By all accounts, the first home minister of independent India was not a man given to sentiment. While the more prominent stalwarts of our freedom movement gave colour and texture to the idea of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel spun its heft and weave. The concept of all-India services was one such essential element of the fabric of independent India. So, it is ironic that during the term of a government that swears by the vision of Sardar Patel for a strong and united India, the country is being nudged by a combination of trends into consigning the Indian Police Service to the dustbin of history.
In the constitutional scheme of things, the all-India services were the glue between the Centre and the states. Incidentally, the Constitution makes no distinction among the all-India services. That “caste” system is a later creation. But the key thing was that our framers realised that, left to themselves, the different executive organisations within the Central government and state governments would develop a narrow view of their self-interest. Over the years, the IAS and the Indian Forest Service have adapted and evolved with the changing times quite successfully. The IPS on the other hand, faces nothing short of an existential crisis. In part, it is a victim and in part, it is a perpetrator of this crisis. As the leadership of all Central and state police organisations, it faces the brunt of public ire at the police.
The harsh reality is that, in most states, direct IPS recruits are frequently seen as an irritant by the ruling parties. As the cadre system is designed, two-thirds of direct IPS entrants to a state each year are outsiders. Increasingly, state governments prefer to post local officers, promoted to the IPS from state police, to sensitive positions. Caste and regional considerations have also become an important factor in the posting of IPS officers in states. In the Central government too, as the paramilitary forces created and nurtured by legendary IPS officers have grown in number, their cadre officers have become increasingly resentful of IPS officers coming on deputation.
Gradually, opportunities for the IPS at the Centre have been squeezed to a fraction of their earlier strength. In the Central Staffing Scheme that provides the pool of officers for senior posts in the Central government, the generalist IAS holds nearly 90 per cent of the posts of joint secretary and above. Even in posts requiring domain expertise, such as chief vigilance officers, and investigative agencies looking at big-ticket corruption, like the Serious Fraud Investigation Office and the Enforcement Directorate, the IPS representation is negligible. These are all posts and organisations where one would assume the presence of officers with policing experience would be an essential requirement for smooth functioning. No surprise then that the rhetoric of anti-corruption adopted by successive governments does not translate into credible results.
This change in the constitutional scheme of things has not come about as a result of deliberation and debate, but has been the fallout of different trends in governance. The national needs that led Sardar Patel to press for the creation of the IPS have not gone away. India faces the new challenges of Maoism, terrorism and organised crime, along with the traditional challenges of communal riots and caste tensions, which require an internal security system that is seamless and coherent. With police being a state subject, and a non-Plan item of expenditure at that — and with internal security being the Centre’s domain — both the states and the Centre have no real incentive to coherently and proactively adhere to Patel’s vision. Unfortunately, policing is not about flagship projects and multi-billion-dollar deals. It is largely to do with repetitive, unglamorous activities that form the foundation of good governance. It is about attention to details. It is about investing in people and processes. Sadly, these interventions may not make for dramatic headlines, as tales of police brutality and corruption do.
In their wisdom, perhaps the powers that be have already decided that the IPS may not be the answer to India’s internal security needs. But while the needs of state police agencies and Central police organisations may be different and unique, ultimately, they must serve the common goal of securing India. If the IPS is seen as a vestigial instrument in ensuring that these agencies act with some sense of harmony and common purpose, by all means abolish it. But what is the alternative? The questions aimed at India’s unity and security that led Sardar Patel to press for its creation in 1947 are as acute and urgent as ever.
The writer is a serving IPS officer. Views are personal