15 August 2022 06:18 AM



Bureaucratic High-Handedness At Bomdila: Political Protection Aggravates Situation

The depths to which the bureaucrats will sink to save their skins has no parallel!

The small town of Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh (population 6685), perched amongst the lofty ranges of the eastern Himalayas at a height of 8,500 feet is in the eye of the storm for clearly avoidable reasons. It is here that the last battle of the 1962 India-China War was fought and lost by India, despite exemplary bravery of our jawans and junior leaders and an orderly withdrawal, because of gross political interference egged on by unprofessional civil/police/military loyalists of that time.

Unfortunately, Bomdila has become newsworthy again 56 years later, this time for high-handedness by district-level civil/police officials who have become unaccountable, due to inadequate and parochial governance that shields them for dubious political reasons.

Fuel has been added to the local fire by gross interference by the Indian Civil and Administrative Services (Central) Association by its venerable President, Rakesh Srivastava, dashing off a scurrilous letter to his colleague, the Defence Secretary, in a bid to illegally shield the local civil/police officials.

The defence secretary, being part of the ‘biradari’ immediately leaked it to the media, an act they are well-experienced in!

This attempt to use a hammer to kill a fly smacks of attempting to hide the clearly illegal actions of the local officials. The malafide intentions of Srivastava are clear as he has intentionally misused the national emblem by writing his missive on official stationary and not on the Association letterhead. Has his Minister noticed this misuse; will he be taken to task for this misdemeanour; I wonder with bated breath? The depths to which the bureaucrats will sink to save their skins have no parallel!

That brings me to what transpired at Bomdila early this month, which was covered by the ‘Sarkari’ media as per the directions of the higher bureaucracy in a wholly biased and one-sided manner. Taking their cue, the ‘paid’ media presented it with even hotter ‘mirch-masala’, while the rest of the media, barring exceptions as in this case, was content to treat it as a non-event!

Our media too seems to be learning the tricks of our bureaucracy! While the proverbial army-bashing again came to the fore, the political leadership panicked, with the Defence Minister and Minister of State in Home Ministry rushing to Bomdila, to ensure that adverse after-effects of the incident on the coming elections are minimised.

All they did was to deliver sermons and inanities, as in an election year the civil/police officials could not be hauled up for their crimes and misdemeanours, while the jawans and their commanders do not matter in electoral calculations!

As reported by independent sources, two jawans of 2 Arunachal Scouts, a specialised unit, were arrested on orders of an intoxicated SHO on duty and were severely beaten up in the police lock-up despite the jawans informing them that they were from Indian Army. Both the soldiers are presently admitted in a military hospital and are undergoing medical treatment for the grievous injuries sustained during the custodial brutal manhandling inflicted upon them by Arunachal Police.

Obviously, the police had not acted in a responsible and mature manner, violating the laid down protocols of dealing with army personnel, ignoring that army personnel must be handed over to the military authorities and not locked up in the police station.

The Commanding Officer (CO) of the army unit tried to defuse the situation by having a meeting with the SP at the latter’s office, but the police personnel instigated the jawans comprising the CO’s protection party by misbehaving with them and abusing them, which led to a scuffle. Reportedly, the police also fired a couple of rounds, forgetting that they were dealing with trained and highly motivated soldiers and not the rabble they usually scare by such antics; will they ever learn!

The CO has correctly filed an FIR against the police for beating up the two jawans in the lockup, instead of handing them over to the Army. The CO has also stated that the police failed to inform the army about the arrest.

It baffles both the serving personnel and the veterans community as to what made the police and the civil administration decide to ride rough shod on the jawans of the Arunachal Scouts, who incidentally hail from the same area, being a ‘home and hearth’ unit. Was it jealousy that while the army personnel deployed there were highly respected by the local population for their detached but impeccable conduct, the worthies in the civil administration and the police were quietly derided for their corrupt practices and high-handedness?

The mountain folk who reside and/or work in and around Bomdila are simple people, who respect civility, honesty and professional competence, which comes naturally to army personnel, but has been eluding the civil administration and the police, as their very large egos do not permit them to look beyond their noses, which are more attuned to under the table dubious activities! No doubt, the intoxicated condition of the SHO, as emphasised by the Commanding Officer of 2 Arunachal Scouts in his report, was also an immediate contributory factor.

This being an administrative issue to be dealt with by the State Govt, one is unable to understand why the Civil and Administrative Association is interfering in the issue? The obvious and sane conclusion is that they want to hide the nefarious activities of their members!

We must not forget that Bomdila is an important area from the military standpoint and features in their operational plans. The civil administration, instead of taking ‘pangas’ with the military would do well to support the military personnel located there to guard the nation, instead of acting as the proverbial ‘dogs in the manger’!

When democratic Institutions are weakened by greed for votes and over-centralisation, governance starts rotting as over-confidence sets in. This reflects on the polity adversely. Do the political leaders we elected understand the harm this does to the nation?

My assessment is that they are so involved in politics, especially elections and retaining/winning seats that they tend to ignore both institutions and individuals and consequently the country. Nothing else explains their collective endeavour to promote sycophancy or their brand of loyalty, which translates to ‘Ji Hazoori’ in the vernacular and ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ in the Queens English!

This is not the first time that the police have taken the law in its own hands, forgetting that the field commanders of the army will not tolerate any nonsense of this nature. In earlier cases of this type, the police and their backers have been shown their place emphatically and if they continue in this vein, their colleagues will also be dealt with in a similar fashion.

It appears that in this case, the civil/police officials were also taking their cue from what their colleagues are doing in some other states of the country with impunity and getting away with their unlawful activities, secure in their strong belief that they will come to no harm as they have the backing of the political leadership and their minions. It is sad that the present state leadership has lost control over its own civil officials/police and has become incapable of upholding the law.

The commanding officer of this specialised unit needs to be commended for taking a firm and appropriate stand and upholding the ethos and Chetwodian culture of the army that cares for the nation first; the personnel they command next; and themselves last. This must continue and must be supported by the Army hierarchy, as well as the political leadership.

(The writer is a former Vice chief of Army Staff)

(Cover Photograph: Jawans of f 2 Arunachal Scouts in hospital after being beaten up)