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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 22, May 21, 2011

A Riposte

Tuesday 24 May 2011

COMMUNICATION

A part of the otherwise useful article, “Governance and the Armed Forces” (S.G. Vombatkere, Mainstream April 2, 2011, pp. 19-20) seeks to separate the country’s Armed Forces entirely from a particular paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, that also operates within the country. A riposte to it exists in the editorial “Arrogant Conduct: the forces alienate themselves”, (The Statesman, Kolkata, April 25, 2011), which I quote in full:

In terms of all that is going on in the North-East it might be easy to write off as trivial, or as an ego hassle, an incident into which the Defence Ministry has just ordered a probe. But since little things do mean a lot, especially in sensitive situations, the complaint of a High Court judge that he was delayed when en route to an important official function because he was not permitted to overtake a convoy of Assam Rifles vehicles, led by an officer of the rank of Major, does arouse concern. It serves to reinforce a stereotyped image of the armed forces being highhanded, riding roughshod over the locals: particularly in regions where the the populace is perceived as not belonging to the “mainstream”. True in a very technical sense the Assam Rifles is not “Army” but paramilitary: yet the fact that its officers are regular Army personnel, and it operates in tandem with the Army (and unlike the BSF, CRPF etc. is under the control of the MoD), has rendered that distinction all but irrelevant. So in a larger sense the Army must take the rap. Now it is unlikely that even if he is found at fault the Major will be severely punished, maybe his misconduct does not warrant that: the greater shame devolves upon the military at large. The judicial officer (chances are the soldiers were unaware of his status) was in a position to file a complaint that could not be ignored, there would probably be several victims of other incidents who dared not file complaints.
Who can deny that the functioning of the Assam Rifles has not triggered resentment in the past—the fact that it is tasked with dealing with a complex range of difficulties is no alibi. That is what makes military training and the “olive green” ethos supposedly superior to the “khaki” culture. Sadly, there are signs of a declining commitment to uphold that ethos. That is the backdrop against which the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is perceived as being draconian. For while its provisions have a certain justification they have also created a mindset in which military personnel deem themselves exempt from laws, norms and dignities that “silly civilians” are expected to follow. Totally invalid is the argument sometimes advanced that the military should not be asked to do a “police” job. The Army—everywhere in the country—must learn to respect the taxpayer who foots its enormous bill.

Readers of Mainstream can decide for themselves how telling the riposte is.

Kolkata, Meher Engineer

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