Wednesday, 10 August, 2022
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Army, IB, CRPF — India needs culture of accountability to prevent Chhattisgarh, Ladakh repeat

The 1971 war was the finest moment for India’s defence and security establishment — intelligence and accountability saved lives. Now errant officers get promotions.

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The attack by Naxals in the Sukma-Bijapur region of Chhattisgarh last week that killed 22 security personnel and injured 31 others was nothing short of a massacre. It calls for deeper scrutiny of what went wrong.

However, CRPF DG Kuldiep Singh was quick to come in and issue a statement ruling out any lapses, both at the operational and intelligence front. He will of course say there were no lapses because he is the man with whom the buck stops when it comes to operations in the CRPF. But he wasn’t alone. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also said it was not a failure.

Talk to any counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism operator and they will tell you that the Chhattisgarh operation was an intelligence and tactical failure. The death of the personnel in the ambush shows the team’s lack of knowledge about its adversary and terrain. After a few days of hue and cry over the deaths, India will move on to other issues with the dastardly attack behind us.

That is exactly what happened in 2017 when the Naxals struck in Sukma, killing 25 CRPF jawans. It happened in 2013 too when 25 lives were lost including that of top Congress leaders in a Naxal ambush, and in 2010 when 76 CRPF jawans were killed in an ambush at Dantewada, almost wiping out an entire company of a battalion.

Forget the Naxal attacks. Even if we take into account the brutal 26/11 attack, Pulwama blast, Uri attack, Pathankot strike, there have been visible lapses that led to the loss of so many lives.

However, the one thing that is common in all these attacks is the lack of accountability. These incidents will keep happening till India develops a culture of accountability.

Also read: UPA to NDA, India still confused on how to fight Naxal insurgency. Maoists know that

Armed forces better at accountability than khaki

In the Indian armed forces, at least the officers are posted out and adverse remarks entered into their files if anything serious happens under his/her watch, which affect their promotion in an already pyramidal structure. Even though the effort usually is to stop the buck at the least inconvenient officer rank.

In the police setup, even this does not happen. An IPS officer will be transferred elsewhere, but also be given the usual promotions and growth eventually.

Following the Dantewada attack in 2010, Nalin Prabhat, then CRPF DIG in-charge of Chhattisgarh, was transferred out for lapses. It is a different thing that the officer, who has three gallantry medals to his name, is now the IG Ops in the CRPF.

As a young reporter in 2008, it was shocking for me that the chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and the National Security Advisor continued with their jobs despite the deadly Mumbai attacks that brought India to a standstill. The Mumbai attacks should have led to multiple heads rolling and a complete revamp of India’s security establishment. None of that happened. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was set up, and the NATGRID was created, which is still a work in progress. But have we developed the capacity to prevent another terror attack? You can answer on your own.

Even after the 2019 Pulwama attack, no one in the security setup was made accountable for the loss of 40 lives. G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State, Home Affairs, even said in Parliament that there was no intelligence failure in the Pulwama attack.

If there was no intelligence failure, then how and on what should anyone be held accountable?

The same holds true for the Ladakh incursions across the Line of Actual Control by the Chinese in late April last year. People in the establishment still insist that there was no intelligence failure. When asked whether accountability needs to be fixed within the Army for letting things come to this point, the common counter is that the very same team in Leh later coordinated and planned the daring operations in August because of which Indian troops outflanked the Chinese and captured the heights of the southern banks.

If one is asked if the Ladakh incursions were an intelligence failure, then the common counter by the agencies is that it was not because the authorities were aware of PLA presence but the Chinese had the element of surprise and moved in suddenly.

Also read: The lesson for RAW, IB from Kargil to Ladakh — fix responsibility

1971 — golden era for Indian defence

This is in stark contrast to what happened in 1971 when India had precise dates of Pakistan’s plan to launch airstrikes. Because of this intelligence — then developed by the newly set up R&AW headed by India’s finest intelligence officer R.N. Kao — the Air Force moved out all aircraft from the bases in the west and north to safer locations in hardened shelters.

In their new book, The War that Made R&AW, Anusha Nandakumar and Sandeep Saket write about how India deceived Pakistan in 1971 into launching an operation so that Indian forces could get directly involved in the Bangladesh Liberation War rather than operate clandestinely. 

The 1971 war is actually the finest moment of the Indian defence and security establishment where the Army, Air Force and the Navy came together as one unit in collaboration with the intelligence setup. Such was the intelligence that the Navy knew exactly which Pakistani vessels were at the Karachi harbour and where.

Incidentally, the first officer that Kao hired to set up the R&AW was Sankaran Nair from the Intelligence Bureau. What made Nair stand out was his ability to accept and fix responsibility. He was a member of the commission that was set up to investigate the allegations of the IB’s inefficiency following the 1965 war. He submitted detailed reports outlining in painful detail where his agency had fallen short. Although it won him enemies within the IB, he won the admiration of Kao.

Even if we keep aside issues of security forces and the intelligence, this culture of accountability is entirely missing now – be it in the police or the civil setup.

Also read: Calling LAC conflict ‘intelligence failure’ is lazy. It ignores India’s real problem

India needs culture of accountability

I feel strongly about cases, including alleged terror incidents, where the accused are freed after years in jail by the courts because the police officers had cooked up the cases for various reasons. The officers who led these investigations have moved on with their promotions and perks. Why should they not be held accountable and punished for the years lost and the time wasted of the judiciary besides the cost of prosecution borne by his/her own department?

Take, for example, the infamous ISRO spy case. The three-decade-old ISRO case that shocked India in the ’90s came to an end last year with the government agreeing to pay former scientist S. Nambi Narayanan Rs 1.3 crore in compensation. According to the court order, “no personal liability can be fixed on defendants 6 to 111 (officials accused of falsely implicating him) and no recovery will be effected from any of the defendants to realise the amount”. The officers who handled the case in which Narayanan was fixed have retired from their high positions and are enjoying their post-retirement life. Should these officers not be held accountable?

Accountability is a must, be it in the armed forces, intelligence, police, or the bureaucracy. Because if India does not adopt a culture of accountability, incidents like the Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh, Pulwama, or the Chinese backstabbing will continue to happen.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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  1. The crafty bureaucracy under the uneducated corrupt politicians have created a system that will ensure no accountability. The jacks of all trades have projected themselves as the masters of all trades. To think of a Policeman leading a PARA MILITARY force on a limited tenure is unthinkable but it does happen.
    Just as only an honest politician can fix the political system, only an honest Babu cab cleanup the Babudom.

  2. Wishful thinking Ina country that worships its bureaucrats and IPS. At least armed forces have some accountability.

  3. Bang on, I totally agree with your article. I’m an ex Indian Naval Officer and this is absolutely true that on the basis of accountability and responsibilities officers and jawans had to face court of inquiries which further led to their loss of seniority, loss of promotion and even relinquishing of service. Military guys are trained with ethos which is being inserted deeply into their body and aptitude right from the academy times. We know how military works. However the important agenda which you have raised related to civil organisation is absolutely need of the hour. My father had served in Border Security Force and even dealt with terrorists during Kashmir militancy, he always used to say that paramilitary should be led by its own cadre officer like military, the day it happen, forget about Chhattisgarh, Kashmir will also get cleaned. I’m not against IPS cadre, we have too many brave officers in this esteemed service but it’s high time now IPS team should lead the internal police forces and get them in shape. Let BSF, CRPF, CISF and SSB to lead with their own cadre who will directly report to Home minister, and make home minister so important post that on single attack he or she(future no body knows who holds it) should remain on his/her toes along with our paramilitary forces. It’s time now to start having joint military and paramilitary exercises. Think about it don’t live in denial and stop giving importance to only IPS and IAS cadre. Make them accountable and make them resign if they are unable to put a stop including that ministerial chair. Jai hind

  4. Mr. Philip, you have a wonderful thinking style. On an article on the clueless CRPF you insist on talking about the military, the IB, Kao, Nair. I wonder why you also did not talk about the sun and the moon and the stars and Amitabh Bacchan and Nehru and Justice Katju. It would have shown that you have a truly wide perspective.

  5. Spot-on. Responsibility, Accountability and reward / punishment is a must in case of Bureaucracy, which is the worst stumbling block to the country’s progress into 21st century. IAS, IPS just merrily carry on with their ego-trips & corruption without any fear. March-April 2021 happenings are a live recent example of TOTALLY COMPROMISED & CORRUPTED BUREAUCRATS.

  6. The author doesn’t talk about the politicians to be accountable to the people, for their actions. In fact if the politicians become accountable, they will also ensure the bureaucracy become accountable. Accountability starts from the politicians/ministers and goes down the line. Further lack of accountability is not the only factor that is killing our intelligence agencies. Mediocrity in selection of top officers, combined with quota/reservation produce senior officers only of mediocre standard. Further, job security irrespective of competency/efficiency kills all initiative to perform at their best.

  7. There is a very interesting trick used by journalists – in order to dilute the follies of the IPS, they very conveniently add the intelligence and military to the topic.
    Of the national security organizations, the military is the only one which regularly and strictly holds its personnel accountable for..
    The article should restrict itself to the issue at hand – lack of accountability in the IPS.

  8. Absolutely true, Philip. All public servants and public services including the media have to take responsibility for whatever!

    I am generalizing as this article also generalizes. Else this is an elaborate and important subject, that has been neglected for decades, to be debated ad nauseum by the powers that be.

    Accountability is directly proportional to responsibility, in these circumstances direct and enabling authority and provision (availability) of matching resources. Without elaborating let me just say, you can’t just put a boxer in the ring with his hands tied expect him/her to knockout the opponent.

    Tailpiece: Piecemeal discussions do not convey the whole picture. These are issues not confined only to pulling the trigger.

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