Politics over central forces perilous

Most states, especially those with difficult and prolonged law and order situations, will find the Centre's recently delineated position on the deployment of central forces inconvenient and problematic. The Union home ministry has told them that the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) should be used only in emergency situations and not as a substitute for state police. The circular followed a stand-off with the West Bengal government last month over the deployment of CAPF in Darjeeling which witnessed a violent agitation for Gorkhaland for several weeks. The Centre withdrew a part of the forces from Darjeeling but the state government went to the high court and secured a stay. This prompted the Centre to issue the circular on its deployment policy and a standard operating procedure (SoP). Unfortunately, the policy is not based on practical considerations and, at least in the West Bengal instance, may be coloured by politics.

Law and order is a state subject and ideally, states should use their own police force to tackle threats to, and disruptions of, law and order. But many situations go beyond law and order and assume political, communal and other dimensions. Unrest and violence sometimes continue for weeks. State police forces are ill-equipped and lack the training and wherewithal to handle them. The Gorkhaland agitation, which was marked by violence and militancy and lasted many weeks, could not have been tackled by the state police force. State police forces are badly understaffed. It is difficult to divert them from routine law and order duties. Situations like the Gorkhaland agitation need to be handled by central forces which will be considered neutral. State forces are likely to be partisan in such situations. Even if they are not, they may be considered so. Central forces will be more effective in such situations.

It is perhaps politics which forced the Centre to withdraw the CAPF from Darjeeling. The BJP may not have wanted to see the central forces pitted against the Gorkhaland agitators, whom it has supported for long. Such considerations should not be the basis for the formulation of national policies on important matters. It is also against the federal spirit for the Centre to be seen as not supporting the states in the discharge of their most important responsibility. The strength, standards and abilities of both central and state forces should be improved and their functioning and organisation need reforms. Co-operation between the Centre and the states is equally important. The Centre must deploy its forces in states when they ask for them and consult them before it withdraws them. Politics over deploying and withdrawing central forces could be perilous for internal security.

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