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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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Season for reforms


This seems to be the season of demands for reforms. The country is agog with such demands in diverse areas, electoral, police, intelligence etc. At the top of the surge is the demand for reforms in the management of corruption at all levels. Pros and cons of the particular issue are being debated frequently in most drawing rooms of the country. Awareness at the public level also appears fairly intense. Yet, the Executive Estate of the polity comes out as being averse to the genuine reform oriented agendas.

Reforms in the electoral process should rank next in this quest. In this area four issues stand out: legitimacy of the representatives elected (a majority get elected without receiving 50% or with less votes cast, some as low as 10%); use of muscle, mafia and money power for winning; absence of laws to govern the conduct including financial and internal management of political parties; and criminalization of politics (or politicisation of criminals). A fifth issue can be electorates rights to recall a non-performing representative or holding of a national referendum on a specific question.

The way police reforms have been dealt with, despite binding orders of the Supreme Court, provide an inkling into how the mind of the Executive works. Police comes in handy as the most basic tool to control polity and governance. The Executive seems prepared for contempt notices from the Supreme Court for non implementation of its orders rather than give some autonomy to police administrations which is the need of the hour to improve the quality and efficiency of the much derided police.

Reforms not so much yet in the public mind but never the less of major import are those relating to intelligence. This domain is conspicuous for having no enactments to govern its existence, structures and working. Its operations are not covered by any law of the land, unlike many democracies of the world which provide a legislative backing to the intelligence services. The Indian system is just a legacy of the colonial ethos of the Raj and has to day become completely anachronistic.

The best intelligence systems of the world are based on the principle that intelligence is a game changer. It is not only the first line of defence but can be the first line of offence as well. Literature freely available in the West provides many intimate glimpses of how this strategy works. The Soviet Union disintegrated without a shot being fired by their deadly adversaries, thanks to the long campaign of diverse intelligence operations against them. The fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan was secured, not by sending military boots there, but by just 3000 or so personnel from the CIA and special operations group, with technical and air power support. Osama bi Ladens neutralization is yet another example of brilliant performance by the Western Agencies. Lessons from these exploits have caused revolutionary paradigm shifts in the thinking of policy makers in the U.S. about how the fullest potential of the intelligence can be drawn out. The current thinking there seems to be to weave intelligence and military seamlessly together but each working in its own defined spheres. T o make coordination effective the erstwhile CIA director, Leon Panetta, has been made the new Secretary of Defence and his place in the CIA is being taken over by Gen David Petraeus, who was commanding the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Such coordination is out of reach for the Indian operators where simple coordination among intelligence and investigative wings to fight terror has remained so far unattainable. The core of the problem lies elsewhere, a mindset, sheltered by the governing classes, which refuses to move away from the shackles of stereotypes.

The minimum that is required to set up intelligence on a proper footing is to give it a legal base through a law enacted by the Parliament. Intelligence organisations of many democracies have such backing. The law usually spells out the charter, establishes oversight and ensures total internal autonomy. The charter defines the objectives and areas of operations, in keeping with the national imperatives, the details of which will be chalked out by the Executive. Oversight is intended to ensure that functioning remains consistent with the charter set and no straying occurs from the broad objectives. It will not, however, bestow any authority to oversee operational planning and activities. Autonomy will ensure absence of any interference from any quarter in regard to all operational methods, internal administration and financial control, the last named, however, subject to limits of the budget sanctions. This is the only way an intelligence organisation can discharge its functions effectively. Non conventional methodologies are intrinsic to good intelligence output and they need to be kept out of bounds for the non professionals.

A debate has commenced in the concerned quarters on the need for intelligence reforms. Some think tanks have also taken a leading part in the discourse. A Congress MP has moved a private bill on the subject in the Lok Sabha. What will be its fate remains a moot question but it can be surmised that it is bound to encounter heavy obstacles, given the general attitude of ruling party politicians to issues of reforms. A private members bill does not come with after burner boosters but, in this case, sponsored by a leading member of the ruling party, may get a chance to get tabled in the next i.e. winter session of the Parliament. Intelligence organisations continue to be regarded as the private dispensations of the ruling power and, therefore, there is an organic reluctance to shed control. The bureaucracy, to maintain its overall supremacy at its level, finds common cause to let things remain as they are. The intelligence organisations have themselves become a kind of placid bureaucracy averse to change and innovation. Catalytic agents are, thus, absent. The current state of discourse is highly anemic and those who genuinely understand the short comings of the system remain full of despair about its eventual fate.

Nations give their security the highest consideration and priority because of the simple fact that they risk disintegration if their security evaporates. Standing today at cross roads the national leadership needs to figure out how best to preserve such security. Some astute observers fear that the country is heading towards a brink. They no doubt see some similarity with what happened at the Tahrir Square in Cairo. An obligation lies on the national leadership to change course to break this drift towards disaster.

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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