Mid-day April 3 2021. Bijapur, Chattisgarh. Another failed operation, another massacre, another tragedy. This time 22 policemen killed, another 31 injured, some grievously. Hundreds of lives lost over the last few years. Unfortunately, no heads roll, no serious corrective actions are taken and it’s back to usual business after a few months.
In the larger spectrum, there has to be a long term strategic vision and intent to tackle the Maoist movement, comprising credible long term operational, civic action and development plans, the establishment of permanent technical and human intelligence network grids, round-the-year sustained operations to keep the rebels on the run, well-armed and equipped counter Naxal units permanently located within the operational grid and comprising well trained, hardened and motivated men, and most of all, a professional cadre of officers which can lead from the front. Much of these are lacking.
In this specific instance, the mistakes are glaring. The operation was unwieldy, poorly planned and probably based on faulty intelligence. Reports state that for many days prior, there was an abnormal activity of senior police officers between various camps, alerting the Naxals of an impending operation. Operations of this magnitude require detailed planning, coordination, training and a clear chain of command, all of which were probably lacking.
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A mixed bag of two thousand men from four different agencies, poles apart in training and ethos, were launched together in a “jungle bashing” operation. It appears that neither was a central Headquarters with networked communications established to control the operations nor was there a reserve force that could be employed rapidly at a point of decision. There was also no proper logistical back up especially with respect to immediate casualty evacuation. If the intent was to launch a quick operation to capture Madvi Hidma, this was certainly not the way to go.
The level of training, motivation and morale can be gauged from the fact that the force panicked on coming under fire and did not take any counter-ambush measures. Strangely, even the elite Cobras did not suspect anything though they saw that several villages they traversed through were devoid of inhabitants. That they were “suddenly” overwhelmed from all sides clearly indicates that the force did not follow the basic combat tenets of securing their flanks, occupying vantage points and moving off the beaten tracks.
But the most glaring shortcoming was that there were apparently no officers leading from the front.
On the other hand, the Maoists did everything with military precision. Several videos are being circulated which are hard to disbelieve. The one showing a combined force of Naxal men and women carrying out an attack, may or may not be of this particular operation but it does indicate their high level of training, planning and execution of operations. On April 3, the Naxals tracked every movement, chose one group, selected an open area devoid of foliage as the killing ground and launched a deadly, well planned, clinical attack.
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This is war and not your everyday police encounter. The truth must emerge and the guilty punished. If the Government is serious about pinpointing responsibility, it must constitute a high-level Court of Inquiry headed this time by an Army General Officer and comprising experienced Army officers and an IPS officer in an advisory capacity.
Determined and well thought out corrective measures must also commence immediately which may involve large scale restructuring and overhaul of the police officer cadre.
The foremost issue that needs to be tackled broadside on is that of command and control. The lack of operational leadership of police forces is not something new. Time and again it has been highlighted how IPS officers are reluctant to serve in or to command CRPF, ITBP or BSF units, let alone lead them in combat operations against terrorists and insurgents. A glance at the casualty list of this operation shows that the highest-ranked personnel killed were an Inspector and a Sub Inspector. So where were the officers during this operation?
A former Army officer, well respected as a military thinker, has suggested that the Army take over the command responsibilities of CRPF in the ranks of Colonels to Generals. This is a totally unacceptable solution. Why on earth should Army officers be suddenly asked midway in their career to command police units in insurgency areas just because their own officers are unwilling to do so? It’s best that this argument rests here.
There are, however, a few alternate suggestions as follows:
Government should reintroduce the earlier system of inducting Army officers into the IPS after completion of five years of service in combat units but in much larger numbers. This will not only fill up the shortfall in cadre strength but will also provide trained, experienced and motivated officers to the force.
- The psychological and physical requirements for police officers are different to that of the IAS or IFS. Selection of direct IPS officers through UPSC should, therefore, be delinked from that of the Civil Services and separate written exams, Selection Board and medical fitness on the lines of selection to the NDA should be introduced. Preferably, the entrance age should be kept below 25 years.
- IPS officers should not be allotted to any state. Instead, there should be a central cadre controller on the lines of the Military Secretary of the Army which should manage the career of each officer and ensure balanced postings to different states for Law & Order duties, to CAPFs like CRPF/BSF/ITBP and to different regions of the country.
- Two years continuous service as Company Commanders/Commanding Officers in BSF, CRPF or ITBP should be mandatory for promotion to higher ranks.
- No officer of the rank of DIG and above should be posted to the Delhi or Regional Headquarters of any CAPF unless he/she has commanded a BSF, CRPF or ITBP battalion for two years.
The nation cannot continue to remain immune to the large-scale killing of policemen in ambushes and badly planned and executed operations. The time has come for the Government to overhaul and re-energize the police forces through wide-ranging measures so that professionalism and morale are restored amongst the rank and file and cutting edge leadership provided to lead them in operations.
(The author is a Former GOC-in-C, Western Command and is a military luminary who has held several challenging & high-profile appointments throughout his highly decorated career. He is a prolific writer on National Security issues. This article was first published in the 'Times Now' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author in the larger interest of the military fraternity.)
(Views expressed are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India.)