The recent tragic loss of 26 troopers of the CRPF in Sukma shocked the nation. The Group of Ministers, constituted to study the Kargil Review Committee Report, had designated the CRPF as the lead counter-insurgency (CI) force of the country. Thereafter, it was expanded to 220 battalions without changing its basic ethos, operational philosophy and organisational structure. The CRPF had been raised in the British era as the Crown Reserve Police Force. It was an excellent add-on police force, well-tailored to deal with a largely non-violent freedom movement in India. Its primary role was dispersal of violent/agitating mobs. Hence, the CRPF has rendered yeomen service in dealing with communal mobs, caste/language riots, poll duties and in all aggravated law and order situations. It has done the country proud. However, entrusting the CRPF with the CI role has resulted in large-scale casualties and raised questions about its suitability/readiness for it.
Though the CRPF is organised on the basis of battalions, the Commandant’s role is largely confined to administration. As such, in practise this force operates on the basis of dispersed companies only. Hence, it can’t carry out concentrated and concerted action. It is allocated in penny packets to the local SSP, who has the command and control. Hence, a CRPF battalion may have its companies strung out all over India. Rarely do these operate as a battalion. Assistant Commandants are the key to its operational leadership. Its age profile includes many inspectors and constables who are nearing 58 years of age. This is in contrast to the Army where jawans retire at 35-37 years of age to maintain a young age profile of the force so as to keep it combat-worthy. Rarely does a CRPF battalion operate as a cohesive entity, and train and operate together. Hence, unlike Army units, these CRPF battalions do not develop as corporate entities. Simply put, these units are designed to deal with aggravated law and order situations and not undertake high-risk combat operations which require rigorous individual and collective training.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the senior leadership is almost all-parachuted from the IPS, and has generally never served in lower ranks of the BSF/CRPF/ITBP units. This is a serious lacuna. The parachuted leadership is not aware of the operating conditions at the working level and tends to be aloof, disconnected and at times insensitive to local issues. Unlike the Army, they do not lead from the front but act as managers. Infantry battalions of the Army are led by experienced officers of the rank of Colonel who have generally served in the same unit right from commission onwards. All these organisational ethos and leadership factors were overlooked when the CRPF was designated as the lead CI force of the country and catapulted from handling aggravated law and order situations to hazardous CI operations. Grave injustice was done to this fine force.
Unfortunately, the CRPF was overpitched for military operations beyond its capacity. The boys have put up a brave performance. Some individuals have excelled as leaders but by and large the situation is becoming a cause for concern. These units do not operate as battalions. Companies are indiscriminately mixed and units are not assigned clear areas of responsibility. The Commandant’s role is largely administrative and not of command in operations. If this force is to be used for CI combat functions, then we will have to first combatise it—train it accordingly and revamp its leadership. Many more officers from the parent cadre must be inducted into the higher ranks so that they have empathy for the men they are commanding. What needs to be done?
• Some two divisions worth of Army, along with Special Forces and attack helicopters, must be employed in the eight core districts of Bastar for a limited duration to hunt down and destroy the three Maoist battalions operating in numbers of over 300 each. Districts will have to be declared as disturbed, and AFSPA invoked.
• CRPF battalions must be allocated specific areas of operational responsibility. They must train and operate together as battalions under their own commandants. Intensive training in firing and tactical operations must be ensured for these units prior to induction in such operations. They must adopt the CI grid system of deployment of the Army.
• Bulk of senior leadership must come from within the CRPF cadre. Battalions engaged in CI operations must have a younger age profile. IPS officers, who wish to opt for CRPF/BSF etc, must be inducted at junior levels, instead of being parachuted at later stages.
• Short Service Commissioned Army officers, JCOs and NCOs must be inducted into CRPF units to ensure the spread of combat experience and adoption of best practices.
Pushing untrained units to fight against Maoists will lead to not just casualties but far worse— loss of key weapons and equipment—which can strengthen the Maoist Dalams and give them a needless aura of invincibility. Chanakya had advised that the internal enemy, like a cobra lurking in the house, must be dealt with first, even before the external foe.
Maj. Gen. (Retd) G D Bakshi
War veteran and strategic analyst