Scenes we are by now quite familiar with played on TV a couple of days back. Every VIP worth his name, seizing the photo opportunity, was seen laying a wreath on the coffins of over two dozen CRPF jawans killed in yet another ambush by Maoist insurgents, this time in Sukma in Chhatisgarh on 24 April.
The policy towards tackling the problem at all levels is hamstrung by lack of clarity and vision. Sometimes the Maoists become our brothers and sisters and appeals are made to them to shun violence. However, the moment an attack takes place, there are calls to teach them a lesson by use of force. The other day, I heard BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra launching into a tirade against another panelist during a debate on TV for suggesting talks with the Maoists.
The Usual Rhetoric
The government, which had failed to appoint a Director General (DG) to command the CRPF (the designated anti-insurgency force comprising around three lakh personnel) for almost two months, as a typical knee-jerk reaction, dispatched the acting DG to Sukma.
The Home Minister, describing the Maoist action as cowardly, has once again reiterated, “ Kade shabdon mein ninda karta hoon (I criticise the act in the strongest terms).” Was he expecting the Maoists to engage in a frontal gun battle?
The Maoists know their strengths as well as weaknesses and adopt tactics best suited to them.
The Prime Minister, while lauding the sacrifices of the jawans, said “Jawanon ka balidaan vyarth nahin jayega (the jawans’ sacrifice will not go waste).” This again is the usual lament which has no meaning unless supported by tangible action on the ground.
The government once again, just like it has done after all such previous incidents, has grandiosely announced a review of the strategy employed against the Maoists and has asked the security forces to go all-out against them – pray, what were the orders till now? Were the security forces asked to go slow till now?
The famed experts are talking about using drones – without realising that they can’t penetrate the dense foliage in the jungles of Dandakaranya.
Someone recommended using helicopter gunships. Where and against whom should they be used? The insurgents, in the normal course, are invisible and also indistinguishable from the tribals of the area. So how will the helicopter gunships target them?
Lack of modern equipment has been cited as another reason for the repeated setbacks. Some even talk about using mine-proof vehicles (MPVs). Well, MPVs may be mine-proof, but they are not IED-proof. Scores of jawans inside MPVs have died on account of their vehicles being thrown 40 ft into the air by IED blasts, breaking the jawans’ spines.
So-called defence analysts are having a field day, making outlandish suggestions on setting things right in the CRPF.
Armchair specialists are repeating stereotypical suggestions like replacing the CRPF with the Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF units being replaced with army officers and appointing a Lt General as Director General of the CRPF etc. These specialists fail to realise that the Indian Army, which itself is deficient of officers, will not be be able to spare personnel for the CRPF.
No one seems to give a thought to strengthening the in-house leadership of the CRPF, which has developed domain knowledge and expertise to lead the organisation and which has delivered in many difficult situations. The transient leadership provided by the IPS is ruining not only the CRPF but also other paramilitary forces like the BSF, the ITBP, the SSB and the CISF.
IPS officers trained in the philosophy of use of minimum force are unable to comprehend the organisational ethos and operational philosophy of these organisations. They tend to treat them as any other police force and fail to realise the importance of regimentation and the emphasis on training to ensure an edge.
Calling the Shots from Delhi
The importance of supervision from close quarters cannot be ignored. This keeps the troops on alert, helps rectifying their mistakes and keeps a check on complacence. If my information is correct, till a few years ago, the IG CRPF responsible for that area used to have his office in Delhi.
The same is true for the BSF, whose newly sanctioned Additional DG HQ for Anti-Naxal Operations has been stationed in Delhi instead of Raipur, where he or she should have been stationed. This prevents senior officers from getting a feel of the ground situation and dilutes their level of involvement in operations. Ad hoc diversion of the headquarters occurs mainly to accommodate personal interests of IPS officers which must not be allowed.
Details of the Sukma ambush tell the familiar tale of failure of command and non-observance of SOPs. It turns out that the troops out on ‘road opening duty’ had sat down for lunch when ambushed.
Despite claims to the contrary, it appears that they were killed without much resistance because the Maoists had taken away twenty-two weapons.
Understanding the Problem
The claim made by some that the ambush could have been avoided had timely intelligence been made available sounds hollow.
Are they trying to suggest that the troops did not know that there are Maoists in the area? Do they mean to say that the Maoists were not watching their activities?
Doesn’t their training equip them to understand that basic security measures should have been adopted before setting out for any operation? Should the Company Commander and Platoon Commander not have ensured that the troops were released for administrative purpose in rotation?
The government, bureaucrats, the CRPF leadership and other security forces need to put their heads together and find answers to this difficult problem, instead of bandying about figures of comparative decrease in casualties and incidents, which are patently misleading.
Action Needed, Not Lip Service
Interestingly, common people are resorting to sending out indignant tweets and forwarding WhatsApp posts on the matter. Some posts even go to the extent of asking, of all people, JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and sundry leftists as to why are they silent on this ambush. The posts fall just short of blaming them of being directly responsible for the ambush. It appears that Kanhaiya and co are responsible for all the problems arising in India in recent times.
I hope that pronouncements made by the government after the incidents are actually put into action and do not remain mere lip service. Hopefully, the euphoria over the victory of the ruling party in the MCD polls won’t push this to the back burner, as has been done by the media.
(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)