Myth, reality, and CRPF
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is in the line of fire – literally and figuratively. Its officers and men are engaged in a bitter battle with the militants in the Red Corridor carved out of over 100 districts that experience considerable Maoist insurgency. As a paramilitary force with extensive experience in dealing with the Maoist scourge, CRPF personnel are deployed in the worst affected areas considered strongholds of the outlawed organisation in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Bihar. Every day is a day of judgment for the troops that go out on patrol in the jungles without any guarantee of safe return. They are in the line of fire from the Maoists who are inhabitants of that area and are quite adept in guerrilla warfare.
The scale of violence in regions affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) has come down significantly. However, a few successful strikes conducted by the Maoists have once again brought the CRPF brave hearts face to face with stinging criticism. Security experts, defence analysts, intelligentsia, academia and veterans have lost no time in picking holes in the strategy, deployment and execution without ever thinking about the morale of the officers and men who go out to perform in the same area hours after seeing their brethren shed blood. It has also become fashionable to settle individual scores through media columns by raising inter-services rivalry, mostly out of context. The silence of human rights' activists and those who champion the cause of tribal rights and democratic values is disturbing, to say the least over these killings by the ultras.
One needs to understand that the CRPF, in consonance with their sister Central and state armed police forces and the civil police, has quite effectively managed the Naxal menace over the years. The role of local level and central intelligence agencies has also been praiseworthy. In 2016, the security forces accounted for 222 LWE cadres compared to 89 in 2015. In the first two months of this year, 50 LWEs were neutralised in police action. Fatalities of security force personnel have also reduced drastically from 2007 onwards. In the last two years, the figure has hovered around 60. The months of March and April 2017 have been cruel to CRPF personnel in which 37 troops were martyred in two separate gruesome incidents. Incidentally, this is the period when the CRPF remained headless.
2017 is going to be tough for the forces deployed in the LWE affected states for this year the Maoists are observing 50 years of their movement. They have vowed to regroup and come hard at the security forces and suspected police informers. The figures of civilians killed at the hands of Maoists have shown an upward trend. In 2016, more than 200 civilians mostly on suspicion of being informers were butchered by the Maoists. They have grown so desperate that they've also begun to target villages where they once held sway, killing or torturing suspected 'police informants'. Moreover, the local tribal population now seeks greater access to developmental schemes, education, and health services, which have long been denied to them because of the 'kangaroo rule' of the Maoists in the hinterland. Both the unfortunate incidents in the last two months have occurred in Sukma district which is considered the last bastion of the Naxals in the state. The construction of roads will surely make the whole region accessible to development and security forces which will weaken the stranglehold of the ultras in the rural areas as well. Resistance to this road project in Sukma is Central to both sides for different reasons. The Maoists do not want these roads which will adversely impact their writ in the region. For the security forces, these roads are vital in breaking the back of the militant outfit and in the process ushering in an era of development and resultant peace in the area.
It is quite paradoxical that the Maoists, who militate against the state on the ground of governmental apathy and indifference to the common man, pose the biggest hurdle to developmental activities in the region. Their mentors have also shown a conspicuous lack of an implementable roadmap for the development of the tribal populations except reinforcing vendetta and overthrowing the democratically elected government. And what were the slain CRPF personnel doing? They were merely providing protection to the labour engaged in the task of building a vital road link for the tribals, which would give them access to development and modern amenities!
Over 100 battalions of paramilitary forces, particularly CRPF, are deployed in the LWE affected states. CoBRA battalions, which can operate independently for a few days at a stretch, are also deployed in the region. Contrary to some uninformed comments in a section of media, CRPF has a robust HR practice for the LWE areas. No one above 35 years of age gets inducted in CoBRA units, and sustained pre-induction training is mandatory for all troops and battalions assigned to LWE duties. These units are backed by unit-level dedicated intelligence teams, local police, and central agencies.
The battalions and higher formations are led by highly motivated officers who have proved their mettle over the years in similar situations. In spite of all this, the adversary is sometimes able to breach our defences, be it in the Maoist-affected areas or near the LoC. Yes, there is a case for increasing the number of CoBRA battalions and a separate dedicated Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) to deal with the Red menace which this writer does not see withering away in a hurry. Also, there is merit in the argument that stronger intelligence network needs strengthening through local participation. So far as the firepower is concerned, the Maoists are no match to the CAPFs. The element of surprise and use of IEDs are the only things that work in favour of Maoists. The aggressor will always have the benefit of surprise and initiative, and the state forces can never use IEDs against their people. The CAPFs also do not have the protection of a statute like Armed Force (Special Powers) Act. The limitations of the CAPFs should not be lost on some of the commentators deriding the training, HR practices, deployment and operational acumen of the men in khaki. One must remind observers that the only state in the country which was successfully brought back to normalcy after bloody militancy was Punjab and credit for it lies with our police forces.
There is absolutely no doubt that whenever a handful of militants attacks an army unit from across the border, or the Maoist militia numbering in the hundreds waylay a company level patrol in hundreds, the commanding officers can be hauled up for breach of security protocol and drills. Nonetheless, critics must exercise abundant caution before commenting on such incidents without a complete knowledge of the facts.
(Somesh Goyal is an IPS officer of Himachal Pradesh cadre. Views are personal.)