BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav's video is not about a diet problem; it reflects a deeper malaise

The Border Security Force’s constable Tej Bahadur Yadav has done what the Central Police Organisations (CPOs) have not been able to do for years. He has managed to bring CPOs into the glare of mass media by using social media tools. He has broken the conspiracy of silence on the condition of troops in CPOs that has existed so far. He has broken rank and put the spotlight on CPOs. The media has been referring to the BSF and CRPF over the years as paramilitary units, police and even sometimes as armed units. All of which are monikers that show their ignorance of these organisations.

While Yadav wanted to highlight the poor quality of food served to him, that is just the symptom of a much larger problem that ails the CPOs. Over the years these organisations have been eroded systemically and have too many problems gnawing away at their foundation. The Ministry of Home Affairs, the operating ministry for CPOs, has ignored these problems for years. Whenever there is a riot, or a serious social problem in a city, the CPOs are the first to respond. Then there are the borders that they have to protect. Crucial duties that cannot be performed by any other arm of the government. Therefore, it is important to understand their structure well.

Image of Tej Bahadur Yadav. Image Courtesy: Youtube

Image of Tej Bahadur Yadav. Image Courtesy: Youtube

The command structure of CPOs is broken and that is where the welfare of the troops is determined. The officer-and-soldier relationship is what makes the armed forces work. An officer does not really command till he has earned the respect of the troops. Training and living together is a crucial component of life in the forces as it helps build that bond. The camaraderie between an officer and his platoon is what drives a soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice in times of war. This is what all the drills, training and exercises try to build and the system has been perfected through years of military doctrine. This control is kept alive through the continuous reinforcement of discipline.

The worst-case scenario is a breakdown in discipline, which is what has happened in Tej Bahadur’s case. He decided to break the command structure and air his views about a situation in public on social media. As a soldier he has failed and the system will act; he might lose his pension.

This breakdown of discipline has to be analysed and not just seen as a diet or a food problem, which has been the home ministry's first response. It is sad as all they are trying to address the symptoms of the problem while actually burying the problem. It is sad that politicians are being led by the same bureaucrats who are part of the problem or worse are the problem. Yes, bureaucrats are part of the command structure in CPOs.

BSF officers do not always command their battalions as there are the 'elite' Indian Police Services (IPS) who are dropped down into command posts. This is where the system starts breaking down. An IPS officer comes into a BSF battalion with little connect to the troops in his command. He brings learning from the state police into a quasi-military setup. IPS officers are not really the epitome of leadership or integrity otherwise our state police forces would have been better. The lack of integrity combined with the structural failings in CPOs makes it a complex issue.

A BSF battalion buys its own food and rations unlike an army battalion that depends upon ASC — a supply and logistics arm. Given the lack of integrity and the disconnect with the troops, it is not uncommon to expect the lack of quality in procurement. But it is not a just a resource procurement problem. It is a structural problem.

The command structure of CPOs need to be disconnected from IPS bureaucracy in order to bring back the pride of the corps and camaraderie between officers and troops. If it is not addressed, rest assured more soldiers will break the discipline and use social media to crash the system. And we all know what that means in the services: Mutiny. Therefore, Home Minister Rajnath Singh will be doing the nation a real service if takes this issue head-on, and doesn't allow it to turn into a diet and food problem. The home ministry should also understand that the world they inhabit has been changed by social media.

The capability to broadcast now exists with each and every soldier and instead of just trying to swing around the symptoms of the problem. the ministry should look at the inconsistencies in the system including the pay structure, pension and the command of the CPOs. If they do not address it, these organisations will certainly broadcast all these problems on social media.

The author is a policy analyst based in Delhi; he tweets @yatishrajawat

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2017 08:17:44 IST

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