Thursday, January 17, 2008

Subhas Chandra Bose in Bihar

(Published in HISTORY, Journal of the University of Burdwan, Vol IV, No. 1, 2001)

Subhas Chandra Bose was born and schooled at Cuttack in Orissa. His family had close ties with Bengal but hardly any with Bihar. Bose became known in Bihar only after he spurned the heaven-born Indian Civil Service in 1921, at the age of 24, to join the freedom movement. He was still in his twenties when he started visiting Bihar both as a labour leader and as a Congress worker, often as a protégé of Deshbandhu Chitranjan Das. Bose threw in his lot with Das when, following the annual Congress session at Gaya towards the end of 1922, the latter resigned from the Congress and formed the Swaraj Party—to fight for freedom from within the legislatures. The year 1928 proved annus mirabilis for Bose. Industrial unrest was sweeping across the country. The strike in the Tata Iron and Steel Company had dragged on for months and was on the verge of fizzling out. When the veteran C.F.Andrews had also failed to break the deadlock, Bose was sent for. Bose came, bargained and secured an honourable settlement with the management.. This endeared him to the workers at Jamshedpur and also set the stage for his election as the President of the All-India Trade Union Congress, then the labour front of the Congress. The following year he helped resolve the strike in the Tin Plate Company at Jamshedpur. A decade later he was to tour Bihar extensively under circumstances that were far from happy for him. But let us not anticipate.

Bose always thought himself to be a loyal soldier of the Congress but within the organization he was considered a bull in a china shop. For his Leftist, read Socialist, views he had found a soul mate in Jawaharlal Nehru and at the Calcutta Congress session in 1928 they had together challenged the Motilal Nehru Committee report recommending Dominion Status for India. Bose admired Mahatma Gandhi for giving a definite direction to the Indian freedom movement from 1920 to 1932 but criticised him for the temporary suspension of civil disobedience in 1933. Bose resented the soft and constitutional approach adopted by the Congress Party thereafter. He was deeply hurt when the Congress accepted office. His peers called him a rebel and a radical but Bose was not the one to keep quiet or mince his words. Gandhi thought that responsibility might mellow Bose. With the former’s blessings Bose succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru as the President of the Indian National Congress, at the age of 41. Bose returned the compliments by paying glowing tributes to Gandhi in his presidential address at the Haripura(Gujarat) session in 1938. While the two shared the common goal of independence, they were not in sync regarding the means. Gandhi was prepared to wait and considered it immoral to press for freedom when Britain was on the brink of a war in Europe. Bose, on the other hand, believed in the doctrine popularised by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the twenties that Britain’s difficulty was India’s opportunity. Ironically, Gandhi had to give the ‘Quit India’ call in 1942 while Britain was still at war.

Gandhi, hoping that Bose would not be running for a second term, proposed Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya for the post. Bose not only contested but also won. Gandhi took his candidate’s defeat rather personally and did not forgive Bose. Bose tried hard to soften Gandhi but failed. For Bose the ensuing Congress session at Tripuri (Madhya Pradesh) in March 1939 was a disaster. He was ill and his brother Sarat Chandra read his speech, in absentia. “ In my opinion we should submit our national demand to the British government and give a certain time limit within which a reply is to be received. If no reply is received within this period or if an unsatisfactory reply is received, we should resort to such sanctions as we possess in order to enforce our national demand…What more opportune moment could we find in our national history for a final advance in the direction of Swaraj, particularly when the international situation is favourable to us? Speaking as a cold-blooded realist, I may say that all the facts of the present-day situation are so much to our advantage that one should entertain the highest degree of optimism”. This was to become the leit motif of his speeches during his tour of Bihar a few months later. This suggestion of an ultimatum was brushed aside by the Working Committee in a resolution, which expressed confidence in Gandhi and by implication conveyed lack of confidence in Bose. An ailing Bose sojourned to his brother’s house at Jamadoba in the Jharia Coalfields to recoup his physical health and mental equanimity. The retreat afforded him further opportunity to observe the condition of the Colliery workers. Only days later a composed Bose announced his resignation from the presidentship of the Congress at the meeting of the All India Congress Committee in Calcutta on 29 April 1939. He had realised that Gandhi was Congress and Congress was Gandhi and that he could do nothing within the Congress without having Gandhi on his side. Though humiliated, Bose’s love and respect for Gandhi remained undiminished. It was Bose who first referred to Gandhi as “ the Father of our Nation “ in one of his broadcasts from Southeast Asia.

Bose was down but not out. With his typical sang-froid, within four days of his resignation he formed another party, which he called Forward Bloc, not as a rival of the Congress but to work ‘within the Congress.’ Bose had the tasks for the Bloc well defined: consolidating the Leftist forces, winning over the majority of the Congress to its viewpoint and prevail upon the congress (read Gandhi) to resume the national struggle. The aim of the Bloc was the establishment of a socialist state within a fully independent India ( Purna Swarajya ). The first all-India conference of the Bloc on 22 June 1939 was followed by the formation of a Left Consolidation Committee. Gandhi was cut to the quick and summary action against Bose followed. He was debarred from holding any office in the Congress organization for three years effective from August. It was virtual expulsion. Far from feeling defensive Bose hit back by launching a weekly journal. A war of words ensued between the Forward Bloc and the Harijan.
Simultaneously Bose launched a mass contact programme to explain the raison d’etre of the Forward Bloc as well as to propagate his views on the national and international situation. And he chose Bihar to start his campaign. He had remained in touch with Bihar as the Congress President and from even before. By now the Kisan Sabha had taken firm root in Bihar. Kisan leaders such as Jai Prakash Narayan and Swami Sahjanand had hailed Bose’s election as the Congress President. Earlier, in February that year Bose had presided over a radical-dominated Political Conference at Chauram Ashram in Gaya district. What follows is neither a chronological nor an exhaustive account of his tours in Bihar; it is only a random sample. Bose was a man in a hurry and his Bihar tours at times resembled an election campaign. His hectic daily schedule started early in the morning and stretched late into the night. Moving from place to place he addressed pre-arranged meetings and also spoke impromptu to the people who thronged by the wayside for his darshan. It must have been tiring but the grand welcome he received made it worthwhile. Welcome arches were erected along the route, which was decorated with flowers, flags and festoons. While Bose’s own political and personal contacts also came handy the logistics of his itinerary were mostly taken care of by Swami Sahjanand and others of the Kisan Sabha. The firebrand Sheelbhadra Yajee was present at most of his meetings but Jai Prakash Narayan and Rambriksha Benipuri also shared the dais off and on. Bose spoke in Hindustani and occasionally, in Bengali –speaking pockets, in Bengali. A master of polemics Bose utilised all the dialectical weapons—attack, repartee, thrust and parry, irony and satire. He was quick to expose the chink in the opponent’s armour and drive his own point home. The government’s approach was one of restraint and caution. Realising that Bose ploughed a lone furrough and that he was quite harmless without the Congress, the government had his movements and speeches covered by the local police and the CID (Special Branch) without in any manner provoking him. Even when the district police and the DIG CID suggested the prosecution of Bose and Sheelbhadra Yajee under the Defence of India Act the government chose to ignore it. Bose’s speeches reported by the CID were routinely put up before Dr. S.K.Sinha as the Prime Minister and later before the Governor or his Advisor who found the speeches stereotyped.
Bose addressed a public meeting, about 10000 strong, at the Tilak Maidan, Muzaffarpur (the largest town in North Bihar) in the evening of August 26, 1939. Some Muslims were also present though their number was small. The meeting, which lasted for about seventy minutes, started with a national song in Bengali language sung in a chorus. Bose was presented with three addresses from the local Kisan Sabha, Majdoor Dal and Navyuvak Dal but these were not read. Charging the British with double standards Bose questioned why their Prime Minister had declared to fight for the freedom of Poland and other countries but denied that freedom to India. If old enemies like Russia and Germany could enter into a Non-Aggression Pact, Bose countered, then the Rightists and Leftists in the Congress could easily come together on a common platform. The situation for India and the Congress was substantially improved in 1939 compared to what it was in 1921 and 1925. There was heightened awareness in favour of freedom; the number of Congressmen had gone up from ten lakhs to fortyfive lakhs;Kisans and Majdoors had organized themselves and joined the freedom movement. In 1921 the people of the Native States had not joined the rest of the country in boycotting the visit of the Prince of Wales but now there was a change of mood there also. Moreover, the Congress was in power in eight states and could sabotage or stalemate the government from within. He was critical of the Congress for having accepted office and thereby supporting the Constitution rather than flouting it. He was prepared to follow any Congress leader, especially Gandhi or Rajendra Prasad, if he led a satyagraha , which might lead to Purna Swaraj. But what was the meaning of Swaraj? It did not mean replacing the white bureaucracy with a brown one. The power to govern should pass from the ‘selected’ few to the ‘elected’ few, to the MLAs and Ministers. The question of bread and freedom were not two different things; political independence and economic freedom were concomitants. In his presidential speech Kishori Prasanna Sinha condemned the Statesman for publishing that not supporting British war effort was tantamount to inviting Germany and Japan to overrun India.
The following day he arrived at Danapur (10 KMs from Patna) by train from where he was taken in a procession to Kachhi Talab, Khagaul where about 3000 persons, including some 25 Muslims, had congregated to hear him. As he mounted the podium there was a low-key black flag demonstration. B. Padamlalji was in the chair. Dr. Saghir Ahsan, Chairman, Reception Committee, read out the welcome address in English. Bose spoke in Hindustani and followed his usual line. Britain’s signing the Munich Pact against her better judgment had exposed her weakness vis-à-vis Germany, Italy and Japan, which were superior in air power. Outlining the genesis of the Forward Bloc he explained how it had come into being when the Congress, rather than following a ‘forward’ programme, had started drifting towards constitutional methods. Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad were all right with the Leftists and Socialists provided they could shake off the slackness, which had crept into the Congress, and gave a clarion call for satyagraha. Swami Sahjanand also spoke in the meeting and said similar things. The Subdivisional Officer of Danapur was present throughout and himself signed the CID reporter’s shorthand book. After the meeting Bose left for the house of Jimut Bahan Sen, a former Congress Minister, where he was to have his lunch.
In late afternoon Bose drove to Patna City where he was given a rousing reception .The area between the hackney stand, Chowk and Mangle’s Tank, the venue of the meeting, was decked up in his welcome. A large gathering at the meeting site, estimated at about 20000, included Sikhs, Muslims and Bengalis. Swami Sahjanand took the chair and Rambriksha Benipuri made the welcome speech. Nine addresses were on offer but only the Bengali Yuvak Sangh was allowed to present its in a silver casket. Bose more or less repeated his earlier speech at Khagaul to the effect that the Leftists, including himself, were all loyal soldiers of the Congress and would join a mass movement if the Congress launched one. From Patna City Bose proceeded to Patna Lawn (now known as Gandhi Maidan) where rowdyism made the meeting impossible. Some students, irked at Bose’s public criticism of Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, showed black flags and raised slogans of “ Subhas go back ”. Bose left the place in a huff. He was running late but an undeterred crowd of about 5000, including women, waited patiently till he arrived at the venue, the Danapur Cinema compound, at 2030 hours. Some black flags were waved but the SDO Danapur, who was present at the meeting, controlled the situation. After Gandhi’s condemnation of crowd behaviour and Rajendra Prasad’s admonition there were no further disturbances at Bose’s meetings in Bihar.
Driving from Patna in the morning of August 28 Bose was given a grand ovation two miles short of Ara town. He was made to leave his car and mount an elephant. Negotiating several welcome arches the procession reached the compound of the Ara Nagari Pracharini Sabha where Bose spoke to a gathering of about 4000. Swami Sahjanand presided. Four addresses were presented on behalf of the youth, students, Kisan Sabha and Majdoor Sabha. There was no variation in the theme though emphasis changed according to the composition of the audience. The Leftists were only the revolutionary arm of the Congress, Bose asserted. He exhorted the people of Ara to join the Forward Bloc in large numbers to compel the congress to launch a satyagraha without further delay. At the end a resolution was passed to the effect that the people of Ara had full faith in Bose. On his return journey Bose received warm welcome at Bikram (5000) and Bihta (6000) where he dwelt on how the interests of the Kisans were being harmed by the landlords and the government acting in collusion. He attacked the Zamindari system and criticised the British for introducing it. He appealed to the Kisans to organize themselves and also strengthen the Congress by enrolling in large numbers, preferably before the 15th September 1939, the last date for enrolment. Das & Company (still in business at Patna) supplied the loud speakers at Ara and Bikram. Leaving Bihta at 1645 hours Bose and party reached Bakhtiarpur at 2005 hours, behind schedule, as he was stopped and garlanded at several places including Fatuha Bazar. Shyam Nandan Singh MLA was in the chair. After speaking to a gathering of about 2000 Bose proceeded to Barh where about 500 persons heard Bose despite rain and late hours (2145 to 2225 hours). Sheelbhadra Yajee proposed a vote of thanks.
On the 29th August Bose’s entourage arrived at Patna Lawn (now Gandhi Maidan) at 1700 hours. Almost 20000 persons including ladies, mostly Bengali, had been waitngThe dais was tastefully decorated and both the tricolur and red flags were conspicuously displayed. Before the commencement of the proceedings Rambriksha Benipuri and Comrade Anisur Rehman exhorted the audience to shout anti-imperialist slogans and it obliged. Jai Prakash Narayan presided. Benipuri made the welcome speech. Bose spoke for over an hour along familiar lines. Referring to the hooliganism at his aborted meeting two days earlier he called it a shame for Bihar and Patna and lambasted the Indian Nation, one of the two local English dailies, for having played it up. He cautioned against the Divide and Rule policy of the British, which they practised not only between the Hindus and Muslims but also between the Rightists and Leftists within the Congress. Taking a dig at the presence of constables in the meeting he remarked that they had been deputed ostensibly to protect him and Yajee. It was a pity that the Congressmen could not protect their own leaders and depended on policemen to do so. This time no attempt was made to disturb the meeting and the audience, defying heavy shower, patiently heard him.
After the Second World War had broken out there was little change in the content of his speeches but his tone and tenor betrayed greater impatience and stridency. Driving from Jamshedpur to Chaibasa in the afternoon of 4th December 1939 he addressed a 200-strong crowd at Haldipokhar in Bengali. About a thousand people were waiting for him at the Gandhi Park, Chaibasa where memoranda were presented to him in Hindi and in Bengali. Bose first spoke in Hindustani and towards the end in Bengali too. In the evening Bose addressed a predominantly Adivasi gathering (5000). The meeting began with slogans of ‘Adivasi ki Jai’. In the midst of his usual speech he made a general appeal to join the Congress in ‘ lakhs and crores’ to give it the desired direction and thrust. The meeting became important for what Jaipal Singh, the most important Adivasi leader to date, said in his presidential speech. Singh said that the Forward Bloc had oppressed the Adivasis just as the Congress had ignored them. He demanded that the Adivasis could join the Congress only if the Chhotanagpur and the Santhal Parganas was recognised as a separate area for the Adivasis. Incidentally, following a fiery speech by Yajee at a meeting of the District Forward Bloc at Jamshedpur on the 12th December, the government directed the DIG CID that Yajee’s speeches should also be reported in full occasionally.
Bose and Yajee were present at Khunti in Ranchi district on the 17th December. Here the gathering was small but Bose spoke at length. He said he was happy to have come to Ranchi after a lapse of twentyfive years. He felt sad that the Adivasis had to migrate in search of bread as they were deprived at home. Striking a sentimental note he referred to the harsh treatment they received in the Assam tea gardens. All this would end once the British left. It did not matter whether Britain won or lost but the war was bound to sound the death-knell of imperialism. If Britain lost British imperialism would end and if Germany lost Germany’s neo-imperialism (Hitlerism) would end; either way these imperialist powers would be weakened, to India’s advantage. Kisans and Majdoors were only waiting to be led. This was, therefore, the right time to hit at the British government.
On the 24th December Bose addressed meetings at Warisnagar (3000) and Samastipur (1000), both in Darbhanga district. On the 25th December he toured Munger district and addressed gatherings at Lakhisarai (5000), Jamalpur (3000) and Munger Town (3000). People had also collected, to see him and to hear him, at Mokamaghat, Barhaiya, Kajra, Abhaypur and Dharhara where his train stopped. The speeches were repetitive in content and their gist only is being given. The British not only ruled India but also exploited her; thus British imperialism was responsible for both her slavery and poverty. Now was the time, when Britain was engaged in war with Germany, to press for swaraj through a non-violent satyagraha to be to be launched in the near future, implying that if the Congress lagged behind then the Forward Bloc was ready to spearhead it. Britain championed democracy in Poland and elsewhere but denied it to India on the facetious plea that because of the friction between the Hindus and the Muslims India was not fit for independence. The British argued that if they went away the Muslims and Hindus would finish one another. Bose dismissed this logic as puerile. Bose retorted that let the British first leave and then the two communities would sort out their differences as they had done for centuries. Pooh-poohing the bogey of foreign invasion on India created by the British, Bose demanded to know how could the British protect India when their own country was threatened? As for the politics within the Congress he was satisfied after his talks with Gandhi that the Congress was not going to fight the British and that in Gandhi’s opinion the Leftists and the Rightists could not work together. That is why he (Bose) had resigned from the presidentship of the Congress and had formed the Forward Bloc – to force the Congress to take up the fight against the British or else the Bloc would do it if the Congress opted out.
It was January 1940 and Bose was once again back in Patna. It was a winter afternoon and the venue was once again Mangle’s Tank in Patna City. Bose exhorted all those present to celebrate the 26th of January as Independence Day with great gusto even though the Forward Bloc had not withdrawn its opposition to the new Independence Pledge. Benipuri, who presided, outlined the details of the weeklong programme culminating in the flag hoisting on the 26th morning at the same venue. Swami Sahjanand also spoke on the occasion. An hour later Bose was at the Patna Lawn (also known then as Bankipur Maidan and now Gandhi Maidan). Sticking to the stereotyped text he added that the news about the war was very confusing. As all the news came from government-controlled radio bulletins and Reuters, a foreign news agency, the reporting was censored and one-sided. While the British success stories were played up the advances made by Russia and Germany were blacked out. He cautioned not to be taken in by the wartime propaganda and concentrate on making the Independence Day a success. He could not go to Gaya owing to section 144 promulgated there. By the way, the highlight of the 26th January was the speech at Barh in Patna District by Yajee. The government agreed with the Superintendent of Police of Patna that the speech was “ a clear incitement to prevent recruiting or any contribution to the war” but overruled his suggestion to prosecute Yajee under the Defence of India Act.
At Bhagalpur in the evening of 2nd February Bose spoke to a gathering of about 9000, including 60 Bengali ladies. In not-so-veiled attack on Gandhi he ridiculed the wearing of khadi and spinning of charkha, which had become the mascot of India’s freedom movement. Slogans of Inquilqb Zindabad and Subhas Babu ki jai rented the air. While Sheodhari Singh MLA presided, Santlal Singh (later a teacher of Political Science in Patna University) also spoke. Bose was again the main speaker at a largely attended Munger District Students’ Conference held at Begusarai on the 3rd February. Rahul Sankirtyayan was in the chair. At Begusarai Bose enjoyed the hospitality of Satish Chandra Bose (uncle of the eminent eye surgeon of Patna Dr. D.K.Bose), a leading lawyer and active as the Chairman of the Munger District Board though confined to a wheel chair. On the 8th February Bose reached the Jahanabad Thakurbari at 1700 hours, five hours behind schedule. He got up to speak amidst shouts of Subhas Babuki jai and thanked the audience for the grand reception they had given him. He was delighted at the large gathering and apologised for the delay in his arrival. He congratulated the students for having observed a strike on the 26th January and urged them to keep up the pressure. He regretted that Gandhi was spending so much time with the Viceroy and the Congress was veering more and more towards compromise. That was going back on the pledge of complete independence they had taken in at Lahore in 1929 and repeated every year on the 26th January. It would be a shame if the Congress in Bihar again joined the government as was being rumoured. He appealed to the Kisans to attend the Congress session at Ramgarh (Hazaribag district) the following month in lakhs and frustrate any move at compromise with imperialism. Swami Sahajanand elaborated the plans for Ramgarh and told the Kisans how to make their presence felt. A big mashal julus would be taken out there with slogans such as samjhauta murdabad, angreji saltanat murdabad to voice their fight against imperialism, capitalism and zamindari. They must blockade the Congress session by their parallel anti-compromise meeting. At the end Bhairo Singh, who presided, thanked Bose on behalf of the public of Jahanabad.
Bose’s proposed tour of the Jharia coalfields on February 11 and 12 had frightened the colliery owners. The Indian Mining Association, headquartered in Calcutta, apprehending “serious labour disturbances” and “organised sabotage” petitioned the Governor of Bihar to prohibit the entry of Bose into the coalfields. Even the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Dhanbad, swayed by the entreaties of the colliery owners, wanted to prohibit Bose’s entry by a general order. The government wrote back to the IMA declining their request and also dissuaded the Addl. DC from issuing any prohibitory orders. As it turned out the government was proved right. Bose, accompanied by Swami Sahjanand, Sheelbhadra Yajee, Dhanraj Sharma and Shankar Lal, Secretary of the All-India Forward Bloc, reached Dhanbad from Giridih, four hours late, at 2000 hours on February 11. Mostly students and about 200 ladies attended the late evening meeting. The colliery workers attended his three meetings on the 12th. Bose’s political utterances were on known lines. Regarding labour, he endorsed the demand put forward by Satya Bimal Sen, the local labour leader, to demand more than six pice in the rupee, that is 10%, to which most of the owners had already agreed. Bose advised the workers to raise, in one voice and in writing; their demand for a rise in wages and to remain prepared to refer the question to arbitration. A resolution was passed calling upon the owners to concede all the demands within fourteen days. The Headmaster of the Jharia High School presiding over one of the meetings raised eyebrows in the government. The Political (Special) Department drew pointed attention of the Education Department. Bose’s speech at this meeting was sent to the Government of India with the Government of Bihar’s next fortnightly confidential report as a ‘typical’ speech from him.
While the heavy rain literally proved a damp squib for the Congress Session at Ramgarh in Hazaribag district (March 15 to 18, 1939) it did not deter the participants of the All-India Anti-Compromise Conference. Bose was the President and Swami Sahjanand together with Sheelbhadra Yajee was active in the Reception Committee. Hitting at the Rightists Bose observed” …The success of this Conference should mean the death knell of compromise with Imperialism…” In an obvious indictment of Gandhi and an ultimatum to the British Government the Conference resolved to start a country-wide satyagraha on April 6 against India’s forced participation in the war and to make a final bid for independence. Ironically, this also marked the breaking up of the short-lived Left Consolidation Committee. The government’s retaliation was prompt. The other leaders of the Forward Bloc were arrested but Bose was surprisingly left untouched. This also was the end of Bose’s direct ties with Bihar.

1. Political (Special) Department, Government of Bihar, file no.491 (1) of 1939
2. Political (Special ) Department, Government of Bihar, file no. 65 of 1940
3. A Beacon Across Asia, edited biography, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1973.
4. The Indian Struggle, 1920-42, Subhas Chandra Bose, Netaji Research Bureau, Calcutta, 1966
5. Freedom Movement in Bihar vol.2, K.K.Datta, Government of Bihar, Patna,1957.
6. Personal Interviews.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Jha IPS (Retd.),
Buddha Colony,
Patna - 800 001
Email :

(The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar)


‘Red alert’ is a term much abused by the media. It is not a term to be found in the lexicon of the government or the administration. Even the Blue Book governing the arrangements for the protection of the President and the Prime Minister does not use this expression. Even the Webster dictionary does not mention it. It is only the media which advertises this grim-sounding expression to sensationalize a situation. Following a terrorist attack in J&K, a Naxalite raid in Andhra Pradesh or a kidnapping in Bihar , the print as well as electronic media screams that the administration has declared a ‘red alert’. Red Alert isn't really an alert status as much as a sign that things have already gone wrong. History records many instances of deadly strategic surprises. Alert, red or otherwise, was sounded only after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1940, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and not before. Had the United States gone to Red Alert a few minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, the plane crash in Pennsylvania and, perhaps, the second World Trade Centre attack would probably have been averted.
In the Indian context, as a knee-jerk reaction police departments' plans typically include stationing a lot of personnel in visible locations and upping neighborhood patrols. After having pressed the panic button the media forgets all about it. Red alert conveys that something like an emergency has been declared but it forgets that Protective Measures for a Severe Condition are not intended to be sustained for substantial periods of time. Operating at a permanently high level of alert carries its own potentially damaging costs. But you never read or hear of a ‘red alert’ being withdrawn or rescinded.
An alert is the declaration of a threat perception and the colour red conveys danger at its severest. It is in this sense that we can trace ‘red alert’ to the period of the Cold War. Cold War refers to the rivalry that developed during the second half of the twentieth century between countries espousing different political ideologies. The Soviet Union and its satellite states, often referred to as the Eastern bloc, were on one side. The United States and its allies were on the other, and were usually referred to as the Western bloc. Beginning at the end of World War II in 1945, the Cold War lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. During the Cold War, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. built immense early warning systems to guard against surprise, full-scale nuclear attacks. Initially, the greater amount of information that these systems collected reduced vulnerability to surprise attacks. But as the systems became more sophisticated, each side faced a new dilemma. Various innocent activities could be interpreted by an overly sensitive system as the initial stages of an all out attack. So to reduce the risk of launching a false preemptive attack, the superpowers built alert systems that decreased the sensitivity of the system to incoming information. They color-coded the threat-assessment scheme. Above "Elevated Risk (coloured Orange)," where the country would likely remain at for the duration of the war, there was only one level: "Severe Risk" a.k.a. Red Alert.
A virtual genre of topical fiction sprang up in the 1950s spinning grim tales of just how close to nuclear destruction the world could be. Peter George’s 1958 novel Red Alert painted the worst of all possible worst-case scenarios in the Cold War – an American General loses his reason and orders full-scale nuclear attack on the USSR. It was originally published in the UK as “Two Hours to Doom” – with George using the nom de plume “Peter Bryant”. Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s later bestseller Fail Safe so closely resembled Red Alert in its premise that George sued on the charge of plagiarism and won an out-of-court settlement.
‘Red Alert’ has come alive once again for the US government following the September 11 attack. In its war on terrorism it has revived the colour coding of threat perception. A Red Alert would meanthere is a severe risk of terrorist attack or that an attack is imminent or may already be under way. A red alert would also tear away virtually all personal freedoms to move about and associate.All non-critical functions will cease; non-critical would be almost all businesses, except health-related. As the war on terrorism is likely to go on for along time, it will be interesting to observe how the US resolves the confrontation between security and freedom.
Nearer home, let the media not colour-code its own perception of a situation. It should confine its duty to convey to the public any do’s and don’ts that the administration may prescribe in a given situation. It must realise that there is a difference between alerting and alarming the public. If it cries wolf, read red alert, too often it will lose credibility and may not be taken seriously when the situation may warrant. In the mean time, if it must go on red-alerting let it do so to warn against mounting threat from Tsunami, global warming and endangered biodiversity.

(Sudhir Kumar Jha)

The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar. He can be contacted at


(Published in The Statesman dated 26 April, 2001 )
Community policing has emerged as a buzzword in police lexicon. Is there any substance to it or is it merely a fancy policing philosophy debated in elitist fora and practised in tokenism? With the concept of community living having undergone a transformation in modern times where is the ‘community’ to which ‘community policing’ can be applied? Experiments have nevertheless been going on, though it is not easy to assess their success as community policing means differently to different people. The ambiguity in its definition has tended to confuse any exercise in police-public cooperation or police providing community-oriented services for community policing. There is a broad consensus that greater citizen control over the delivery and management of policing services within the community is the essence of community policing. Ideally the area to be so policed should be compact, with a homogenous and not too mobile a population. It is another name for neighbourhood policing wherein there is visible and accessible police presence. The policeman either lives within the community or is available on a shift basis. It is meant to supplement, and not supplant, traditional policing. It is proactive in character and can be a useful tool of preventive policing; detective policing involves investigation, requiring professional expertise. Police has to reach out to the public, in all humility and sincerity, in the spirit of “help us to help you” in keeping the neighbourhoods free from crime and civic strife. People’s trust has to be won and their involvement secured by giving them a say in the policing of the locality. Now, that is easier said than done. No police agency has been found willing to give any degree of control over the delivery and management of policing services to the people. Lip service notwithstanding, in the tussle between state-oriented policing and community policing the former stifles the latter. Growing social disharmony has kept public order under strain. Crimes have been getting violent and the locals do not want to be seen hobnobbing with the police for fear of reprisal. Resources, human and technological, have to be pooled to provide latest tools for scientific aids to investigation and surveillance, and that kind of synergy means centralised command and control. All this seriously limits public participation in police functioning. No police force really relishes members of the public telling them how they should go about their business, whether in setting goals and priorities or deciding on strategy and tactics. Public-police cooperation is therefore not able to go beyond consultation and closer interaction with the residents.
The nearest we came to community policing in modern times was when Robert Peel introduced the “beat constable” in Great Britain; the London Bobby remained synonymous with community policing for over a century. With passage of time there has been erosion of public trust in police even in that country and the beat constable is no more the friend, philosopher and guide that he used to be. Developed countries such as USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Denmark have been experimenting with community policing as neighbourhood crime prevention programmes, in different garbs. In the United States the Community Policing Consortium, administered and funded by the US Department of Justice, is a partnership of five of the leading police organisations firmly committed to the advancement of this police philosophy. Canada has extended community policing to the aborigines under the RCMP First Nations Community Service. A Community Tripartite Agreement between the aboriginal community, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government outlines the specific details of the community policing service. The Communities are involved from the start in the design, implementation and ongoing delivery of their police services. This makes it possible to maintain sensitivity and compatibility with that community’s culture and beliefs and gives the necessary flexibility to accommodate local variations in policing needs. India can draw appropriate lessons from this Canadian model in so far as the policing of our tribal communities are concerned. But it is the Koban system, indigenous to the Japanese police, which has achieved a worldwide reputation and has been copied by Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia. It has stood the test of time and has been accepted by the people of the land. The system operates through ‘police boxes’ and ‘residential police boxes’ at approximately 15000 locations all over Japan. Police boxes are deployed in urban areas and residential police boxes are located chiefly in such rural communities as agricultural, forestry and fishery towns and villages. These ‘boxes’ are the neighbourhood police and the most familiar police contact for the members of the community. These officers are always visible on the street and offer assistance in various personal and community matters. The informal house calls they make help in developing an understanding with their charge. The Koban newsletters, issued by these boxes, play an important part in promoting a friendly contact between the police and the community. The other salient features of the Koban system are the Koban (Chuzaisho) Liaison Councils. Approx 11000 in number, these are made up of local residents from various walks of life. The opinions expressed and the suggestions made in the council meetings help the police in setting priorities and planning their calendar. The third leg of the Koban tripod are about 475,000 households designated as Crime Prevention Liaison Stations, to serve as the basis of civil crime prevention activities in the community.
What has been the Indian experience? India was practicing community policing when the western world was still passing through the Dark Age. The ancient indigenous police system was based on the principle of local responsibility for local crimes. Village was responsible for its own policing and was a self-contained unit of criminal administration. Village autonomy was finely balanced with village responsibility. The system survived despite political and cultural changes under the Muslims, but the degree of its effectiveness varied according to circumstances. The system of policing introduced by the British, institutionalised by the Police Act of 1861, sounded the death knell of decentralized policing based on community acceptance. Though the police manuals paid lip service to taking the residents into confidence and treating them with courtesy, the police soon lost credibility with the public. The conduct of the police was far from people-oriented and its actions exposed it for what it was, an instrument to protect and promote British imperial interests. The system of having town outposts under urban police stations was an attempt at providing a neighbourhood police but the spirit of community policing was missing. The institution of rural police--nomenclature differed from province to province-- was maintained more as the eyes and ears of the government than as friends of the people. Independence was expected to change things but alas! the police-public divide only widened. Neither the laws changed nor the colonial mindset. Even the much-touted National Police Commission shied away from making any concrete suggestions on the subject of community policing other than pointing out the need for securing people’s involvement and cooperation. Efforts made have been half-hearted, uncoordinated and sporadic. In Bihar, as early as the fifties of the last century, the district superintendents of police used to undertake cross-country marches in course of which lot of bonhomie was shown when passing through or camping in a village. The experiments of “Friends of Police” in Tamilnadu, “Mohalla committees” in Maharastra, “Suraksha Samiti” in Orissa, Crime Prevention Committees” in Kerala, “Nagarik Suraksha Samitis” in Delhi and “Raksha Samitis” in Madhya Pradesh failed to make an impact and take root. Indore Police has been doing some community-oriented service work to woo the public but that can hardly be called community policing. Initiatives taken by individual officers to launch community service programmes die with their transfer. Police does realize the value of public support. We are all familiar with police taking the initiative in convening peace committees and appointing special police officers during a communal disturbance or organising Muhalla night watches when there is an outbreak of crime. The arrangement ends as soon as the crisis blows over. That is fire fighting and not fire prevention.
It is not very difficult to see why experiments based on American and Japanese models do not succeed under Indian conditions. The reasons lie in the archaic Police Act, our colonial mindset, prevailing socio-political environment, to mention only the more obvious hindrances. Political parties have been unanimous in their apathy to the recommendations of the National Police Commission. Our political masters are not prepared to let go of their control on police and so any degree of decentralization, which is at the core of community policing, remains a far cry. Nor is the departmental hierarchy willing to vest the degree of autonomy that the police officer on the beat will need. Community policing is also too expensive a proposition for a large and poor country like India to afford. We shall need a ten times bigger police force to try out any thing like a Koban police box. Against the current 1:1000 we will have to jump to a 1:100 police-public ratio, which appears impossible. Viewed as corrupt, highhanded and incompetent, police image has taken such a beating that no Indian household wants a policeman near its doorstep and this crisis of confidence is only deepening by the day. Community policing has been found to fare better among close-knit, homogenous groups. The Indian society is not only pluralistic but also suffers from a high degree of social dissonance on grounds of caste, creed, language, exploding population and crushing poverty. In such a daunting scenario ad hoc, piecemeal measures are doomed to failure. Public opinion should be brought to bear on the Parliament to replace the obsolete Police Act by a suitable enactment to make the police people-oriented and incorporate elements of community policing in the Act itself. A beginning could be made with integrating community policing with the Panchaiti Raj movement but clearly the masters have mental reservations. In the meantime let the police do some soul searching and do what it can -- recast its recruitment, training and appraisal norms – to make itself acceptable to the people. It must also change its character from a “force” to a “service". Till then community policing for us will have to remain a distant dream, a desirable goal, something like our Directive Principles.

(Dr. Sudhir Kumar Jha)
Buddha colony,
Patna 800 001

(The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar.)