Leadership: It Can't Happen Here

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January8, 2007: The leadership of the Indian army started off the new year with a crises of civil-military relations. It's all about Indian soldiers storming a police station to free two army officers who had been arrested on New Years Eve for molesting a woman at a party. This took place in Calcutta, a city in eastern India. After the two army officers (a major and a captain) had been imprisoned, word got back to their commander. Thus on New Years day, a lieutenant colonel, another officer and twenty troops of the 3rd Madras Regiment went into the police station holding the two arrested officers, trashed the place, roughed up the police and freed their two comrades. Before the day was over, the prime minister was asking the head of the army what was going on.

There are laws in India covering how one handles criminal acts by soldiers. In some cases (murder and rape), the police and the courts handle it all. But for lesser offenses, the accused are turned over to military authorities for investigation and, if warranted, prosecution. However, there's no law or regulation that allows soldiers to use force to free soldiers from police custody.

The Indian army is one of the largest in the world, with 1.1 million troops, 35 combat divisions and 15 independent brigades. It's traditions and customs are heavily influenced by two centuries of British colonial occupation. The Indian military has never been involved with any coup activity, and has generally remained subordinate to civilian control. So the incident in Calcutta came as a bit of a shock to most Indians. While in many countries, it's not unusual to see army units forcibly asserting their independence from any police control, that is not supposed to be the case in India.

At the moment, both the army and police are trying to investigate the incident, and each other. The army would like to be able to blame the police for causing the trouble, but there's no getting away from the fact that 22 soldiers illegally invaded a police station, and left with two officers who had been imprisoned there.

 


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