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#3151, 15 June 2010
Countering the Naxal Threat-III: Use the CRPF and Avoid the Army
D Suba Chandran
Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi
email: subachandran@gmail.com

There is a growing debate in India to use the military against the Naxalite threat and crush the Maoists. This article argues against such a strategy and recommends using the local police and the CRPF to deal with the Naxal threat.

Three Questions: Under What Circumstances? After What Efforts? Will it Aggravate or Ameliorate?

Under what circumstances should the Army (and the Air force) be used? Also, against whom should it be used? There has never been a debate, when the Army was called in for anti -insurgency operations in India’s Northeast or Jammu and Kashmir. The situation in these two regions warranted its use, as there was a complete break down of governance, with the non-State actors calling for complete independence. It was a question of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Besides, the militants in these regions were armed to their teeth and supported by external actors.

Have all the other options been explored, before calling for the Army’s help? In India, there are other security forces and options – from State Police to para-militaries. There are cases in which the States have used exclusive security formations, to address the threat of insurgency and extremism. For example, Andhra Pradesh has successfully used the Grey Hounds, while J&K still relies upon the Special Operations Group (SOG). Besides, the State Police has also used irregular formations, for example, the Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in J&K; Salwa Judum was a similar attempt that has become controversial in Chattisgarh. Besides, States have also used surrendered militants – the Ikhwans in J&K, and the SULFA in Assam, as a counter-militancy strategy.

The third question is teleological: Will the use of military help better the situation? What if, the use of military aggravates the situation? Unlike the Police and Paramilitaries, the military’s training is different; it sees issues in black and white. The military is trained in that way for a reason; it would be unwise to expect the military to change its raison d’etre and pursue a different approach. If the military is used in an internal situation, it is bound to create human rights issues.

Three Answers: Situation does not warrant Army Deployment, Other Options Exist and Make use of the CRPF.

Is the Naxal threat comparable to that of India’s Northeast and J&K, in terms of questioning India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity? Is there a complete break down of governance, in the Naxal affected areas, where local institutions cannot function? The Naxal threat has taken deep roots in more than three states and is the single most significant internal security threat, as the Prime Minister has identified. However, the situation does not warrant the use of military, for the following reasons.

The existing options are yet to be fully explored. First and foremost, the political options remain untouched; the basic issue relating to the exploitation of popular sentiments by the Naxal groups is linked with the failure of effective governance and the absence of land reforms. Caste and tribal structures are yet to be broken; worse, there is a strong nexus between the tribal and caste leadership with the political structure, which is preventing any meaningful redistribution of lands and forests. Equally important is the exploitation of the forest wealth by the timber mafia, land sharks and other mining excavations. This is a political and governance issue, which is yet to be tackled at the ground level.

Second, the use of security forces option is not fully exploited. At the State level, there have been enough reports to indicate that local police forces have not been prepared adequately to address the growing challenge. Funds allocated by the federal government for police modernization have not been effectively utilized. Police reforms and proper training need to be carried out immediately. Local Police should be the first and best line of defence. Unfortunately, this potential has not been tapped effectively in the Naxal affected States.

Para-military forces, especially the CRPF is best suited to handle anti-Naxal operations. Despite the failures, the CRPF is evolving and has the potential to become the best counter- insurgency force, not only in India, but all over the world. Unlike the military, the CRPF does not see issues in black and white; they have not been trained in that manner. Moreover, when compared to the military and other Para-military forces like the Border Security Force (BSF), CRPF is a soft force. Third, CRPF is better suited to deal with the Naxal threat, for they do not have the problem of territory and cooperation between the police forces. Since, the Naxal issue is spread over Jharkand, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh; there is a need for a central force.

Undoubtedly, the CRPF has met with numerous failures so far in terms of handling the Naxal threat. But, one should give more time and space to this force, as it is evolving, comprising young and energetic officer corps, and is willing to take casualties. The CRPF should be allowed to evolve from within and to adopt measures that are best suited, at the grass roots level.

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