The first war covered live on television in India was the Kargil conflict of 1999. The daily military briefings by the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) was a much-viewed event. But they were military operations, which according to the then Army Chief General VP Malik, were fought with 'what we have'. He was alluding to the critical shortages of weapons and ammunition and the unduly long process to modernise the armed forces. But, yet again the Indian forces pulled it off with 'what they had'.
The government was quick to appoint a committee of experts headed by the doyen of matters national security, K Subrahmanyam. Restructuring of the armed forces, revitalising border security and other critical matters were comprehensively addressed. The then deputy prime minister, as the head of a group of ministers, reviewed all the recommendations including one on defence management submitted by a task force headed by Arun Singh and constituted an implementation mechanism which functioned rather efficiently. Then, the government changed and the remaining points for implementations were confined to the proverbial dust bin.
The Mumbai attack of 2008 forced the government to once again review the existing weaknesses and take appropriate measures. Predictably, over time, they too were buried to be redusted during the next episode.
The point to note is that had the recommendations made post-Kargil been seriously and consistently addressed, perhaps the Mumbai attack may not have occurred. Extending the same logic, had we implemented many of the weaknesses rediscovered during the Mumbai attack along with the recommendations made by the group of interlocutors in 2011, we may not have had the situations in the Kashmir Valley, Pathankot or Uri, to worry about.
Much of our problems are linked to the improper functioning of Parliament and consequently poor formulation of effective legislations and laws to tackle the entire spectrum of economic, social and security related issues that confront us. In many ways, they are all interlinked.
While politicians bash each other up, at times physically as well, we the citizens fret and frown without ever acknowledging that we the people put them into Parliament in the first place; by casting our votes for the incompetent, ignoring elections or not participating in any process of cleaning up dirty politics. Electoral, police, judicial and administrative reforms are long overdue. Not much will change without these reforms.
Since the canvas of corrective measures is vast and long, let me focus on just one issue in this piece: Police reforms.
An ungainly and shameful sight on television is an inadequately equipped, physically unfit and apparently ill led police force in any part of the country. Just compare these pictures with not only the more advanced nations but also with our immediate neighbours. Without exception, the first line of defence or assistance to the citizen i.e. the policeman is the most unfortunate product of State politics. The very states who zealously protect their rights on law and order and object to any intervention by the Centre are guilty of politicising, under equipping, neglecting the welfare of the policemen and his family, and undermining the police leadership.
See the video clips of the Uran alert that occurred on 22 September. When the first reports of suspicious armed personnel in the sensitive location of Uran reached the police, cameras captured policemen with neither bulletproof jackets nor helmets, arriving in hoards with (mercifully) 7.62 mm caliber rifles and not the .303 caliber ones, on motorbikes and lining up on the streets.
You would never, on such occasions, see an officer of the force with them. Any uninitiated citizen would wonder what this ill-equipped band of rag-tag policemen would have done had they been attacked by well-trained AK-47 wielding terrorists. They would have been excellent cannon fodder, for, they neither had protection nor a clue on how to take offensive or defensive positions. After subjecting themselves to a photo opportunity, they climbed on their motorcycles and vanished. There were some who, due to their oversized bellies, could not even have dropped to the ground to take up a firing position.
Yes we have the police commandos, yes we have a quick reaction force, but who would authorise the low-end baton or stick-wielding policemen to counter a terrorist threat? Do we have well-trained adequately equipped rapid reaction capability to reach Uran at short notice? Perhaps not. Would it not have been the best option to seek the immediate assistance of the naval security force until the right-fighting element arrived on the scene?
This was only a random sighting reported by a shocked school girl and not a fire-fight with confirmed terrorists. What chance would these policemen have had to survive an attack? In the event, it might as well have been forest guards equipped with some firearms.
Even after repeated terrorist attacks, we are unable to provide the first sensible and rehearsed reaction as dictated by the threat. Is the police force equipped to tackle rampaging crowds on a short notice? Do they even have the basic attire and accessories for self-protection, counter-disturbances and law and order problems? If not, then why not?
Prakash Singh, who fought for police reforms 10 years ago and more importantly based on which the Supreme Court gave clear directions in 2006, have both witnessed the tenth anniversary go by with little or no action to modernise the force.
Let us at least address the reforms required to provide security at the citizens level at the first instance. The military would be happy to address their primary task – an external threat!