Tuesday, May 25, 2010

India’s North East: Insurgency and civil services reform

The situation in the North Cachar Hills district is representative of the North- East. The DHD (Jewel) faction having come over-ground last year, the Army, supplemented by the para-military, remains deployed with a ceasefire in place and rebel groups placed in camps. The talks process has been initiated with former IB chief, PC Haldar, being appointed as the Centre’s interlocutor. The two projects of some importance – four-laning of the National Highway and broad gauge conversion – proceeding uninterrupted, it would appear that the internal situation at that remote location has turned a corner.

Two events with wider regional implications testify to such optimism. The first is the arrest and return to India from Bangladesh of top ULFA leaders including Arabinda Rajkhowa, and second are talks between the Naga leadership and the Centre at New Delhi. The former owes less to Indian diplomacy than to a change of regime in Bangladesh. The latter owes to the Home Minister viewing negatively the preceding twelve years of talks handled by the interlocutor, former Home Secretary, Padmanabhaiah. Nevertheless, as seen with Indian hockey during the recent World Cup, India may manage penalty corners, but its ability of converting them into goals remains in question.

The thesis here is that state incapacity, that debilitates the North-East, owes to the manner the All India Services are structured. The capacity and performance of the civil services – IAS, IPS and IFS – are crucial to countering insurgency.

Diplomats are required to help cauterise insurgency areas from external sanctuary and assistance. India has been unable to ensure this with both Myanmar and Bangladesh to any degree of satisfaction. That the IFS has only a 700-strong cadre with attendant problems, as captured in Daniel Markey’s work at the Council on Foreign Relations, may be a reason for lack of vigour on this score. The cadre is set to increase by a mere eight officers yearly to cope with the growing demands of diplomacy for a billion people in an age of globalisation and interdependence!

That development does not have the required drive is evident from the fact that the NC district in Assam referred to has only two IAS officers, even though there are over 50 officers from the security forces deployed there. Ajai Sahni, of the Institute of Conflict Management, in an insightful article, had earlier pointed out how most of the central services officers spend most of their career away from the region. This is testimony to the lack of balance between development and security. Likewise, there is only one IPS officer in the district, even though it is affected by both insurgency and ethnic conflict. The levels of supervision and monitoring, leave alone implementation, involved in both development and policing cannot be taken on by such a meagre grassroots presence of officers from the elite services.

Central services are configured so as to provide officers at the upper end of the policy and decision-making hierarchy. For instance the role of the IPS is to ‘supervise’. This gives the subordinate staff of questionable competence, commitment and character greater leeway to the detriment of governance. Central services officers are rotated through their field postings in their initial years for exposure. However, whether this results in adequate insight to tenant higher level appointments thereafter is questionable. Given their absence at the grassroots level, the developmental prong of national strategy in insurgency areas suffer.

As General Stanley McChrystal of the ISAF reminds, a ‘civil surge’ is an essential complement of a military surge in case insurgency is to be busted. In the North-East, existing state structure, already weighed down by routine matters, is expected to also deliver development with equity and justice. No wonder an ‘insurgency economy’ prevails, with lack of oversight and accountability. A recent charge-sheet filed by the NIA into alleged diversion of public funds to insurgent groups has revealed manipulation to the tune of Rs 20 crore in the last two years from the Public Health Engineering and Social Welfare departments in North Cachar.

Clearly, the nation is paying a rather high price for keeping the civil services ‘elite’. Their small yearly intake results in a cylindrical hierarchical structure with most retiring in the higher ranks, levels at which they spend two thirds of their careers. Contrast their intake with that of the Army. While the Army commissions 1700 officers a year, the IAS takes in about a 100, the IFS one fourth the number, the IPS now raising its intake levels from 120 to 150. It is obvious then that the requisite energy, attention to detail and very presence of quality officers is absent at the grassroots where it matters most.

Take the case of the IPS. Among the 99 who passed out in April 2010 from the Sardar Vallabhai Patel National Police Academy at Hyderabad include 33 engineers, five doctors, three management graduates, three law graduates, five M Phils and nine doctorates. Such candidates are relatively older, and have less capacity for the rigours of service, look for speedy induction into higher ranks, settle early into domesticity and make a quick exit from field work for desk appointments.

Such a cadre cannot command the moral authority necessary to lead the force. This deficit of leadership can only be cured by a redefinition of leadership in the police. The state of police leadership is lamented by senior police watcher, RK Raghavan: “Demoralisation in the ranks is inevitable. This has serious implications for the credibility of the police leadership. The fact that a majority of policemen killed in Naxalite violence come from the lowest ranks and that the supervisory levels are relatively unharmed will not go unnoticed.”

Clearly, there is a case for an overhaul of the civil services. A more pyramidal structure would build in competition, increase numbers in lower ranks and enable consequential presence of the state at lower levels. For the short term, given the requirement of furthering development in the North-East, either induction or deputation from the military be resorted to into all three services. Only then can the multi-pronged strategy for the North-East, otherwise impressive on paper, be converted into reality.

Article by:
Ali Ahmed
Research Fellow, IDSA

Credits for the Article to Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)

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