Policy and methodology to counter the Naxalite threat have been subjects of intense debate recently. Army’s reluctance to get embroiled has been questioned in some government quarters. Sadly, opinions are being expressed, both by military and non-military experts, more as short term fire-fighting solutions rather than well analysed long term strategy.
It requires no crystal gazing to foresee increasing unrest amongst various sections of Indian society
It requires no crystal gazing to foresee increasing unrest amongst various sections of Indian society. Awareness has fired the urge of the people for a higher standard of living and enhanced opportunities for advancement. As the country fails to ensure that fruits of development get equitably and evenly distributed across the complete spectrum of society, disadvantaged segments lose confidence in the fairness of governance. They resort to violent means to wrest their perceived share of resources from an apathetic government. Naxalite unrest is a manifestation of the same challenge to the lawful authority of the state. Needless to say, in addition to effective use of force, convincing measures have to be initiated at political, economical, social and cultural levels to restore credibility of governance amongst the aggrieved people.
This article restricts itself to the nature and type of force that should be employed to counter Naxalites. As the alienated populace is highly motivated and possesses intimate knowledge of the local terrain, a well equipped and suitably trained force becomes an absolute necessity. India has three broad options open to it – employment of an existing central police force (CPO) with additional training and equipment; deployment of the Army to crush armed resistance; and raising of a special force for the assignment. Each of these have been analysed below to identify the most suitable option.
Use of CPO
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is currently countering the Naxalites. CRPF came into existence as Crown Representative’s Police on 27th July 1939. It became the Central Reserve Police Force on enactment of the CRPF Act on 28th December 1949. Over the last sixty years, it has grown into sizeable entity with 207 battalions. It is a federal law enforcement agency and a police force. It has been organised, equipped, structured and trained to supplement efforts of state police forces in the maintenance of law and order.
…it is an unwritten convention in the Indian Army that an officer always leads from the front — he is the first one to step into a danger zone. No officer thinks twice about it.
Presently, a crisis of identity is overwhelming CRPF. A part of the blame for the prevailing confusion about its exact character can be apportioned to CRPF itself. Symptomatic of the same is the message of its Director General on its website. To start with, he refers to CRPF as one of the ‘Para Military Police Force’ of the Nation and subsequently calls it as the most experienced ‘Armed Police Force’ of the country. Apparently, the organisation does not know where to position itself. There can never be a ‘paramilitary police force’ – a force is either a paramilitary force or a police force. The term paramilitary police force is self-contradictory, dichotomist in substance, paradoxical in nature and ambivalent in identity.
It must be understood that a true paramilitary force is an auxiliary force whose function and structure are similar to those of a regular military force. In other words, it should be capable of acting as an adjunct to regular military. CRPF, by no stretch of imagination, can be called a paramilitary force. With a view to garner enhanced status and to demand equivalence with the armed forces, it has been masquerading as a paramilitary force. Resultantly, it has got trapped in the self created delusion that it can perform like a paramilitary force.
CRPF not only lacks basic orientation to be able to face Naxalites but also the necessary wherewithal. Resultantly, CRPF has been suffering heavy casualties.
Facing bullets fired by highly motivated Naxalites in Chhattisgarh requires totally different capabilities as compared to those required to face stones thrown by hired hooligans in Kashmir. It is a tall order for any organisation to accomplish both the tasks with equal adroitness and dexterity. CRPF not only lacks basic orientation to be able to face Naxalites but also the necessary wherewithal. Resultantly, CRPF has been suffering heavy casualties.
Further, it is a misplaced expectation that CRPF can perform like a paramilitary force with short orientation training at counter-insurgency schools. Fighting potential of any lawfully constituted armed entity is dependent on a number of tangible and non-tangible factors. Whereas tangible factors like training and equipment can be augmented over a period of time, non-tangible factors which are far more critical take decades to mature. Traditions, precedents, norms and conventions are the non-tangible factors that provide regimental environment for the development of organisational character, ethos and disposition. Equally importantly, they mould attitude of individuals, both by implicit and explicit influences.
For example, it is an unwritten convention in the Indian Army that an officer always leads from the front – he is the first one to step into a danger zone. No officer thinks twice about it. It is ingrained in his character and disposition. On the other hand, these things are alien to the police forces. We had the obnoxious sight of a police officer crossing a water logged street on the shoulders of a constable – a profanity of the worst kind. Can an officer who is reluctant to wet his trousers and is accustomed to using his subordinate as a beast of burden be expected to lead his unit against Naxalites and risk death or injury? This difference in organisational ethos is the fundamental reason that a police force can never become a paramilitary force, fallacious pretentiousness notwithstanding.
Use of Armed Forces
Ill-effects and negative fall-out of excessive involvement of the army in internal strife is too well known to be recounted here in detail. Sufficient to state that embroilment of the army in anti-Naxalite operations can prove counterproductive and highly detrimental to national interests.
As every failure of governance forces the Government to look up to the army to bail it out of the mess, a stage may come when the army hierarchy may start questioning the rationale of their being asked to do the ‘dirty work’ after the civil administration wrecks the environment through sheer incompetence.
The army is already over-committed in Kashmir and the North East. It barely finds time to carry out required training and field exercises to hone its skills. Participation in internal security duties will make a huge impact on the functional characteristics of the army that may even dent its professionalism. Dilution of its capability to perform the primary task of defence against external aggression can have very serious consequences for the country.
As every failure of governance forces the Government to look up to the army to bail it out of the mess, a stage may come when the army hierarchy may start questioning the rationale of their being asked to do the ‘dirty work’ after the civil administration wrecks the environment through sheer incompetence. Further, the role of the military in internal security duties should never be allowed to get institutionalised. Soldiers are very conscious of their public image. They want to be respected and loved by their countrymen. Therefore, they want to be seen and identified as defenders of national sovereignty and not as an instrument of law maintenance apparatus.
Some experts suggest employment of limited military force as a short-term shock action therapy against the Naxalites. It is a very impractical and perilous proposition. History bears testimony that internal insurgencies have always been long drawn affairs. They have an uncanny knack of sucking in more and more troops. For example, in case a military column gets ambushed and suffers heavy casualties, the army will be forced to deploy more resources, giving rise to a vicious cycle. Internal insurgencies are like a quagmire wherein entry of a force is easy but disengagement and extrication extremely difficult. We have enough experience in this regard and should never repeat the mistake.
Raising of Internal Security Force
In view of the above discussion, the only viable option available to India is to raise a specialised paramilitary force to suppress internal uprisings. Broad contours of the recommended Internal Security Force (ISF) are as follows:-
A police force cannot be converted into a paramilitary force simply by extra training and equipment…
- Command and Control. ISF should function under and be paid for by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). However, during wartime emergencies, ISF units could be put under command military formations (Sub Area and Area Headquarters) for augmenting resources for securing lines of communication.
- Organisation. ISF units should be organised on the lines of infantry battalions and provided necessary specialised equipment (including airborne force-multipliers).
- Manpower. There should be no direct recruitment to ISF. The complete manpower should consist only of ex-servicemen. As a matter of policy, no one other than an ex-serviceman should be inducted in this force to ensure that it develops a military-like ethos without any dilution. Short Service Commission (SSC) officers, after completing their tenure with the army could be offered absorption into ISF. To man senior ranks initially, suitable officers could also be taken on permanent secondment from the army. Once the initial inductees rise in ranks, they should man the complete structure. As regards the other ranks, medically fit personnel after the completion of their tenure of duty with the army, should be offered absorption on analogous posts in ISF with full protection of pay fixed in the pay band and the grade pay. However, military personnel should have the option to decline lateral shift to ISF and retire with standard pensionary benefits.
ISF would need no training facilities of its own. Induction of fully trained soldiers would obviate need to impart recruits training.
- Training. ISF would need no training facilities of its own. Induction of fully trained soldiers would obviate need to impart recruits’ training. Further, it should have arrangements for subscribing to vacancies on various courses run by the military.
- Size and Structure. To start with ISF should consist of six battalions, grouped under two sector headquarters. Organisation structure should be modular and platoon-centric.
Skeptics and their Likely Reservations
Although the suggested proposal cannot be faulted on any legitimate grounds, skeptics would certainly raise subjective questions. Clarifications to some of the major anticipated reservations are as follows:-
- With existing abundance of central police forces, ISF would be a wasteful duplication.
ISF will be a paramilitary force, first of its kind in the country and not duplicating existing police forces. Two points need to be borne in mind. First, as stated earlier, real strength of a fighting force lies in the development of correct ethos and mindsets. Once ingrained, it becomes well nigh impossible to modify them. A police force cannot be converted into a paramilitary force simply by extra training and equipment – normal police functioning and counter-insurgency operations require totally dissimilar attributes. Secondly, once ISF is well established and relieves CRPF of counter-insurgency operations, the strength of CRPF can be correspondingly reduced in a calibrated manner – by reducing intake and not retrenchment.
- Age profile of ISF will be hit adversely by the lateral shift.
Presently the average age of recruitment in the army is 19 years while in central police forces personnel up to the age of 26 years are recruited and thereafter trained for at least one year. If the army soldiers are laterally shifted after seven years in the services, average age of fully trained inductees will be 26 years. As such, the age profile of ISF will remain totally unaffected.
- Army personnel are trained to kill while in internal security duties considerable restraint has to be exercised.
Army personnel are highly disciplined. Since Independence, the army is increasingly involved in counter-insurgency operations as also rendering aid to the civil authority in the maintenance of law and order. Its record has been exemplary. Soldiers are trained to use minimum force and act in good faith. Therefore, it is totally incorrect to say that soldiers are only trained to kill. In any case, fighting armed insurgents requires use of considerable force, much beyond the capability of regular police forces.
- Side-stepping would curtail employment opportunities for new entrants.
Through lateral move to ISF, army retirees would get gainful employment up to 60 years of age. Therefore, no real loss in employment opportunities will occur.
Presently, soldiers retire from the army after completing a maximum of 17 years of service. Another employment has to be found for them. Through lateral move to ISF, army retirees would get gainful employment up to 60 years of age. Therefore, no real loss in employment opportunities will occur. It is just that employment would be provided to ex-servicemen rather than raw personnel.
Incidentally, CRPF issued a notification on 05 Apr 2010, offering contractual engagement to 1950 ex-servicemen of age less than 40 years in the post of constables for a period of 5 years (extendable to 7 years).
Benefits of the Suggested Proposal
Currently, the army is facing a shortage of officers close to 24 percent of its authorised strength. Due to steep pyramid-like hierarchical structure, the only solution lies in making SSC attractive. Presently, insecurity about future prospects deters many youth from applying for SSC. They fear that failure to get Permanent Commission will make them jobless in the prime of their lives with full family responsibilities to boot. As financial remunerations and hand-shake packages can never compensate for uncertain future, youth has to be assured of a life time career to be motivated to opt for SSC. Lateral shift to ISF will provide a highly attractive avenue. It would also help keep the age profile of the defence forces young.
During times of war, ISF units could be put under army formations to control internal situation and secure lines of communications.
Approximately 40,000 young, well trained and physically fit soldiers are released from the defence forces every year. This highly disciplined and trained pool of manpower is lost to the country without being put to any productive use. ISF will get trained manpower with rich experience in anti-terrorist and counterinsurgency duties. Further, as the trained manpower of the defence forces will remain engaged in a life time employment, no subversive elements will be able to misguide them for anti-social activities.
The pension bill of the Government will get significantly curtailed as pension will be due to the retiring servicemen only after 30/33 years of service as against 17 years of service at present. Additionally, ISF would save on recruitment and training costs of personnel. SPC had also recommended similar lateral movement to CPO.
During times of war, ISF units could be put under army formations to control internal situation and secure lines of communications. Thus, India’s war effort would get augmented.
In utter disregard to their safety, it has inducted ill-equipped and inadequately trained CRPF forces to battle Naxalites, making them easy fodder for the elusive insurgents.
The Government will do well to learn from the declaration made by the US Secretary of Defence Robert M Gates at the Naval Academy in April 2010. He pledged, “And when I send you in harm’s way, as I will, I will do everything in my power to see that you have what you need to accomplish your mission – and come home safely”. Contrast the above pledge with the attitude of the Indian Government. In utter disregard to their safety, it has inducted ill-equipped and inadequately trained CRPF forces to battle Naxalites, making them easy fodder for the elusive insurgents. It is a grave and criminal dereliction of duty, grossly unfair to CRPF personnel and their hapless families.
As seen above, embroilment of the army in counter-Naxalite operations is the worst thing that can happen to the country. Creation of ISF is an extremely viable scheme that harnesses the expertise and experience of ex-servicemen. It will not only result in substantial financial savings to the Government but will also guarantee life time employment to scores of ex-service personnel. Therefore, it should be implemented in its entirety without any delay.
A word of caution would not be out of place here. The fundamental strength of ISF would lie in its ex-servicemen character and it should not be diluted. Authorities must resist temptation to use higher appointments in ISF to park police officers. ISF should not go National Security Guard way, wherein the real punch is provided by the military component but ironically, the Director General is a police officer.