If wishes were horses, this jeep would be a BMW

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: How, just how, can we expect our police force to gather intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack and prevent it, or fight a Naxal attack like the one in Dantewada recently, when most times all they are equipped with are a lathi, a whistle and antique jeeps such as these?

Do we subject our future policemen to the rigours of a prolonged and intense recruitment test which the army and air force selection boards do to ‘get the best’ in to their fold ?

Do we have the likes of a national defence academy like in Khadakvasla, or a naval training centre like in Cochin, or an air force training centre scattered around the country, to train our police men and women?

Imagine our poorly selected, ill-trained, ill-motivated police trying to catch a terrorist like Kasab. The difference between them is appalling and as clear as cheese and chalk.

On the one hand is the archetypal terrorist: young, fit, brainwashed, computer-savvy, expert in handling machine guns, grenades, bombs, adept at setting off fires, and trained in modern methods of communication like voice, data and satellite (‘Chacha!  Hum CST mein hain? Ab kya karen?).

How do we expect our archetypal Sakharam—old, potbellied, uneducated, ignorant to the ways of the modern world—to even put up a fight with his outmoded weapons? In Bombay on 26/11 at VT, between two policemen, they had one rifle to stop two terrorists spraying bullets at will from their AK47s.

Even ATS boss Hemant Karkare wore a supposedly bullet proof as crisp and strong as a papad.

The point is, we treat our uniformed men like cattle, their living quarters worse than a cowshed, their working hours long and arduous, their work itself subject to political pressures and whims of all kind. They are more often depicted as buffoons in any of the Bollywood or regional cinemas.

Can we compare them to the respect and awe that we reserve for the personnel of, say, Scotland Yard, or the police force in other countries in terms of pay, training and general living and working standards?

And now, we expect them to fight the invisible menace of Naxals and restore the rule of law in nearly half the states of the country?

Naxals are a creation of wanton and deliberate neglect by our successive governments both at the Centre and in the States over a prolonged period.

We adopted a policy of ‘benign neglect’ of these sensitive, poor and god forsaken areas. We created a situation and an atmosphere which was akin to putting a ‘welcome’ carpet to countries like China to just walk in. These governments have armed our insurgents, militants and naxals to the teeth with equipment far superior than our police force.

Our insufficiently trained and inadequately equipped police are now expected to roam around the mine-infested terrains and fight heavily armed, armoured and unseen Maoists with lathis, whistles and rifles. No wonder Naxals made mincemeat of them in Dantewada and are promising more and worse.

Generally, “We, the People” believe the police force is corrupt from top to bottom and condemn them. To some extent this is true. But given such pathetic conditions of work and living, given most of the government departments (PWD, etc) and political system are corrupt, how do we expect our police to be paragons of virtue?

As long as we treat our police force like mules, subject them to all kinds of indignities, not encourage them with proper training, equipment and performance incentives, and provide a decent living, our country will suffer at the hands of terrorists, militants, insurgents and naxals.

Finally, the police themselves will perforce seek other avenues in search of a decent living.