Role Of Army
Our enquires made at various quarters ranging from the affected localities to army sources led us to two questions. First, why was there a delay in calling out the troops? Second, even when the army was called in, why were they not effective in imposing a curfew and curbing the violence?
The autorities at the top, including the four Ministers and senior officials of the Delhi Adminstration were repeatedly informed about the exact situation in the city and its outskirts from the evening of October 31st. prominent citizens, VIP’s and members of the Opposition parties and people from affected localities both phoned and personally went and informed these authorities. Yet during seven valuable hours, between the time of the assassination and the time of the news of the death was made public, no security measures were taken.
As a senior government servant put it there are standing instructions on dealing with such situations. The SP and DC’s have powers under the Criminal Procedure Code (Section 130-131) to call in the armed forceds in aid to civil power. Further, the para-military troops, including the Delhi Armed Force CRPF are always available for such a situation. According to our information one brigade was available at Delhi which could have been requistioned immediately.
WHO CAN CALL IN THE ARMY?
Section 130. Use of armed forces to disperse assembly.
(1) If any such assembly cannot be otherwise dispersed, and if it is necessary for the public security that it should be dispersed, the Executive Magistrate of the highest rank who is present may cause it to be dispersed by the armed forces.
(2) Such Magistrate may require any officer in command of any group of
persons belonging to the armed forces to disperse the assembly with the help of the armed forces under his command, and to arrest and confine such persons forming part of it as the Magistrate may direct, or as it may be necessary to arrest and confine in order to disperse the assembly or to have them punished according to law.
(3) Every such officer of the armed forces shall obey such requisition in such manner as he thinks fit, but in so doing he shall use as little force, and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with dispersing the assembly and arresting and detaining such persons.
Section 131. Power of certain armed forces officers to disperse assembly. When the public security is manifestly endangered by any such assembly and no Executive Magistrate can be communicated with, any commissioned or gazetted officer of the armed forces under his command, and many arrest and confine any person forming part of it, in order to disperse such assembly or that they may be punished according to law; but if, while he is acting under this section, it becomes practicable for him to communicate with an Executive Magistrate, he shall do so, and shall thenceforward obey the instructions of the Magistrate, as to whether he shall or shall not continue such action.
–The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
The troops were alerted on the afternoon of the 31st. This means that within a few hours brigades from Meerut and Agra could have arrived at Delhi by the night of the 31st. As senior army officers put it, it is not the numerical strength of troops that is the crucial factor for imposing curfew. The crucial factor is clarity of intent and firm and clear instructions.
Despite announcements in the papers, AIR and Doordarshan about shoot at sight orders and imposition of curfew the troops were left without specific information from the police on the exact locations of the riots. No joint control from was set up.
In contrast, only a few days later, the authorities did not find any difficulty in moving a full brigade of the Indian Army consisting of 3000 men and another 1000 personnel from the Navy and the Air Force to line up the route if Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral. The procedure to call in troops is simple. The Lt. Governor has to inform the Home Minister (Mr. Narasimha Rao) of the law and order situation and the later informs the Defence Minister (the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was holding this portfolio) who gets in touch with the Army to call in the troops.
An essential ingredient for successful joint army – civilian administration operation is the setting up of a joint control room. During 1947 riots, when Lord Mountbatten was requested by Jawaharlal Nehru to control the communal situation, the former set up a joint control room at Rashtrapati Bhavan in order to coordinate the efforts of the civil administration and the armed forces. This precedent was quoted to Narasimha Rao – by an elderly resident of Delhi, who is well-versed in army operations.
Yet from October 31 to November 4 (the peak period of the riots which according to old timers were reminiscent of the 1947 riots in Delhi) no effort was made to set up a joint control room. The Commissioner of Police was operating from his office at ITO Police headquarters. The Army area commander was at the Dhaula Kuan cantonment, and the Lt. Governor was at Raj Nivas. As a result, even after the deployment of troops, army people constantly complained about lack of information and cooperation from the police regarding the areas of tension. Even with the imposition of curfew, there were no authorities to implement it. An army major complained to a Delhi news reporter on November 4 that his men were not only getting no cooperation from the Shakarpur police station, but were often being deliberately misled by the police. The same reporter during a tour of the city of November 2, came across army personnel ranging from JCOs to majors, roaming around pathetically, after having lost touch either with headquarters or with their formations.
Army officers complained that they were not provided with scouts by the police to lead them to the trouble spots. In one instance a major who was asking for directions was carrying a map dated 1974, where the resettlement colonies (where the violence reached its peak during the period under survey) did not figure.
One army source told our team members that the deployment of troops followed a strange pattern. They were deployed by the civil authorities in stages, and in almost every case they were deployed after houses in the trouble spots had been burnt to cinders and the massacre was over. This explains the limited number of army figures (12) and casualities from army firings (2 deaths and 4 injured) during the entire period. (re: Major Gen. J.S. Jamwal’s statement of November 7, Indian Express November 8) The deployment reached full strength only after the 3,000 troops and vehicles reserved for the funeral were made available to curb the violence.
The entire nature of using the army as revealed from the above sequence of events compels us to suspect whether or not a deliberate design to keep the army ineffective even after it was called in – and that too following a long interval during which the arson, looting and massacre were allowed to continue sometimes with the direct connivance of the local police Force.
Whatever might have been the motive for such a curious manner of utilising the army and whoever might have been responsible for reducing it to an important observer, the effects of such a policy have been quite disastrous for the morale of the army. Every army person we talked to expressed angu over the way that the army’s authority was being undermined. The 6th report of the National Police Commission has stated: “We note with concern the growing tendency on the part of the district authorities to seek instructions from higher quarters where none are necessary.” It appears that the civilian administrators in Delhi although armed adequately with powers under the law to use the army to supress disturbances, did not care to use those powers. The omission stands out in sharp contrast with their use of the army in coping with Hindu-Muslim riots or insurgency in the north-east.
The question that needs to be probed into is: why did the civil administration betray a set pattern of acts of omission, marked by a consistent failure to take steps against erring policemen and a stubborn refusal to deploy the army properly? Further an analysis of the role of the army during the period under survey leaves us with a few questions that need to be answered by the people in positions of authority. According to the procedure laid down under the law, the Lt. Governor can request the Home Minister who in turn can ask the Defence Minister for army deployment. On October 31, the new cabinet had already been sworn in with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself in charge of Defence and Narasimha Rao, as the Home Minister. We want to know whether, with the growing deterioration in the law and order situation in Delhi, when by November 1 the local police machinery had proved its failure to control the situation – either through negligence or connivance with the rioters – the Lt. Governor requested the Home Ministry for army aid. Even if he did not was it not his responsibility to deploy the army as soon as he realised that the police bad failed (which was quite evident by November 1)? By removing a few civilian administrators (like Mr. Gavai) or police officers (like the Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr. Subhash Tandon) how can the government at the centre absolve itself if the blame of neglecting its obligations to the citizens and its responsibility to maintain law and order – and this, inspite of several warnings to the effect that a Hindu-Sikh riot bound to take place?
The experience of our team members gives rise to the suspicion that both the administration and the Cabinet might have abdicated their responsibility and that extra-administrative forces were steering the deployment and operation of troops. On November 3, a group of concerned citizens visited Trilokpuri where they were requested by panic-stricken survivors of a widespread holocaust (described later) to intervene on their behalf and seek army protection. They tried to get in touch with various people both in the administration and the Cabinet to convey to them the request of the Trilokpuri victims. No one was available, either in their offices or homes.
Hoping that Opposition MPs might have a better access to the authorises the group approached Mr. Biju Patnaik, Mr. George Fernandes, Mr. Chandra Shekhar and Mr. Madhu Dandavate among others – all of whom told them that their repeated attempts to contact Ministers and officials have yielded no results. In a final desperate move accompanied by Mr. Dandavate, they went to 1, safdarjung Road, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and managed to meet a Congress (I) MP – Mr. Arun Nehru. When the group conveyed to him the request of the Trilokpuri residents, he said that he would sent a “wireless message” for army deployment. Only after this, were troops sent to Trilokpuri – but that also again merely for patrolling.