Bomdila clash bad news

Civil-military relations

The ugly incident of army jawans of the Arunachal Scouts going berserk in Bomdila on November 3 and misbehaving with police personnel, including the superintendent of police and even the lady deputy commissioner has brought to the fore that civil-military relations are not what they ought to be. That the jawans were being led and goaded by the commanding officer (CO) — a colonel — and the adjutant (a major) is appalling. Incidents of this sort are known to occur from time to time, and they dent the image of the army.

The incident of November 3 was a sequel to a fracas that two of the jawans had the previous evening with the police and civilians when they went to witness the Buddha Mahotsava celebrations in the town. That the fissures in the army–civil administration relationship existed is manifested in the way the situation was handled, both by the civil officials and the army officers.

When the army personnel were taken to the police station for misbehaviour with civilians, including women, the best course would have been for the police to inform and hand them over to the battalion with a formal report of their misdemeanour for further disciplinary action at their end. The matter would have ended there.

But the allegations of the army personnel that the two apprehended personnel were beaten up in the police station, resulting in serious injuries — supported by the medical certificate of the army doctor but countered by the police by another medical report of the government hospital -- leaves one perplexed. Either of the medical reports could have been doctored.

In his FIR, the CO has stated that the police behaviour was vindictive after they got to “know that the two boys …were serving army personnel”, which goes to prove that the army-police relationship was strained. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for policemen to be vindictive. If there was simmering hostility between the army and police, the same should have been mutually sorted out. Perhaps their egos prevented that.

In his report to the director-general of Arunachal Pradesh Police, the SP, Bomdila, stated that the two jawans who were apprehended were in an inebriated state and were detained for disorderly behaviour. Soon, about 30 army personnel gathered outside the police station and created a ruckus. An army major then visited the police station, apologised for the incident and took the two jawans away.

But the following day’s incident is even more appalling. The CO and a major went to the police station with about 40 armed personnel in three vehicles. After meeting the SP, the CO insisted that the police station in-charge apologise to the army men for his action the previous night. In his report, the SP has further stated that the army personnel “gheraoed” the police station and vandalised the property and vehicles of the police, apart from assaulting the policemen and snatching their weapons.

One of the army personnel went to the extent of cocking his Light Machine Gun and pointed it menacingly at the SP. Led by a major, the army personnel thrashed a civilian, too. They are reported to have even fired in the air and pelted stones at the SP and the lady deputy commissioner, apart from misbehaving with them. This is not expected of a disciplined force. Why did the CO have to take 40 men to the police station?

More than the men who vandalised, it is the CO who cannot be exculpated for allowing them to go berserk in his presence. A major who was expected to rein in the men led them in a spirit of bravado, thus worsening the situation.

A minatory video message by the CO that went viral on social media is the last straw. “Be very careful when you move out of Bomdila. This is a direct threat to you. You dare touch my boys again any time in future and see what I make of you,” he threatens the SP and station in-charge.

Govt intervention

That Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who were camping in the state, had to intervene and speak to the army and police personnel speaks of the gravity of the matter. Later, Rijiju tweeted that due to “indecorous acts at individual level, a reprehensible incident took place but whole institutions cannot be dragged along.”

The president of the Indian Civil and Administrative Services (Central) Association Rakesh Srivastava took up the matter with Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra requesting “all the authorities to ensure that the alleged perpetrators are brought to speedy justice”, though he eulogised the army’s professionalism, bravery, valour and respect for women’s and human rights in the initial paragraphs of his letter.

The army is playing a commendable role in guarding the nation and the whole nation looks upon it with awe and respect. But, in like manner, the nation expects the armed forces personnel to respect people’s human rights and dignity. The cantonment mentality of isolating themselves from the general populace and looking down on civilians must be shed by army personnel. After all, not all their kith and kin are in armed forces. They, too, have civilian relatives and friends.

Frequent meetings between the civil, police and army officials will go a long way in cementing a smooth relationship and ward off such aberrations as happened in Bomdila. Hostile relations among the top civil and army brass sends out a wrong message to lower ranks that result in such serious condemnable incidents.

While the army has ordered a Court of Inquiry and will take the culprits to task, the civil bureaucracy must also inquire if there had been any excesses on the part of the police and take action against any erring personnel.

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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