Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2018.
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Yet another tragedy in Bastar. 25 CRPF men killed on 24.04.2017 by Maoists in Sukma, scream the headlines. Wreaths have been laid, bugles have sounded, compensation has been announced, and the tragic headline is already on the wane and will be forgotten soon. Do we even remember that just about a month ago 12 CRPF men were killed in the same place, 15 were killed on March 11, 2014 again in the same place, and the worst being a massacre of 75 CRPF men in Dantewada in April 2010. And these are just illustrative examples, not a complete list of Maoist killings which run into thousands over the last ten years.
The CRPF has a grand history dating back to pre-Independence days. It was originally constituted in 1939 as the Crown Representative Police in 1939, to address the political unrest and agitations and help the then princely States of India to maintain law and order. After Independence, the force was renamed as Central Reserve Police Force by an Act of Parliament on December 28, 1949. Its main role is to assist the States in maintaining internal security. The Headquarters of CRPF was to be at Neemuch as per Sector 8(2) of the original Act. Since independence, CRPF has been recognized for its gallantry and patriotic service to the nation, both at the borders and within India.
With such a glorious history and legacy, why does the CRPF appear such an orphan today, with neither leadership nor strategy, without proper arms and equipment, without protective cover or mobile connectivity required for guerrilla warfare, and has repeatedly been reduced to cannon fodder for the rapacious Maoists.
The country was shocked to learn that the post of DG, CRPF had been lying vacant for the past almost two months, and was filled up only after the Sukna massacre, almost like an afterthought. May I ask the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, both members of the Appointments Committee, to explain this lethargy in governance, after all that hype about good governance which was the BJP’s main election plank. Why did it have to take the lives of 25 CRPF jawans for this routine appointment to be made?
Maybe no answers will be forthcoming. But perhaps it would be better governance if the new DG CRPF is ordered to shift his Headquarters to Dantewada and stay put there for at least a year, protect his men, boost their morale, and give them all the support they need, and clean up the infested area. Massacres in Chattisgarh should never be repeated again.
I only hope the newly appointed DG, CRPF has some prior experience in handling battalions of the CRPF, and has adequate knowledge and technical competence in field craft, knowledge of various types of weapons and ability to use them, proven man management skills of field formations, and intimate knowledge of the topography and enemy tactics. If not, and his appointment is based solely on the fact that he belongs to the IPS, then he certainly cannot hit the ground running, and will continue to be the usual apprentice in the trappings of New Delhi, without a clue about the harsh ground realities of a Battalion at work. And the attacks on our hapless jawans will go on.
I cannot understand why the post of DG- CRPF is reserved only for IPS officers of all hue, even when they have had no experience in the outfit that they are supposed to lead. If there are senior competent officers recruited in the CRPF, and have spent their entire service in the force and have intimate domain knowledge of their work, why are they denied this opportunity? Just one small policy change by opening up senior positions of the force to them can hugely boost their morale.
Some other disturbing questions also surface. The Sukma incident, an attack by a large group of Moists armed with weapons, is reported to have taken place in broad day light around noon time. How did this go unnoticed? Does it not indicate an abysmal intelligence failure of the State and Central police agencies? The State police have their moorings and permanent influence in the area where the Central Police force is deployed, and therefore have greater responsibility to gather actionable intelligence and passed it on to the CRPF. They have better knowledge of local language and dialects, of local customs and environment, which the CRPF men drawn from various parts of the country do not have. Does the State Police and the CRPF have the required synergy between them, or has the State Police abdicated their responsibility and put the entire load on the CRPF?
It is also not clear why drones and helicopter services were not utilized for tracking the movement of large groups of armed men in the region. Why is it not possible for ISRO to place a fleet of small satellites to give 24 x 7 images of movements of insurgents in this chronic Maoist infested area, which for the last two decades has cost us so many lives of our brave jawans? I urge the Prime Minister to treat this as a matter of highest priority for national security. Pictures of Venus and Jupiter can wait. Let us try and get pictures of what is happening on Indian soil, and help our security forces.
Then there are disturbing bits of information openly spoken about that the Maoists share quite a cosy relationship with both politicians and industrialists in their areas. To the politicians, they promise votes from the people they control, and from the industrialists there are regular payments of protection money which sustain their insurgent activities. Is this the reason why there is no political will to completely crush the Maoist war on the Indian State?
Where are the Maoists getting their arms and ammunition from? It is said that both China and Pakistan are doing their utmost to ensure that the Maoists are never wanting for them. Can the Prime Minister please inform us as to what steps are being taken to curb this. Judging from the repeated succession of such attacks on our security forces, we don’t seem to be doing anything very effective.
And then there are reports about the pathetic conditions that the CRPF jawans have to work in - lack of potable water in hot temperatures, poor quality of food, stress and fatigue because of long deployment without break. Clearly, the CRPF appears to be in such a state of neglect that its leadership cannot even get its basic man management right.
Every time a tragedy happens in the Maoist belt, there is a predictable response from the Government – that there will be an enquiry about whether the Standard Operating Procedures were being implemented. But would it not be more useful to review these SOPs and ensure that they give maximum protection to our jawans engaged in this guerrilla warfare.
I am waiting for a transformational statement to come from New Delhi, but have heard nothing yet. New Delhi continues to fiddle while Bastar burns. And I’m reminded of the statement the Prime Minister made after the Pathankot attack in September 2016, that ‘the sacrifice of our 18 jawans would not go in vain.’ After this recent Maoist attack in Sukma, he has made the same statement in a tweet, ‘we are proud of the valour of our CRPF personnel. The sacrifice of the martyrs will not go in vain...”
I beg to differ, Mr Prime Minister, all these lives did indeed go in vain, because of neglect, poor governance and failure of the Indian State. I urge you to place the highest priority on this great threat to our internal security, in the national interest. And it’s high time you changed your sound bite writer. He is becoming too trivial and repetitive.