion, 2 Arunachal Scouts. Scout battalions comprise of locals, following the home and hearth policy; hence this incident should never have occurred. While details of the incident have been in public domain, as also the various versions, there are some aspects of the incident, both during and after, which need to be analysed and relevant lessons drawn.
The first is the case of manhandling of the men by the police. Despite any crime, the police have no authority or power to manhandle any citizen of the state. Since most cases of manhandling across the nation involve citizens who lack a voice, no serious action is taken, unless there is a custodial death. Over the years, the police have taken this as their right. This attitude must change.
The second has been placing soldiers behind bars, despite being aware of orders on the subject. If the keepers of the law break the law, then can we depend on them? There has yet to be a mention that those responsible for this would be held responsible.
It is essential to investigate reasons why the police manhandled and locked serving personnel behind bars. Is it due to earlier incidents, which led the police to seek revenge or was it to prove their superiority in the city? Unless the reasons are investigated and resolved, such incidents would continue to occur, impacting peace and harmony.
The third is the action by the Commanding Officer (CO) of the unit. The CO is the father figure in a unit. Thus, when an individual errs, he is punished. Simultaneously if the CO does not stand up for his family, he is a weak father who would not be respected. Since it was his men who were involved, he had to act. He did so and whether he was right or wrong is immaterial. His words were blunt and clear as it was his son being manhandled when he should not have been. Any father would retaliate similarly.
The fourth was the violence which followed. The issue of who initiated it depends on which perspective is adopted. Since it takes two hands to clap, neither side can claim innocence. With no injuries to either side, it would have been just a scuffle with few rear-view mirrors of police vehicles damaged.
Whatever be the provocation this is wrong and unjustified. The army being a disciplined force should never have been involved. Any one-sided investigation would lead to no answer nor would any individual be blamed. Ideally, the case should be jointly investigated, and the matter resolved amicably.
On social media platforms the incident was widely covered. The impact of social media was so intensive that the defence minister accompanied by the MoS home, an MP from the state, was compelled to visit the city and seek a direct report from the parties involved. The common Indian who has seen police brutality at close range stood by the army rather than support the police.
The incident was covered by news channels and the national press. Few TV channels and newspapers supported the police view, others the army. After the incident the IAS, IPS and the Indian Forest Service (IFS) associations wrote and tweeted support for the local administration, seeking action against army personnel involved. The letter by the IAS association was written by a secretary-rank officer employing his official letterhead, not using that of the association and thus breaking rules of service.
The ganging up of the IAS, IPS and the IFS associations to support one party, without considering their shortcomings in the incident is indicative of the ongoing rift. The recent twitter outrage over the insulting statement by the MoD spokesperson, on a comment by a retired Chief of Naval Staff, was another example of an anti-armed forces bias within the central services. All central services are meant to work jointly for the betterment of the nation, however presently they operate at cross-purposes. The joining of hands by all central services demonstrates a sense of jealousy and possibly even hatred against the only respected service in the country.
The common Indian was quick to challenge the accusations of the central services and responded with contempt and anger in open support of the army. Local organizations of Bomdilla also joined the chorus and issued an open letter addressed to the defence minister supporting the army view and seeking action against the police and district administration officials. The MoS home, Kiren Rijiju, sought to downplay the incident and asked everyone to move on, forgetting the incident.
It is evident that the fault lines existing between the central services is clearly one of the major reasons behind the lack of positive response within the MoD towards the army. The challenging of disability pensions granted by the Armed Forces tribunal in the apex court, refusal to consider NFU for the army and pushing the cadre review of the armed forces HQs support cadre, without taking concurrence of the concerned service they are meant to support, are recent examples of an anti-armed forces approach flowing through the system.
The bureaucrats of the MoD have no responsibility and accountability but possess all powers, hence have never hesitated to cut the army down to size. If even now political bosses refuse to comprehend this anti-armed forces bias, then they are ignoring a growing dangerous trend. If they continue to desist from reorganising the MoD and amalgamating service personnel into it, in the longterm national security will be impacted.
The incident, occurring in one corner of the country, dominated social media for days. It may have been one which would be forgotten with time, however its fallout would remain unless serious efforts are made by all sides towards a resolution. The fault lines which it has displayed need to be assessed and resolved by the PMO, failing which national security would be compromised at some stage.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.