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).