18 Apr 2010 Ali Ahmed: The E.N. Rammohan enquiry enquiring into the loss of a company of CRPF in Dantewada’s jungles to a Maoist ambush will no doubt come up with a set of answers. Yet, it may not address structural deficiencies. It could instead choose to restrict itself to the shortfalls in leadership and training of the company attacked and perhaps also include a look at shortcomings in deployment and command and control. If really bold it would also include contextual issues as strategy and political dissonance in the provincial and national capital surrounding Operation Green Hunt. In this article at the needle pointed to limitations in civil services and police leadership arising from the structure of the cadre of these elite services.
An interesting contrast can be drawn up between the numbers recruited into the Army and those in the civil services. While the Army commissions about 1700 officers a year, less than a hundred join the IAS and about 130 become IPS officers. A study of the Council for Foreign Affairs on India’s foreign policy capacity states that a small IFS cadre of barely 700 officers limits India’s global reach.
This begs the question as to why the Army - just over a million strong and disciplined - should need so many, while a billion strong somewhat chaotic country gets merely 200 officers a year to administer and police it. A larger number of officers gives the Army the leadership needed at the cutting edge. Lesser numbers from the larger pool of UPSC civil services tests make for absence of the state from where it matters – at the grassroots.
It may be argued that the British ran India with less. There are also subordinate services and state civil service cadre officers to be counted. Officers of the paramilitary need also be included. Criticism of bloated bureaucracy and top heavy police already exists. More can only compound the problem. In any case, in the system India is giving itself, representatives of the people at all levels upward from panchayats are to administer the system. Increased numbers mean dilution in quality of intake, cohesion, sense of elitism, training imparted etc.
In any case, the role of the elite services is supervisory, integrating the various arms of government at the apex level. This explains their quick rise through the ranks to Joint Secretary level and long tenure at the upper echelons in strategic appointments. Therefore, the argument goes, that the analogy of higher numbers with the Army is inapt. Conversely, short exposure of Army officers at higher echelons cannot help strategic thinking displacing their ****ounced preference for tactical level thinking. Shortcomings have other explanations, such as political corruption, sloth of permanently recruited government employees, reservations etc.
While the argument for the status quo is compelling, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Chintalnar is example. The CRPF is officered by its own cadre of officers, with the apex tier being taken over by deputationists from the IPS. This subordination of the CRPF to the IPS is understandable given the nature of the job of assisting the police. This is fair enough for coping with internal disturbances. Chintalnar has proven that it is not adequate for Operation Green Hunt like tasks.
The mandate of the paramilitary has been expanded early last decade to include higher order internal security to spare the Army from such deployment. The corresponding changes need to be made. This means upscaling a proportion of the CRPF to infantry levels of capability. It is questionable firstly whether CRPF leadership duly trained can prove up to the task and secondly that induction of inadequately experienced IPS officers at higher levels can enable them replicate performance of formation commanders of the Army. In effect, the CRPF is doubly disadvantaged. Not only is its lower order leadership incapable of the task at hand, nor can the IPS tag of its higher leadership compensate for shortfalls.
That an IPS officer is to do a deputation with the paramilitary in course of his early career has been mooted, it needs mention that these officers are resented as taking away career advancement opportunities from the paramilitary officers. This resentment exists in BSF officers. The mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles, brought on in part by the Army’s tenanting of the higher posts, is a sobering recall.
The internal security scenario makes changes necessary in the elite civil service too. The low numbers of the IAS keep their footprint confined to capitals and the national capital. Their presence in districts is in the early part of their service for a minimum period. The low numbers imply an inability to monitor and implement its development programs in the normal course, even if civil servants are committed, honest and hardworking. In insurgency ****e areas, there are additional demands of the developmental ****g. Numbers inadequate for the routine and mundane cannot be expected to fulfil development demands of counter insurgency. It is no wonder that the political ****g of strategy forever lags behind the military ****g in such cases. Insurgencies consequently end up as interminable in India.
Experience of the Army informs that subordinates require hands-on leadership, not distant supervision, despite the reputation for commitment of the soldiery. It is for this reason there are over ten officers in one fighting unit in the Army, even though other supports as traditions, cohesion and unit spirit – absent in civilian milieus - exist. The performance and experience of officers at the lower levels prepares them for command and staff in higher echelons. This keeps the Army as an island of relative efficiency in a sea of governmental apathy and mediocrity.
Contrast this with the scheme of increasing the intake into IPS from the paramilitary, taking its numbers up to 150 per year over the next five years. Likewise, stung by criticism of India not punching up to its weight in international politics because of IFS deficiencies, the IFS is to increase its intake by eight officers! It follows that the elite services are determining their cadre management policy by a yardstick other than that of functional necessity.
Instead the determinant of numbers of intake would appear to be the need to keep the cadre cylindrical. In effect, only those many need be inducted as are the openings at the joint secretary level. Since this is exacting an exhausting price from the country, there is a case for restructuring of the elite services. A broader intake will not dilute quality of intake given the numbers volunteering and the minor difference currently between those who make it those who lose out. It will help increase their presence at the level of implementation. Secondly, comparatively fewer rising to the top echelon will build in competition and competence.
At the door of the elite services must be laid responsibility for a proportion of India being a ‘strong power’ but a ‘weak state’. This owes to their being protective of their corporate interest, with elitism at center. This is at an increasingly unaffordable price. Therefore, the ‘steel frame’ - rusty from colonial times - needs a makeover.
8ak note: Ali Ahmed recently left the armed forces to pursue a PhD, CIPOD, SIS at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is currently a Research Fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.