While a more involved leadership on the ground may not be sufficient to deal with both operational and intelligence failures that have led to the deaths of jawans as well as the killing of civilians, it is certainly a necessary first step.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has an unenviable task in Chhattisgarh and other areas affected by Left Wing Extremists (LWEs). It performs a host of functions, from policing and security duties, to conducting counter-insurgency operations — the latter against an adversary that consists of Indian citizens, often deeply connected to local geography, ecology and with an intimate knowledge of the terrain. Given these persistent challenges, it is disturbing that a CRPF review of the forces based in Chhattisgarh by senior officials has found a significant dip in the quality of operations in the Maoist-violence affected state over the last two years.
As reported by this newspaper, a report based on the review has been sent to Sukma, Konta, Bijapur, Dantewada, Jagdalpur, and Raipur and lays much of the blame for the decline on the fact that the involvement of senior officers at the level of commandant and second-in-command has considerably decreased. It is not difficult to see what a lack of hands-on leadership can lead to — for instance, the report found that there have been slip-ups in setting up tactical resting sites during operations. This, of course, leaves troops open to ambushes, which have led to considerable casualties over the years. Most recently, the Sukma-Bijapur ambush led to the death of 22 security personnel. With over a thousand security personnel killed in the state since 2011, the paramilitary forces can ill-afford a decline in operational leadership. The question of training and leadership in the CRPF also has a grave impact on the communities where they function: Recently, the Justice V K Agarwal report concluded that the eight people, including four minors, killed by the CRPF’s elite CoBRA unit in Edesmetta in 2013 were civilians, and not Maoists as the force had claimed. In 2019, a single-judge commission concluded that the CRPF had killed 17 people, firing unilaterally in Bijapur. In both cases, the incidents were apparent “mistakes”, stemming from a failure of jawans to tell civilians and extremists apart.
While a more involved leadership on the ground may not be sufficient to deal with both operational and intelligence failures that have led to the deaths of jawans as well as the killing of civilians, it is certainly a necessary first step. The CRPF needs a leadership that is more empathetic to its personnel and equal to the harsh circumstances they face. Equally, paramilitary forces must be sensitised to the plight of people in states like Chhattisgarh, who face the brunt of poverty, a security state and Maoist violence.
This editoral first appeared in the print edition on September 22, 2021 under the title ‘Slipping on ground’.
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