To begin with, can we articulate a proper role for the CRPF?
The recent performance of the Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] against the Maoists has been under the scanner. Based on the results so far, it has rightly attracted a fair share of criticism from most knowledgeable quarters. Valid questions have been raised about its training, operational readiness, equipping, leadership, and morale and motivation of its troopers. And authorities have failed to provide any honest answers so far.
But what precisely is the role of the CRPF? As its official website states:
The Central Reserve Police Force is an armed Force of the Union of India, with the basic role of striking reserve to assist the State/Union Territories in Police operations to maintain law and order and contain insurgency. Its role is that of a catalyst in maintaining law & order, and returns to barracks once this objective is achieved. The force is also being used for various police duties in various States.[Link]
The role is too broad-based for the CRPF to be effective in any serious counter-insurgency campaign. Moreover, it is inappropriately defined for the current tasks it is being charged to perform in Maoist-infested areas. This is not to indulge in nitpicking, but “striking reserve” was perhaps meant to be an “offensive reserve” [Incidentally, "striking" as an adjective has only two meanings, both inappropriate here: Sensational in appearance or thrilling in effect; and Having a quality that thrusts itself into attention]. Even when it comes to insurgency, CRPF’s role is limited to “assist… contain insurgency”. If you include the bits about “catalyst” and “return to barracks” after the catalytic action, it is not difficult to understand why CRPF appears to be struggling against the Maoists.
Now this is not to suggest in any way that merely a change in the role of the CRPF will miraculously transform it into a crack counter-insurgency force. But a clearly-defined and properly-articulated role is certainly a reflection on the clarity of purpose in the minds of the top leadership of the organisation. It also provides a start-point for creating a roadmap that allows the organisation to effectively and efficiently deliver in its obligations. If there is not even a proper role to begin with for the CRPF, it is unrealistic to harbour great expectations from it while operating against the Maoists.
Incidentally, other central police organisations operating under the Home Ministry, unlike the CRPF, have clearly defined roles. Here is the role of the Border Security Force:
Security of border of India and matters connected therewith.[Link]
Similarly, the official mandate of the Central Industrial Security Force is:
…to provide security to major critical infrastructure installations of the country in diverse areas.[Link]
To be fair to the establishment, the Home Ministry seems to have realised that the CRPF, with such a broad-based role, is not particularly suited for intensive counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists. This consideration seems to have influenced its decision to carve out 10 COBRA[Combat Battalion for Resolute Action] units out of the CRPF to counter the Maoists. Four battalions of this specialised force, which has been since rechristened as a more politically correct Special Action Force[SAF], have been operationalised last month. Currently, these battalions are too few in number to make a significant difference on the ground and will always be in high demand from all the states. This will present its own challenges as witnessed after the massacre at Dantewada when five platoons of SAF were sent to reinforce and assist the 62nd Battalion CRPF. Moreover, maintaining the quality of the SAF while increasing their quantity in a short span of time will also place a herculean demand on the ministry and the CRPF.
Perhaps the CRPF can look to emulate the army’s raising of Rashtriya Rifles [RR] while raising the SAF. The RR, as a specialised counter-insurgency force in Jammu & Kashmir, has allowed the regular army units to focus on their primary duties. RR has thus been able to gain from its continuity and permanence in deployment — institutionalised learning, best operational practices, coordination with civil police, proficient intelligence gathering and closer relationship with the locals. Indubitably, SAF, with the right impetus from the ministry, could be geared to perform a role akin to the RR, in counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists.
When it comes to the CRPF and the SAF, articulating the appropriate role and finding the right model respectively does not diminish the gargantuan challenges faced by the Home Ministry. But at least, they are good markers for the ministry to start its tough journey from.