Sukhma Encounter and Aftermath
The recent ambush on the personnel of 74th Battalion CRPF, in Sukhma was the severest in the past seven years. It was preceded by an ambush about twenty Kms away in Mar, where the CRPF lost twelve jawans. Sukma was a major loss to the nation as over twenty-five brave and trained personnel were martyred, many wounded and weapons of all varieties lost to the Maoists. For such an ambush to have occurred, there were lapses, which would be investigated and action initiated. Every security force suffers losses in operations, either due to laxity or non-adherence to laid down norms and operating procedures. The army suffered twenty dead in an ambush in the Chandel District of Manipur in Jun 15.
Subsequently, security forces learn from their failures and bring about relevant changes in their methodology of operating, which the CRPF would also do. There is no doubt, that strong Government policies would continue and force levels in the region enhanced, as also troops would seek retribution for the loss of their comrades. There are some basic aspects which need to be considered by the CRPF, while assessing causes for its losses, to avoid similar nature of incidents in the future.
Operating procedures exist in every unit and establishment. Ignoring them or adopting a laid-back approach, especially in insurgency dominated areas, can be fatal. The fact that seventy-four soldiers moved out of the camp on a task, without any officer of Assistant Commandant and above at the helm is poor leadership and clearly unacceptable. The CRPF has a mix of its own cadre and the IPS, however in this particular case, it does appear that there was a lackadaisical approach by the top hierarchy. Without the involvement of officers in missions, morale and bonding would never exist within a group.
Adopting the same route out and in daily, invites an ambush as predictability and laxity sets in. This has happened to the army on occasions in the North East also. Prior to any column moving out there is always a detailed briefing on do’s and don’ts. This ensures they remain alert and cautious. It may appear routine and the briefing repeated every day, however serves as a reminder to lurking danger. Again, a clear case of leadership failure, for which the top hierarchy of the battalion, Commanding Officer downwards need to be taken to task.
CRPF jawans are trained for their task. As per rules, they are supposed to operate with one third strength being local police members, giving them the power of arrest. This has been bypassed on numerous occasions. While the level of training and firing of CRPF may not be at par with the army, but they are capable and have proved their mettle on occasions. The drawback faced by the force is the age factor. Like any other central government organization, less the armed forces, the soldiers serve till the age of sixty. Army units in the central part of the country conduct capsules for State Armed police and CRPF personnel serving or likely to move for deployment in Naxal affected areas. Most CRPF personnel sent for training are of the ages of forty and above, hence lack the motivation, will and determination to learn.
Weaknesses reported in capabilities and training in feedbacks sent by the army, are linked to the age profile of the force. Further, the officer cadre rarely attend, preferring to send Inspector level and below, resulting in even those attending,lacking enthusiasm. On the contrary, Greyhounds or specifically trained police units operating in a similar environment have been far more successful, as Andhra Pradesh has proved.
The home ministry which controls Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), has regularly claimed shortage of funds to provide the force with armament and weaponry. An important piece of equipment in the region is Mine Proof Vehicles (MPV). Against seven to ten per unit, the holding is barely one. This has been adversely commented upon by the parliamentary committee, but to no avail. Even drones which could boost its capability of surveillance have yet to be provided. This shortfall is the responsibility of the home ministry, but as Indian ethos goes, no one would be held responsible, no heads would roll, casualties would be forgotten in days. Unless the ministers themselves push, nothing will change at the bureaucratic level, other than moving files up and down.
The crux of any counter insurgency is intelligence. Intelligence is a command responsibility. Failure to obtain inputs of large movement of Maoists is unacceptable. It indicates that fort mentality had set in, troops moving out daily, carrying out a routine task, subsequently returning to base, maintaining minimum interaction with the local community. Thus, there were no sources passing actionable intelligence. In the present communication era, a message indicating increased movement or presence of Maoists should have easily flowed. This is possibly because the battalion either lost the trust of the local Adivasis or the Maoists managed to suppress them by force or won over their loyalties.
For sometime to come, troops in the region would become extra cautious, suspicious of every individual moving in their Area of Responsibility (AOR), possibly responding with greater anger and force against locals than necessary. It is also possible that their desire to avenge loss of lives and lack of intelligence inputs from the locals of the area would result in a highhanded approach. This would further alienate the local population, playing into Maoist hands. At this juncture, a mature and thoughtful approach is essential.
Adivasis living in the region face the brunt from both sides, security forces and Maoists. Both seek their pound of flesh. For the nation to rid the area of Maoist influence, development and provision of Government facilities and schemes are essential. Secondly, is winning the hearts and minds of the Adivasis. This is not done by force, but by interaction and listening to their grievances, including issues of exploitation of tribal lands, which could then be regulated to suit both parties, the state and the locals. For once, the Government may have to ignore the power of big business houses, if it seeks to amalgamate the region. Unless the locals are won over, Maoists would continue to dominate and enforce their writ.
In addition, taking a leaf from the army, wherein locals have been recruited for terrain specific operations like the Ladakh, Kumaon, Sikkim or Arunachal scouts, the Government could consider engaging locals in CRPF battalions, operating in the region. Unlike earlier instances, where surrendered Maoists were forcibly inducted to fight their past comrades, this should be a volunteer force. Their indepth knowledge of the terrain, language and familiarity with customs would make them effective in the region. However, they first must be won over and trust established.
Insurgency needs a combination of approaches, hard against the insurgents and soft against locals. Soft is a joint effort between the state and security forces operating in the region. In this case, it appears to have completely fallen apart. The state thus must also accept its share of blame.
Mere words of condolences and promises of strong action from the Central leadership implies nothing, as these are repeated every time an incident occurs. It must enforce lessons learnt from this incident and change modus operandi before the incident becomes history and is forgotten.