Home >opinion >online-views >CRPF: The halfway house of policy and operation

Here’s an aside about a man who once ran Central Reserve Police Force ; firmly focused CRPF as a vanguard in anti-Maoist operations; boosted its elite CoBRA special forces trained and armed for commando-style anti-Maoist ingresses—surgical strikes; and pushed for massive expansion of the country’s largest paramilitary organization.

K. Vijay Kumar wanted to chew me out but we ended up shaking hands.

He was furious after I wrote in this column in August 2012, just weeks before he was to retire as director general—and just weeks after a disastrous operation in end-June that year in southern Chhattisgarh that targeted Maoist rebels and militia, but ended up killing non-combatants, even minors. I had described his organization’s structural malaise.

Organizations such as CRPF are inherently weak. Designed as a halfway house of policy and operation between the army and the police, it lacks the resources, strategic focus and default discipline of the former; and the localized identity, however corrupted it can be on account of political interference and mismanagement, of the latter.

A force under control of the central ministry of home affairs, CRPF is an outfit whose troopers are shipped from one crisis spot to another, a not-quite-police shoehorned into playing not-quite-army as a substitute for governance.

A little over a week after Maoist rebels attacked and killed 25 CPRF troopers in southern Chhattisgarh, I stand by every word of it.

And nearly five years ago when we first met in his office at CRPF headquarters in New Delhi—he with a printout of my column on his desk—I told him why.

Kumar was concerned articles like mine would affect morale in CRPF. My counter was: the problem was not—is not—articles such as that—and this—but the very nature of CRPF, similar to the situation several paramilitary organizations find themselves in.

Such forces are at best firefighters, cleaning up after politicians, civilian administration and police—tasked with local law and order—have made a mess of things; and still face command and control and coordination issues with various states. It happens in Maoist zones, or as a consequence of rioting and killing in Northeast India or, say, Jammu and Kashmir.

At another level, CRPF troopers are pure cannon fodder, walking into combat areas and situations they know little of.

At yet another level, they can become default agents of human rights violations as the troopers make little distinction between combatant and non-combatant in the fog of war, either through lack of familiarity, knee-jerk planning, or in plain revenge for colleagues being injured or killed in a previous encounter with all manner of rebels.

This literally creates bad blood. What hearts-and-minds of citizens is CRPF and others like it going to engage, when they are dealing with hearts-and-minds issues of their own? It’s not the media. It’s the method of internal security management.

Kumar heard me out, and finally shook my hand. It was a conciliatory end to a meeting with a man who got his job in the wake of Maoist attacks in 2010 that killed nearly a hundred CRPF troopers in Dantewada and Bastar; and the man who earned his star-spurs in 2004 by leading the team of Tamil Nadu police that killed the smuggler-poacher Veerappan.

It is to the CRPF’s credit that they have invited determinedly independent observers and chroniclers like me to talk to its seasoned officers and its freshest officers about why Maoists rebel, how they think, what leads people to be recruited by them, and how important a hearts-and-minds approach is for anything in conflict and conflict resolution.

K. Durga Prasad, who was director general till this February, also kept the conversational door open for people like me, trusting us, and trusting too our commitment to human rights and our core belief that what matters most are citizens caught in the middle of the battle, citizens and their homelands that both Maoists and the state claim to reclaim. And this is a man who earned his star-spurs as chief of Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhound forces that ran down Maoist rebels with a combination of force, guile, infiltration and attrition.

Kumar is now a senior adviser at the home ministry. He knows CRPF has won much ground against Maoist rebels. But he also knows there are reasons beyond CRPF, beyond any force, why the Maoist rebellion still holds out 50 years after it began in a country both troopers and rebels call home.

Part of an ongoing series about the history, trajectory, the state, and implications of leftwing extremism in India on the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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