Dealing with gladiator syndrome in Khaki

The current month has been disastrous for the reputation of police forces, with the ongoing sordid drama of Mumbai police, followed by Bijapur ambush. It is more painful as I had the privilege of ample opportunities to not only work with the police but also serve on deputation with AR, the only PMF. In the process, naturally, there is a fair degree of appreciation, understanding and sympathy for the conditions in which our Khaki Yodhas serve.

Security force personnel carry the body of their colleague after an attack by Maoist fighters in Bijapur of Chhattisgarh on April 4

Unlike Army, police establishments – lines, posts, messes, are all well below acceptable standards, mandating urgent upgrade. Equipment and transportation is another sorry tale, despite release of considerable funds. I was deputed to attend DGPs’ conference during my Corps Commander tenure in 2013. Over two days, I realised that DGPs carry a fair amount of wisdom but also frustration due to extensive political interference. First the wisdom; in the discussion on mass exodus of NE workforce triggered by a tsunami of WhatsApp messages, Joy Kumar, DGP Manipur and now deputy CM, remarked, “painful but its aftermath of employers recalling their workers was more defining. Mainland needs NE as much as vice versa, this requires amplification.”

It reminded me of my experience in 2002, when during Nagaland for Nagas crisis, there were calls to throw outsiders, dubbed as Miyas and Biharis, out. Late DGP Hesse Mao simply said, “last time, we did this, we had famine. It is a question of skill deficit. Till our youth grow out of rentier mindset and agree to toil in cutting edge, sinews of economy, we have no choice.” It administered a life long lesson – there are no migrants, but only guest workers, with mutual dependencies.

Back to the DGPs’ conclave, the most prophetic remark was by West Bengal DGP, although off the cuff, “It is only a matter of time, when police will outsmart all other cadres, in all domains, due to growing reliance of politicians on compliant cops. Both will become partners in crime.”

I witnessed it in effortless transition of syndicates in Bengal. It seems to be happening post- haste. Prakash Singh Committee has flagged systemic aberrations along with elaborate prescriptive road map. There is rare, but completely predictable, all party consensus to stall the reforms process even before it is started. An India aspiring to be a global power, driven by visions of being ‘Vishwa Guru’ with world class infrastructure, simply can’t deny itself the fundamental necessity of a fair and functional police system. After all, without basic rule of law, how can we even aspire for smart cities? The key driver in this emerging nexus is the comfort that politicians draw in building coteries.

The main players, starting as fixers, become master manipulators, few becoming “shooters” operating in the grey zone. Singham-like characters naturally resonate with masses, so we have films on them and Robinhood DGP type of videos in Bhojpuri. My focus is to extend this debate to this dangerous trend of gladiators proliferating into conflict prone areas. Like Vaze, we have had Salwinder (of Pathankot fame) and Devinder (Srinagar airport) and many more. Dubious activities and clairvoyant streak of each of these characters is flagged early in their careers. Notwithstanding this, systems elevates them into key assignments. Even more unfortunate is that in most such cases, the investigation loop never really closes despite prolonged NIA investigations. There is practically no disclosure of findings.

Consequently, collaborators and these shadowy characters like David Headley are open to be coerced and redeployed in the dirty, grey-black zone. My first brush with self-appointed gladiator was as Colonel with BSF DIG, who, buoyed by manipulated intelligence, led his troops into killing fields of Sajik Tampak in Manipur. The tendency has only multiplied over the years. In 2015, PS, near Samba was attacked early morning. Army had SF troops in the vicinity, who reacted and localised them. They were best trained to limit casualties but turf centricity and gladiator syndrome kicked in, DIG was taking charge from Jammu. By the time he was on the ground and the operation concluded, it was evening. While he returned in celebratory mode, luckily, Army had braced itself for the long haul. In the morning, four pairs of boots had been spotted at the infiltration site and only two terrorists were eliminated. The next day, the remaining two met their fate, thanks to Naik ‘Tango’ justifiably earning SM.

The second was even worse in the same year, when another PS was attacked. The complexity was heightened as unlike Kathua, Dinanagar is not notified as disturbed area. This time, not only was a cordon in place but Hav ‘Sierra with his machine gun had set up the dominating post, knocking down one and injuring another terrorist, out of three ultras. He not only earned the well-deserved SM but the Police also recruited his brother.

The twist in the tale was ‘super gladiator’ taking charge. He drove all the way from Chandigarh, once again creating risk of avoidable night operations. Visuals of SWAT, dressed in sports gear were flashed, whereas real heroes were bombers (drill instructors) and brave Home Guards, besides Hav ‘Sierra’. Once again, caution had to be exercised before premature closure of operations to defuse unexploded devices by Army Bomb Disposal teams the next day.

The requirements, specially in conflict-prone environment, is to reduce reliance on gladiators and build competence across the board with enough specially trained reaction and special operation teams. It applies equally to all forces. It will only be fair if such teams follow well-defined SOPs under strict over watch protocols and of course, learn to operate in complete anonymity.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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