The Indian Army, which should be the last resort, is fast becoming the first choice for the administration at the slightest hint of disturbance.
When Assam witnessed a fresh wave of violence last week over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), several columns of the Army were requisitioned by the local administration to maintain law and order.
The Army went in, conducted several flag marches, and helped calm the tempers to a large extent.
Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta later told ThePrint that the Army’s deployment was just “for show” and it was the police crackdown that brought the situation under control.
And this is exactly where the problem lies.
Over the past few years, local administrators across the country have been quick to pick up the phone and call for the Army. From handling law and order duties to constructing foot-over bridges and laying bridges over the Yamuna for private events, the Army is increasingly being roped in for scenarios that should always remain out of its purview.
Trust Army to do the job
The administration can’t be faulted, though, for trusting the Indian Army to deal with difficult scenarios. Its presence at any site of trouble works as a deterrent for those indulging in violence because everyone knows the Army means business, always.
Even among journalists covering the defence beat, there’s an unwritten rule: never argue with an Army jawan if you are stopped. No amount of logic or influence will work; the jawan will carry out the order of his immediate superior no matter what.
Even a senior officer from another unit can’t just call, issue an order, and expect it to be followed because the jawan will only listen to his immediate superior.
Dragging Army away from its purpose
But there is a problem with constantly deploying the Army, whose main task is for securing India at the borders, in the streets. The Army is trained for conventional warfare and its deployment for law and order issues should be done only in extremely grim scenarios.
It would be tragic if the Army, which is trained to shoot to kill, has to act against civilians over matters arising out of political play or decisions.
Moreover, since the Army maintains an apolitical character, every deployment for law and order drags it into a political situation, which opens up the possibility of the politicisation of the force.
Indian governments have over the years formed central armed police forces, whose combined strength is more than the Indian Army, to deal with internal security issues.
These forces are equipped with the best of weapons, equipment, and training to deal with law and order issues. So, it is important to use them than treat the Army as riot police.
This was evident during the 2016 Jat quota agitation in Haryana when personnel carried banners proclaiming themselves as members of the Army. They could not fire against the arsonists and violent protesters because the Disturbed Area Act, which gives protection to the Army when deployed for operations in civilian areas, was not implemented.
Inept and admitting it
The increasing trend of Army deployment is also a slap on the face of the very administration that deploys it. Seeking the Army’s help is a kind of self-admission that the local administration and the police have failed to do their job.
It means that the internal security apparatus is extremely weak and that the people have lost trust and don’t have respect for the existing system anymore.
If the administration can’t control regular street violence, as was witnessed in Assam, then it might as well resign and sit at home.
The fact that the Army was called in so quickly and senior officers brought in from New Delhi to Guwahati bears witness to how ill-prepared the civil administration was in Assam.
Internal security comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs and its police forces. Every effort should be made to ensure that the Army stays in barracks and isn’t called to handle the streets.
Army’s fault too
But while the administration often exposes its ineptness in handling law and order issues, another incident where Army deployment has become a trend is when a child falls into a bore well.
While one is happy that the Army does everything it can to save the child’s life, which it has in most scenarios, it is also a testimony to the fact that the civil administration has failed to set up an effective response mechanism even after several incidents.
It is pathetic that the Army has to be called in to save a child’s life.
Moreover, the Army is being deployed for sundry activities like building bridges for private events – such as one organised by Sr Sri Ravi Shankar in 2016 – or constructing a foot-over bridge in Mumbai.
While the Army has the expertise to build these structures, there are specialised civil agencies to do such work.
Part of the blame also lies with the Indian Army, which should not have allowed it to be exploited as such.
The argument by some in uniform that, at the end of the day, the Army is meant for the country does not stand ground because even they know it in their hearts that they are just doing the government’s bidding.