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In Amritpal Singh Vs Punjab Police Case, Are Forces Merely a Political Puppet?

Despite superlative police record in the past, forces in Punjab are marred with political interference & influence.

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Since antiquity, areas around the modern border state of Punjab have seen some of the bloodiest wars and violence (such as Battle of the Hydaspes between Alexander’s Macedonian Army and King Porus), as its plains were the gateway to the fabled 'Hindoostan' for all foreign invaders. It continued so, with the Partition in 1947 when some 18 million people were displaced and moved hastily across the newly drawn borders and an estimated 1-2 million perished (predominantly in ‘Punjab’ of both sides).

It also witnessed some of the fiercest fightings in the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971 and remained especially tense in the 1980s at the peak of the Punjab Insurgency.

Its historical 'martial’ traditions, wounded history, and the modern-day reality of a 425-kilometer-long Indo-Pak border ensured that the state of Punjab contributed disproportionately to the ‘Uniforms’ of all Indian Security Services, and it also witnessed some of the most hard-pressed operational deployments, therein.

Unfortunately, after a couple of decades of brief lull, the familiar dark clouds of security tensions with societal disharmony are back in Punjab and the security wherewithal is getting tested, yet again. Have the lessons of the past been forgotten? The recent (mis?) handling of an insurgent leader would suggest so.

Snapshot
  • The Indian Armed Forces guard against external threats on the borders whereas, the policing forces guard against internal threats. So, the responsibility of this latest security concern vests with the Punjab Police.

  • History notwithstanding, today, the 80,000-strong personnel of the Punjab Police are not looking particularly sharp or professional after failing to nab an insurgent leader who fled in public glare and continues to embarrass with his escaped status.

  • The political handiwork in the policing realm can be gauged by the fact that it had five DGPs revolving within 10 months, as if to suggest political preference of one appointee versus the other, in line with the changing dispensation.

  • The thought of losing control over the police is an anathema to the ruling political classes.

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The Comparison of ‘Uniforms’ & Punjab Police’s Functional Lapse

Now, comparisons are not necessarily odious when it comes to evaluating between various ‘Uniforms’ in the realm of security. Theoretically, the Indian Armed Forces guard against external threats on the borders whereas, the Policing forces guard against internal threats. So, the responsibility of this latest security concern vests with the Punjab Police (along with support from the Central Armed Police Forces and Intelligence agencies), but history is instructive that the Indian Army has invariably been invoked (from Kashmir, Punjab to Northeastern States) into internal anti-insurgency duties, as the policing forces invariably failed to meet the challenge.

However, Punjab was amongst the rare cases of not only ending the insurgent movement successfully (till recently), but of the superlative performances of its Police, including instances of individual brilliance, for some of its daring police officers (obviously along with the politico-administrative inputs and agreements).

Following the horrors of the Partition, no less than Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel had noted about the Punjab Police, “After such a Partition and period of communal disturbances a parallel of which is not known, you had to face great difficulties and you have performed a miracle in reorganising your force in such a short time and in such a splendid manner."

History notwithstanding, today, the 80,000-strong personnel of the Punjab Police are not looking particularly sharp or professional after failing to nab an insurgent leader who fled in public glare and continues to embarrass with his escaped status. The continuing drama of CCTV images and crude escapee modes of transportation don’t add to the Punjab Police’s lustre.

So, what has gone wrong with the police forces in general (especially Punjab in this case), and are they truly lean, mean, fighting machines, as they ought to be? The rather ‘fat’ caricature of the Punjab police constabulary as popularised in the meme fest or Pollywood (Punjabi movies) is frankly more appropriate for the top brass as opposed to its oft-vilified ranks.

Bloated at the Top and Vainglorious

As a high-security area for both external and internal threats, there are just two Lt General officers of the Indian Army in the entire state of Punjab. These two Army Officers' epaulettes bear the National Emblem over crossed baton and sabre (a standard ‘Uniform’ feature shared with the Police Services). While their command does not entail the entirety of Punjab as elements of their formation are also deployed outside of the state, and there are elements of other formations which have bases internally, the fact remains that there are only two Indian Army Officers of this rank ‘heaviness’ of epaulettes in Punjab, serving.

Now, while it is not an apples-to-apples comparison given the civilian dimension of internal duties, as compared to what ought to be more unidimensional (it isn’t) task of guarding the borders for the Indian Army, the comparison is not totally irrelevant or unfair either. It is part of the sad case of institutional diminishment (read, Indian Armed Forces) versus appropriated entitlement (read, policing forces owing to their wiring and utility to the powers that be ie, political class).

It is a case of perpetuating inequity that manifested in the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) saga and its unsettled emotions. It is a concern of institutional downslide that only needs a cursory peek the officialised Warrant of Precedence as it existed at the time of independence, as opposed to now.

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Haryana Too Is Plagued by ‘Top-Heavy’ but Inefficient Policing

There are a staggering 25 officers of the Punjab Police who like the sole Lt General of the Indian Army in the state of Punjab have an epaulette with the National emblem over crossed baton and sabre (and their vehicles bear ‘3-stars’! This list does not include another five officers of the Punjab Police cadre who are on Central deputation. 2 to 25 is the default operative ratio, between ‘Uniforms’.

As part of the diminishment saga, it's not just the Director General of Police (DGP) but also the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) level of Policing services that wears the same rank insignias and denominational star/flag of authority, as that of a Lt General.

Neighbouring Haryana does no better in terms of its top brass ‘fat’ as against two sanctioned posts for DGP, it created another 14 towards ‘adjustments!' Just these ‘adjustment’ posts led to the creation of 22 ex-cadre (temporary posts created by state governments), only for DGP and ADGP level, super cops!

A few years back, Haryana had witnessed a hapless display and virtual capitulation of the Haryana Police in the township of Panchkula (a self-styled godman had organised a 'sit-in’) and images of retreating policemen in face of mob fury were embarrassingly salvaged when the Army was requisitioned and just six Army columns restored immediate order. As a matter of fact, taking out the two Lt Generals who are stationed in the Western Command HQs, Haryana too has just one more Lt General level officer in the state of Haryana.

Irony dies many deaths, when the Uttar Pradesh Police (which is one-sixth in terms of personnel vis-à-vis Indian Army) has 78 officers at the DGP and ADGP level which when combined with those of the state of Punjab perhaps, exceeds the total number of Lt General level officers in the whole of Indian Army (second largest in the world)! Nothing needs to be elaborated on the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh with such an extensive and heavy-duty presence of senior leadership of Police ‘3-stars’.
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Political Machinations Besetting the Star-gaze

Actually, it is fallacious and unfair to equate the ranks of ADGP or even DGP with that of a Lt General (given the experience, complexity, and command hardship involved in the Indian Army), but that is exactly the point of questioning the overwhelming preponderance of ‘3-star’ police officers in states. Sadly, questions of parity, equity, and logic take a backseat, and all this ‘adjustment’ and ‘starring’ happens with the full concurrence of the political leadership, at the Centre and the states.

Coming back to Punjab, the political handiwork in the policing realm can be gauged by the fact that it had five DGPs revolving within 10 months, as if to suggest political preference of one appointee versus the other, in line with the changing dispensation. Therefore, is it even surprising that such brazen and reckless politicisation can automatically lead to inefficacious outcomes?

To reiterate, it is not the soldier but the leader (DGP/ADGP or a Lt General, as the case may be) that makes the definite culture of an institution. It is not uncommon for families from the Punjab or Haryana hinterland to have one son join the Indian Army and the other, Police Force—So, the recruitment catchment area and basic stock are frankly common, but the end result of both such trained soldiers could be starkly different.

There are piles of reports on policing reforms that have been routinely instituted (churning a body of invaluable recommendations), but they lie forgotten and gathering dust, with the complete acquiescence of the ruling politicos.

The thought of losing control over the police is an anathema to the ruling political classes, and they are happy to ‘adjust’, oblige and control the police so that it does not display apolitical anchorage like the Armed Forces (which too, are under pressure, these days).
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Perhaps, there is some merit in the memes of social media after all, as the ensuing drama of the fugitive on the run does no favour to the professional image of a Police force. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that many in the past who have adorned the Punjab Police ‘Uniform’ have done so with much aplomb, valour, and diligence, but perhaps, they were allowed to the ‘Police’ as mandated or were given to their own conscience that overrode political interference. Today the ‘3-Star’ power looks vain and dangerously discouraging.

(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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