First Person | Men to Sacrifice

Replace mammoth CRPF with multiple highly-trained forces

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

This, dear readers, is our fourth anniversary issue. In the course of four years, you would have noticed that FORCE has travelled quite a distance. FORCE has covered innumerable aspects pertaining to India’s security, both external and internal, met a cross-section of people associated with it, including the military, paramilitary and the police in a number of Indian states. We have written a few flattering and some not so flattering articles on men who constitute these edifices of Indian security. It is this background that gives me the confidence to write this piece and not a vile desire to denigrate an institution as old as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

In the last couple of years whenever we visited Jammu and Kashmir, we found not just the army personnel, but the Border Security Force as well as the state police sniggering about the poor performance of the CRPF. ‘They are sitting ducks for the militants, see the number of their casualties’, ‘They are okay for static duties, but not operation’, and worse, ‘They are not adequately trained, their mindset is very different’ were the frequent comments we heard in one form or the other. Blaming this on inter-service rivalry, we never wrote any of this.

This month we travelled to Chhattisgarh, where the state police is re-orienting and retraining itself to take the fight to the Maoists. Roping in an ex-commandant of an army commando school, it is giving the same kind of training to its personnel. Both the director general of state police as well as the state home minister did not show much confidence in the CRPF. Citing Andhra Pradesh as an example, where the state police’ special force, Greyhounds hounded the Maoists out, Chhattisgarh aspires for a similar achievement without the CRPF.

Clearly, it is not just a case of inter-service rivalry, especially when Chhattisgarh is reeling under Maoists’ violence and CRPF personnel are laying down their lives along with the police. In all major incidents, they are equal number of CRPF personnel, sometimes more who get killed by the Maoists. Yet, instead of bouquets the force ends up with sniggers. The CRPF men come from the same stock that goes into the BSF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force, state police and so on, then why is it that their training, morale or equipment is found wanting?

Perhaps, the basic problem stems from its very mandate, which has defined CRPF in such nebulous terms as ‘an armed force of the Union of India, with the basic role of striking reserve to assist the state/Union territories in police operations to maintain law and order and contain insurgency. Its role is that of a catalyst in maintaining law and order, and return to barracks once this objective is achieved.’

How can ‘law and order’ and insurgency be used in the same sentence and with such ease? Has it not occurred to anyone that combating them require not just a different orientation, but a different training/weapons altogether? Moreover, given the size, geography, history, terrain and population-mix of India, how can a single term like ‘insurgency’ incorporate everything from J&K to Northeast to Naxal violence in Central and southern India? Review and course correction are integral part of policy-making. However, in the case of the CRPF, it appears that since the force came into being in 1949, more and more roles were plied on it without anyone bothering to understand what they imply and demand of the force.

Imagine for a moment, a man who was doing election duties in Goa being sent to Kashmir and after his two-year tenure, when he managed to grasp the situation only halfway through his tenure, he is posted in Bastar. Even if he is given a brief reorientation to differentiate between the two situations, it is not enough, because the Chhattisgarh police find him wanting. He does know the terrain, the population-mix and more importantly the enemy he is up against. And obviously, to some extent his training and equipment also do not meet the requirements of his job.

Increasing the number or improving training facilities will only meet the cosmetic needs. The need is to go back to the drawing board. Dismantle the CRPF completely and in its place create a number of small motivated forces, trained exclusively in different roles and terrains. For instance, by all accounts, the problem of Naxalism is not going away in a hurry. Why can’t then there be a force exclusively trained for guerrilla and jungle warfare, which can then lead the police in operations in states like Orissa, Jharkhand and so on. Similarly, another force trained exclusively for mob and riot control, yet another for disaster management and so on. Instead of one force playing 30 different roles, create 30 smaller forces for a role each. If the size of the force remains small, it man-management and morale would also be better. Besides, since they would be given weapons and equipments according to their roles, there will be lesser burden on the exchequer to provide similar weapons to a huge number. Probably, then senior CRPF officers will not have to go to bed with the guilt of leading gullible men to sacrifice.