Friday, March 31, 2023
HomeOpinionArrogant bureaucracy and a sulking Army are not good for India’s national...

Arrogant bureaucracy and a sulking Army are not good for India’s national security

Text Size:

The military leadership resents the overarching power of the bureaucrats in the MoD.

The recent Army-police face off in Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh, points at a deeper problem of mutual suspicion, jealousy and antipathy between the military and the bureaucracy.

The incident could have been nipped in the bud if not for the rigidity on both sides.

On 2 November at 9.30 pm, two soldiers of 2 Arunachal Scouts were arrested by the police for allegedly fighting with locals and misbehaving with women while in an inebriated state, at the Buddha Mahotsav celebrations in Bomdila. As per the police version, the soldiers got involved in a scuffle with the police personnel and were put in the lock-up. The soldiers were handed over to the officers of the unit when they came to the police station.

As per the Army version, the soldiers were arrested without any reason and were allegedly beaten black and blue at the police station. The police did not immediately inform the Army authorities about the arrest as laid down by the home ministry notification. The SHO, Ashok Tayeng, was allegedly in an inebriated state and misbehaved with the officers who went to take the arrested soldiers back.

Also read: Army men past and present are proud of how commanding officer Col. Dubash acted in Bomdila

The police had done nothing more than what it does to all common citizens of India accused of petty offences. There is nothing uncommon about policemen roughing up arrested citizens disregarding the law. In these matters, our police is a law unto itself. However, the SHO forgot that soldiers are not “common citizens” who will meekly submit to such police actions. The military believes that it has a unique status in the society, which must be respected and treated with dignity by the police. More so, when it is virtually the last “institution standing”.

As per the police version, on the morning of 3 November, the Commanding Officer came to the police station and threatened to kill the SHO if he did not render an unconditional apology. The civil administration anticipating trouble deployed the CRPF and the State Armed Police. Later in the day, 100 soldiers of 2 Arunachal Scouts led by officers allegedly ransacked the police station, damaged government vehicles and beat up the policemen on duty. The deputy commissioner and the SP were abused and stone-pelted. The SP was allegedly hit in the abdomen with the butt of a rifle.

As per the Army, the Commanding Officer, not satisfied with the response of the SHO, had gone back to meet the SP who had come to the police station. While the meeting was on, his Quick Reaction Team was allegedly provoked into a scuffle by the police. Despite the provocation, the soldiers exercised restraint. The police fired some shots in the air. The situation was defused by the Commanding Officer and the SP.

This is not the first time that an altercation has taken place between the military and the police. Over the years, similar incidents have occurred at the rate of one or two per year. Some were of a very serious nature. On the night of 23/24 June 1994, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Assam police personnel fired at an unarmed army leave party travelling by train at the Lumding railway station, after an altercation over the search of their baggage. Two soldiers were killed and three were wounded. 

Also read: Bomdila bust-up is more proof that civil-military relations are at an all-time low

Most of these incidents were resolved due to the mature handling by senior military, police and IAS officers. Also, in most cases while the military personnel found guilty were punished under military law, however, no action was ever taken against the guilty police personnel.

The reaction to the Bomdila incident was unusual. The media remained seized of it for nearly a week. On the social media, the military veterans, the Indian Civil and Administrative Services (Central) Association (IC&AS) and the IPS association jumped into the fray. If that was not enough, the defence minister and the minister of state for home rushed to Bomdila for an on-the-spot informal investigation.

Why all this hullabaloo when there was little to debate? The military is not above the law. Soldiers making merry in an inebriated state is not unusual and neither is their arrest by the police. 

In fact, in the era bygone, the Military Police itself used to patrol the streets to keep a check on their personnel on ‘out pass’. A practice inexplicably stopped. What was unusual here was the alleged thrashing of the soldiers and not reporting their arrest, and the arrogant behaviour of the SHO. The matter could have been nipped in the bud by the Commanding Officer and the DC/SP after the case came to their notice. However, both rigidly “stood by” their subordinates. The Army seems to have been peeved at its “izzat” being slighted by a “renegade” police and the DC/SP felt that their supremacy was being crushed under the Army’s boots. In my view, there are deeper underlying reasons for this usual reaction.

In a democracy, the armed forces function under the political control as laid down in the Constitution. In India, politicians take little or no interest in the matters military and have virtually delegated the control to the bureaucracy. This has given the bureaucrats in the MoD an overarching power with a veto over all aspects of the armed forces. Military leadership resents this because it undermines their authority and autonomy. Unfortunately, the IPS and the IRS have also jumped on to the bandwagon to assert their superiority. Rather than establish a healthy relationship to further the national interest, there exists an environment of mistrust.

Also read: Arunachal Pradesh is Indian Army’s tallest ally, don’t take its people for granted

Over the last four years, the military has been deified and dragged into every facet of national life by the political class. So overwhelming has been the public and political support for the Army, that blatant wrongs committed by the Army in counter-insurgency operations violating its own rules, regulations and law, have been hailed as acts of heroism. While the Army is revelling in this political and public adulation, it is also sulking due to its status, honour and pay and allowances having been undermined over the years vis-à-vis the civil services.

The Bomdila incident had both the politicians and the IAS/IPS worried. It suits the politicians to “stand by” the Army in Jammu and Kashmir, but not in a state where the MLAs change their political allegiance en masse and overnight. The massive public support for the Army against a “politicised” police has sent the IAS/IPS scurrying to guard their turf.

The fallout of this incident is only a reflection of the bigger problem. Nothing can be more dangerous for national security than an arrogant and powerful bureaucracy and a deified but sulking military.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Quite a misinformed write up, almost like a press note from Army HQ. The officer doesn’t even understand Article 310 of Indian Constitution properly, which only elaborates on Tenure of Officers serving the Union or State.
    The point sorely missed in all these ‘press notes’ is that why the CO/GOC/Army HQ did not logde a formal complaint if any excess were done by Arunachal Pradesh policemen. This would have ensured a strictest possible action against anyone found guilty. All across the spectrum, the retaliatory action led by CO, including that of ransacking the Police Station & PWD office, is being heroically defended by Army officers. Are we moving towards a society where an eye for an eye has to be the norm? There are laws enshrined in our Constitution, which need a more serious reading by armed forces’ personnel, instead of repeated scans to find where the words ‘defence force’ occurs before ‘civil services’.
    Armed forces attract, at best, the left over of contenders, generally those who do not find place in civil services or any other competitive recruitment exams. Hence, those who chest thump that they defend the borders for the country should also be enlightened that they are able to do their hard found jobs only because their families back home are kept safe by the police forces.

  2. And how exactly could the DC SP and the CO nipped this in the bud? The soldiers had been returned to the CO in a beaten up state. What would you do in his place, have tea with the SP and plan on how to hush up the illegality of the SHO. Meekness of your ilk has caused this incident. You all kept hushing up illegalities and thereby encouraged it. Therefore some where You personally are also responsible General sahab.

  3. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)

    Such things and incidents are bound to occur because those
    at the helm of affairs of the nation are not at all interested in
    inspiring virtues,values, niceties, decencies and humility
    in public life ! Their aim is not to deliver the goods but only
    to win elections for decades ! The reforms and improvements
    in the system and different fields are none of their concerns !

    As the polity of nation is sowing so is it ultimately reaping in
    the bargain !

    Where is the vision,farsightedness, magnanimity and morality
    on the part of the ruling leadership and class of the day to make
    an impact on the natives serving various forces and departments
    of the country ?

    By penning down this piece, Lt.General (Retired) HS Panag has
    sounded a note of caution portraying a picture of the state of affairs
    of army and police forces of the nation in their true colours ! Thus
    it should be taken note of seriously and suitable measures intitiated
    to stem the rot !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala(Punjab)

  4. On this divide, my sympathies are with the mandarins, more sinned against than sinning. Of course, it is for Raksha Mantri to iron out the differences, create more synergy.

  5. Bureaucrats must realize that they come into high position by passing just ONE EXAMINATION. It brings them into contact with others who have reached an equivalent high position in their department through many years’ of steady gaining of knowledge and hard work in their field.

    Therefore, by an average decency which every good human should have, a bureaucrat should conduct himself just a tiny small step behind a field professional, even if in official rank the two are equal. The field professional will be overwhelmed by this small gesture!

    This quality should be nurtured in administrative officers at the IAS or other services training centres. If such officers can inculcate this bit of humility in their conduct, they will be the ultimate GAINERS, because they will be able to achieve immensely by way of smoother administration which is anyway supposed to be their designated job.

Comments are closed.