Power Packed

Rashtriya Rifles have come a long way since its inception

The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) has come a long way in a short span of time. Raised on 1 November 1990 under director general, Lt. Gen. P.C. Mankotia, the force, at the present strength of 67,000 troops, is growing at a steady pace, even as its cardinal issue remains unresolved. The army says that the RR is the Counter- Terrorism (CT) arm of the Indian Army. The paramilitary forces, on the other hand, regard this force as one of them. The RR was raised under the Composition Table Part-II which designates it as a non-field force implying a paramilitary force. The official announcement of the RR underscored that ‘the raising of RR, a paramilitary force under the army is one of the measures towards reducing the actual incidence of army’s involvement. The tasks entrusted to the RR are rear area security, counter-insurgency operations, maintenance of law and order and aid to civil authorities and augmentation of the field force during war-like situation.’ Even as the RR has emerged as the largest counterinsurgency force in the world, which is now well armed and trained for the tasks-at-hand, its uncertain status has resulted in a grudging co-operation to it from the paramilitary forces, especially the Border Security Force. The reason for the RR’s unclear status is that the present force is not what was initially visualised. The RR has evolved and has had a bag-full of teething troubles.

A CO of an RR Battalion inspecting weapons seized from terrorists

The idea of the RR was mooted in 1987 by the minister of state for defence, Arun Singh and the army chief, General K. Sundarji. The first raising in 1990 were a total of six battalions, two sector Headquarters (each equivalent of a brigade), and an Overall Forces Headquarters (OFH also called the directorate general, RR) under an officer of the rank of Lt. General. The RR was raised to ward off international criticism spearheaded by Pakistan that India should bring down the number of regular troops in Kashmir inducted towards end 1990.

Conceptually, the RR was to have not more than 25 per cent of its strength from the regular army. The remaining was to be made up of ex-servicemen and lateral inductees from other paramilitary forces and central police organisations. Much like the Assam Rifles, the RR was to operate under the direct control of the army, be officered by the army and thus have an army ethos. Subsequently, it was to have its own recruiting, training and administration structures. Unfortunately, the funding of the RR was left vague. The defence ministry could not get additional funds for the RR because it was a paramilitary force. The home ministry was hesitant to fund the RR as unlike other paramilitary forces, it was not under its control. RR’s mandate was also temporary in nature as it was initially to be raised on an experimental basis.

With terrorism in the border state of Punjab at its peak in late Eighties, it was felt that the initial RR raising should be done totally from within the army resources to save time. Five out of the six newly raised RR battalions were deployed in Punjab and they gave a good account of themselves. Even as the army top leadership felt confident of using the RR for CT tasks in Punjab, two issues were overlooked which resulted in the RR subsequently paying a heavy price. One, raising six battalions from own resources of equipment and manpower is entirely different from raising 30 battalions and accompanying headquarters in a similar fashion and in a record time of nine months. And two, the situation in the Punjab and J&K were dissimilar. Unlike J&K which has a full blown insurgency, Punjab in the Eighties had terrorism alone. The people of Punjab were not with the terrorists and wanted to return to a normal life earliest.

Buoyed by the Punjab experiment, the real push to RR quick raisings was provided by the army chief, Gen B.C. Joshi in 1994. A total of additional 30 battalions, 10 sector Headquarters, and two Force Headquarters (equivalent to a divisional headquarters) were raised in a record time of nine months by milking existing army units. The ‘Victor’ Force Headquarters meant for the districts of Anantnag, Pulwama and Badgam was raised in October 1990, and the ‘Delta’ Force headquarters responsible for the Doda district came into being in October 1994. Because the ex-servicemen were hesitant to join a force which would permanently be in CI ops, it was decided that the RR would have 100 per cent army deputationists, with the tenure of individuals ranging from two to two-and-half years. The RR was unofficially declared as the 28th regiment of the Infantry. Once the RR battalions reached J&K, troubles started surfacing. There were reports of RR soldiers running amok, cases of soldiers inflicting self-injuries to be eased out of the Valley, and there was a discernable decrease in discipline and patience.

For the army top brass, the raising of 30 battalions and accompanying headquarters (about 40,000 troops) was a nightmare. At a time when the army was struggling to maintain equipment because of an erratic supply of defence spares from Russia, war reserves with the Army Headquarters for vehicles, tentage and small arms were depleted to precarious levels. There was mounting concern with in the army that a force collected from disparate units – troops gathered from different battalions even of the same infantry regiment hardly know one another – would lack in cohesion, motivation, training, intelligence-gathering, discipline and camaraderie and may invite substantial casualties, especially when the trend of foreign mercenaries entering the Valley in 1993 was clearly visible. It was argued with merit that establishment of own intelligence network and familiarisation with the terrain and the people was an arduous and time consuming task. Unless this was done satisfactorily, the troops would only do fire-fighting operations and the initiative may slide completely in favour of the terrorists, inviting more cases of Human Rights violation, something the country and the army could ill afford. While few were against the concept of having a regular CI force for Kashmir, the objection was to its swift raisings without adequate support. It was not uncommon to hear senior army brass prognosticate that the nemesis of this force was built into its fast raising schedule.

There were innumerable cases of officers being reluctant to join RR because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the regiment. The raising of this regiment was the first of its kind without a regimental centre, a pay and allowance office and a record office. This meant that soldiers coming from different regiments had problems in getting salaries and dues as RR units had to contact so many sources for clearance of dues. A lack of a regimental centre meant that soldiers from this regiment would have to use facilities of other regimental centres for routine training, obviously given a second priority. It was for these reasons and given the lack of funds and little support within the army for dispensing good soldiers and officers to RR that Gen. Joshi took over as honorary colonel of the regiment a little before his death in November 1994.

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The War Zone

Following up on the inaugural cover story of FORCE, here is another treasure from our archives. In November 2003, FORCE team spent a week in the Jammu division of Kashmir. Starting with the Rashtriya Rifles’ Delta force headquarters in the Doda sector of Jammu division to get first-hand experience of Indian Army’s counter-insurgency operations, the December 2003 cover story included interviews with chief minister J&K Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, chief secretary Sudhir Bloeria, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. Hari Prasad, Director General, BSF Ajai Raj Sharma, Inspector General, BSF, Jammu division, Dilip Trivedi, Inspector General CRPF, Jammu Division, C. Balasubramaniam and countless unnamed officers from across the uniform. Field reporting at its best. Read on.

A way out found was to have troops in a RR regiment coming in batches of a platoon strength each (about 30 soldiers) from different battalions of the same infantry regiment. All individuals prior to joining RR regiments have to undergo a four week pre-induction training at either of the two corps battle schools. This is followed by a two-week on-the-job training. This stabilised the situation a bit. Further improvements to restore morale of the RR battalions came progressively. It was decided that the Infantry component of each RR battalion would be provided by a single Infantry regiment. For example, all Infantry officers and men of 23 RR battalion belong to the Rajput regiment of the Infantry. This experiment was a breakthrough as most of the RR’s organisational, regimental and administration problems were solved. It became the responsibility of Infantry regiments to ensure that its boys did well both in the RR for CI operations and in the regular conventional role.

Organisationally, RR is the only regiment where troops from the infantry and other arms and services operate under a single banner. Each battalion with 1,200 troops has six rifle companies. The infantry component comprises 60 per cent troops in four rifle companies. Two rifle companies are from other arms chosen from field artillery, air defence artillery, armour and engineers. The remaining troops comprising Task Oriented Teams from various services are meant to provide logistics back-up to an RR battalion. These include each RR battalion having an engineers’ platoon, a signals’ platoon, a medical detachment and elements from the Army Service Corps. Because this force is employed for CI ops, it does not have heavy weapons like a regular infantry battalion and is without organic artillery.

A setback to the RR came with the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan. The CI grids of the RR were disturbed when regular troops supporting the RR (8 mountain division in Sarifabad near Srinagar airport) were moved to the war theatre and the two corps commanders – 15 and 16 based in Srinagar and Nagrota – relinquished their CI responsibilities. The DGRR, Lt. Gen. Autar Singh, was moved from Delhi to Srinagar in June 1999 to assume command of the RR, and he replaced the two corps commanders as the sole security advisor to the chief minister for CI duties. Unfortunately, the DGRR in his new operational role was unacceptable to the chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, and differences between the paramilitary forces and the RR increased. After the Kargil war, the DGRR reverted back to Delhi, and the two corps commanders assumed their additional responsibility in CI operations. However, as the CI grids were imbalanced with the movement of troops and the formation of a new 14 corps in Leh, there was a need for more RR troops. In less than two years, 18 more RR battalions were raised under five sector headquarters and three forces headquarters. The ‘Kilo’ and ‘Romeo’ forces headquarters for Kupwara and Rajouri were raised in September 1999 and January 2000 respectively. Another ‘Uniform’ forces headquarters was formed in beginning 2003.

At present, the RR has 54 battalions under 15 sector headquarters and five forces headquarters. All RR battalions are in the state of J&K. The operational control of the five forces headquarters is with the 15 and 16 corps commanders. Since last two years, the RR has a separate annual defence allocation, and there are plans to raise six more RR battalions in 2004. The case lies with the government and the army is confident that the sanction would come soon. The army eventually hopes to have a total of 66 RR battalions by end of 2005.

Given the government’s focus on CI operations, the army leadership took an important decision to provide better rest and relief for the Infantry which is involved whole hog in CI operations. Due to the massive requirement of manpower for the RR and a few other minor factors, the yearly turnover of manpower in an Infantry unit is approximately 200 persons. As a thumb-rule, an officer spends two-andhalf years and a jawan two years in the RR before reverting to the regular role in the regiment. To make things easier for the soldiers, the army has sought that the ‘Modification 4B’ which has been sanctioned for all regular infantry battalions be also made applicable for RR units. The concept of ‘Modification 4B’ came after the Kargil war, when it was decided that Infantry units be provided with better equipment and additional weaponry. Instead of procuring them as ‘sector’ stores, (which implies stores needed for particular sector like Northern Command which is responsible for the state of J&K), which is an arduous and time consuming process, the Weapons and Equipment Tables (WET) of infantry battalions were revised. After the government clearance was given, all Infantry battalions could purchase these additional and sophisticated weapons straight from their annual defence allocations. Once the RR battalions also come under ‘Modification 4B’, they would be at par with Infantry battalions regarding equipment. This would mean that manpower management from regular infantry units to RR would be easier as troops would be using the same equipment in both dispensations.

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