First Person | Life and Honour

We need the quick rethink on our counter-Maoist strategy

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Home they brought the martyrs in a garbage truck, the headline screamed in the national daily and television channels got their meat for the evening. Such is the lure of channels that few can resist an invitation to participate in a TV debate, no matter how inane or pointless it may be. Hence, in the last week of June, viewers were subjected to a discussion on how disrespectful the Chhattisgarh police and government has been to the three martyred policemen who were killed on June 26 in an IED blast. It is really sad, despicable even, that any dead, let alone martyrs, complete their final journey in a garbage truck. Who can argue otherwise? What is the discussion on this? Yet, the anchor in a voice choked with emotion vowed to keep the issue alive till the government apologised and the attendant panellists nodded sagely repeating the same thing for quarter of an hour that it was shameful, the government has let the soldiers down, both in life and death.  Indeed. But the living worries me more than the dead. Honour in death is fine, but life is more important. And this is where the government, both the Union as well as the state, needs to be pilloried. Both simply do not care about its men. Last month I wrote about policemen deployed in the Maoist dominated areas dying in vain. I can probably repeat the same lines once again. Instead of getting geriatric generals and retired officers to lament that policemen were not accorded due respect after death, we need to question repeatedly till somebody is shaken up enough to take notice: why did they have to die. Why is the government sending ill-trained, ill-equipped men to battle?

It is doing so because it has nothing to lose except a few blighted lives who in this poverty-ridden and opportunity-restricted country will continue to queue up to join the ranks. The figures speak for themselves. In 2011, more than 25 policemen have already died in Maoist-led attacks, with May being the most brutal. It started with the killing of seven CRPF men in an IED blast in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh on May 17. Two days later, four policemen were killed in two different incidents in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. A week later, on May 24, nine Chhattisgarh policemen, including a superintendent of police were ambushed and killed in the forest of Orissa bordering Chhattisgarh. On June 9, seven policemen and eight special police officers (SPOs) were killed in two different incidents in Narayanpur and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh. And then three policemen were killed in IED blast on June 26. Where in the world do so many uniformed personnel die in such a short span and the media laments lack of respect for the dead?

You can blame the Maoists for anything but inconsistency. In all these incidents, the modus operandi has been similar.

They either lay IEDs or ambush in strength. For the last several years, at least ever since FORCE came into being eight years ago and started focussing on the Maoist issue, these twin tactics have remained unchanged. Only the ferocity and audaciousness of the Maoists have increased. Yet, we have not been able to figure out how to address these two challenges. I am neither a military/police tactician nor a scientist, so I cannot comment on tactics or IED-proof armour vehicles, but it doesn’t take great intelligence to see that whatever we have been doing so far is not working. Neither the tactics nor the so-called SOPs. And less said about the equipment, the better.

But what I do know is that, barring a few hundred policemen who have been trained in the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College, Kanker in Chhattisgarh, our police forces are ill-trained. Several are unfit and middle aged, suitable probably for the police stations but not for patrolling the jungles in hot and humid weather. Their personnel weapons are archaic and work on whims. Most importantly, the largest Paramilitary force, the CRPF, that was designated as the primary counter-insurgency force of India needs a complete restructuring and reorientation. Somebody needs to understand that rapidly raising the numbers mean nothing if that number has to be trained in Group Centres and not training academies. Somebody needs to realise that not only officer to men ratio has to be proportionate but a degree of regimentation is required for the officer to know his men and men to trust their officer in operations. And somebody needs to make up their minds, what essentially is the ethos of CRPF, whether it is a Paramilitary or a sorrier version of police. This confused, unsure mass of men who are shunted from theatre to theatre — from elections duties in Bihar where they sit with lathi-wielding policemen chewing tobacco to Kashmir where they are operating alongside the Indian Army taking on Pakistan-equipped and trained terrorists — cannot be expected to fight optimally if they do not understand who they are.

Till then, we can all take recourse in reciting poetry whenever another of ours die in the jungle: Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.


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