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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 36, August 28, 2010

Growing Role of Defence Forces in Governance: An Invitation For Emergency

Thursday 2 September 2010, by S G Vombatkere

At present, perhaps about one-third of available Army troops are deployed in counter-insurgency (CI) operations in Kashmir and the North-Eastern States. There is no question that government is empowered to call in the Army for the CI role, but this is taking its toll of both training and preparedness for its primary role of countering external threat and maintaining India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. While the Army can be called to perform its secondary role of aid to civil power (meaning bureaucratic-cum-police effort under the Ministry of Home Affairs), the State Police cannot be deployed in dealing with the external threat. However, some of the Central Police Organisations (CPOs, like BSF and ITBP) have a limited role on the borders, to relieve the Army for training and preparedness for its primary role. It is noteworthy that the Army has been deployed in aid of civil power not only in the CI role, but also for natural and man-made calamities and even to rescue children who have fallen into uncapped borewells.

This of course brings into question the basic competence of the State and Central governments which already have at their disposal, considerable bureaucratic human resource (including State Police and CPOs) and complete control over the funds necessary to tackle most emergencies. It is natural to call in trained and disciplined Army power in extremely calamitous situations, but the Army is being requisitioned at the drop of a hat. Indeed, it has been estimated that since 1947, the Army has been deployed—from platoon to division level strengths—somewhere or the other within the country for various tasks once in four days on an average. It would be unfair to blame the bureaucracy entirely for the glaring failures of governance, because the political executive must bear a substantial portion of responsibility (including invoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for Army deployment) for consistent political lapses, blundering and chicanery.

While the decision to deploy the Army in countering the “greatest threat to internal security” in Chhattisgarh finally rests with the Cabinet advised by the CCPA and the NSA, it is likely to be influenced largely by the MHA with the MoD assuming a subordinate role. It will bear repetition that the Army by itself has no desire or stake in getting itself deployed in its secondary role of aid to civil power, and that such deployment is consistent with its remaining under civilian control as it should (unlike in neighbouring Pakistan). However, the Army’s growing role through increased deployment in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere may send two messages into the ether of national and international relations.

IN the national scene, the message is that governments are utterly incompetent in handling self-created emergencies (which is as close to the truth as it can get), and (falsely) that the Army is asking to be involved in internal security. This is actually dangerous for internal security, as it will act as incentive to militant and terrorist elements within India, whose aim is to compel the state to commit as much of its forces and resources as possible to cause economic and political (democratic) paralysis. Indeed, India already appears to be in a state of undeclared internal emergency, with the State Police and CPOs deployed against various militant groups in 225 districts of 23 States.

In the international arena, the message is that the Army’s commitment in internal security is growing (which is true) and that the armed forces are relatively unprepared to counter the external threat (which is false). This may well explain reports of China’s very recent deployment of military forces in Tibet in a southward leaning stance, which should cause deep concern to the MoD.

The success of US President Obama’s impending India visit to strengthen India-US strategic ties may be stymied by possible outbreak of border hostilities initiated by China to divert attention from its own domestic instabilities and rebellions. On the flip side, hostilities could remedy the UPA Government’s precarious condition by the declaration of Emergency to silence the democratic dissent of India’s “million rebellions” against corporate initiatives. To make a further—and not entirely illogical—guess, incipient economic collapse brought about by currently trotting inflation breaking into a gallop due to war, may create favourable conditions for implementing the agenda of the Washington Consensus.1 World renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs has been spotted recently in India.

REFERENCE

1. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, Penguin Books, 2007.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi, in 1996 after 35 years in the Indian Army with combat, staff and technical experience. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT, Madras, and the President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. Since retirement, he is engaged in voluntary work with the Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He coordinates and lectures a course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for undergraduate students of University of Iowa, USA, and two universities of Canada, who spend a semester at Mysore as part of their Studies Abroad in South India. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.

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