On 21 May 1991, the precious life of a promising young leader could have been saved had the security agencies involved in the arrangements strictly implemented access control. That the last minute line-up at the alighting point near the Sriperumbudur public meeting dais could be compromised and the assassin could sneak in and succeed in her mission was the mother of all lapses on that fateful day.
Some experts attributed the non-neutralisation of the threat to withdrawal of Special Protection Group cover from the then former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi (as per unamended provisions of the SPG Act). I would moderate that and say the rigidity and no-nonsense style of the SPG’s implementation of the security drill could have averted the tragedy that day. But any security agency practicing or rather allowed to practise that professionalism would have done the job.
The fact to be borne in mind is that the adversaries have the time. They can wait, try, fail and strike again. My stress is on being ever alert. It is just not one day, one journey or one public meeting. The rut of routine is the deadliest trap a complacent security man or any cog in the chain can fall into at unimaginable cost. A changeover or rotation of personnel periodically will have to be ensured to tackle this. The induction of fresh hands without lowering the benchmark is possible only by expanding the pool. So why should we shy away from picking up the best of women commandos?
Rightly, the Narendra Modi government has decided to draft women commandos of the CRPF for VIP security. That selected commandos are going to be deployed only after an orientation course is reassuring. A commando is a commando in mental and physical toughness, be it male or female. The golden principles of dignitary protection such as body cover, access control, technical checks/ sanitisation, etc., call for honing of several other skills. Hence there is no reason to conclude that women commandos would be unequal to the task. I have personally observed Mahila CRPF personnel doing as well as men in ensuring security drills in the SPG.
With the prospects of more female leaders being classified into higher categories of security, based on threat perception and more representation of women in the political leadership of the country, this decision has not come a day too soon. With gender equality being universally applied, women are claiming increased participation in all walks of life as a matter of right. Their considerable presence in the structure of adversaries is also to be reckoned with.
Now when it comes to tasking with pioneering assignments, the government cannot think of a more versatile and seasoned force than the CRPF. It had raised peacekeeping elements to deal with natural calamities, the genesis of what today is known as the NDRF. Then came their foray into VVIP Security.
The Special Duty Group (SDG) was raised in the CRPF to complement the SPG. The raising of the first Mahila Battalion in the country was done in the CRPF in 1986. Now there are six such battalions in the CRPF.
By 2010, ten battalions of commandos (CoBRA Bns) were readied by the CRPF. The Parliament Duty Group (PDG) also has been raised in the CRPF. Naturally this path-breaking role also would be successfully carried out by this Force, nearly disbanded in the wake of Independence but for the vision of Sardar Patel.
Coming back to women commandos, we have some of the best in every Force/Service. Should we deny them the opportunity to make use of their potential—for public good—just because of gender or biological differences? Then, there are nuances like the comfort level of women dignitaries vis-a-vis women commandos who can perform uninhibited security drills in the event of operational contingencies, including medical emergencies. The best out of these commandos chosen and trained without lowering the benchmark would definitely do very well and strive to prove themselves in the new role assigned to them.
K V Madhusudhanan
Former IG of CRPF, the author had a long tenure in the Special Protection Group (SPG)