Dantewada Massacre: Raw face of Central incompetence
by N S Malik on 10 Apr 2010 8 Comments

A terrible tragedy occurred on April 6 when we lost 75 CRPF jawans, and one district police officer, in the Dantewada forests of Chattisgarh, in a horrendous ambush, possibly the worst single episode in independent India. The personnel were inducted as part of Operation Green Hunt, and were ambushed so thoroughly that despite attempts to fight back, were simply outnumbered and butchered in a most uneven encounter. The scale of the massacre is simply unprecedented, a complete company wiped out in a single stroke. The nation is shell-shocked.


This can mean only two things: either the CRPF personnel were raw recruits, untrained and badly led, or the Maoists have acquired standards to take on large bodies of security forces. Both points are worrisome.


The scenario is horrific. A force of company strength walks into an ambush and gets massacred without a credible fight. The one-sided encounter took place early morning and was soon over. One can only visualize the state of mind of the company falling back after being in operations for three days; tired, thoroughly demotivated heads hanging low. One often comes across kind of scenario in counter insurgency (CI) operations in the North East or J&K, but the leadership has to be alert to such situations and ensure that troops are cautioned, briefed, likely ambush sites visualized, searched ahead of the main body, and only then the troops allowed to proceed. The simple rule of thumb is: be most alert when pulling out of operations as that is when troops are most vulnerable and the enemy most aggressive, waiting for a chance to strike. In this case, it is a total failure of leadership at all levels, company to force commander and Ministry of Home Affairs that launched this operation with raw, untrained men. 


In the discussions on TV and cocktail circuits, the poor training of troops is being held responsible for the massacre. But surely the question is, ‘who is responsible for this state of affairs?’ Why hasn’t action been initiated against the commanders who were supposed to train these troops before inducting them to undertake such operations? In India, para military forces (PMF) have been raised on the lines of police forces, manned, trained and officered by them, unlike other nations.


PMF are to man the border in peace time, fight insurgency, reinforce and provide support to local police forces in internal security (IS) situations such as riots and violent agitations, and be the second line of defence in war. PMF have been the basin of police to man them, not with the aim to provide higher professional leadership, but to maintain quota and promotion status for the IPS with the IAS.


But police officers are not leaders of fighting troops. They can at best be managers, and that too, of logistics, for the PMF.  Thus all leading is left to the lower ranks, at the SI, Inspector or maximum up to the Assistant and Deputy Commandant, who all belong to the PMF cadre. The IPS come in only at the level of IG or DG, and that too for a rest posting or awaiting posting to a prestigious post in their state. This divided leadership is the major cause of poor training and low morale, as nobody seems to be responsible.


There is also a flawed mindset in the country that PMF are only to supplement the police, and that any fighting with anyone armed with anything more than stones and slogans is to be done by the army. This has resulted in a situation where Army is called out to do the task of PMFs, PMFs perform the role of armed police in the states, and local police do only local thana duty without getting involved in the law and order situation. Sadly, the sacrifice of these 76 helpless men will soon be forgotten and nobody will be held responsible, no heads will roll for the omissions and commissions, as the system is structured to ensure that nobody is accountable for such a gigantic operational failure


India has a large PMF that if properly trained and led, would rarely need the army to be called out for internal security or counter insurgency operations. The army uses minimum force, armed with small arms only, same as the police, yet the results are poles apart. The reason is leadership! We need to officer our PMF with dedicated leadership belonging to the force that will be responsible and accountable. At presently it is a hybrid with PMF cadre at the lower ranks and IPS officers at the apex level. This creates resentment and rift between the two cadres, leaving the force leaderless.


The only way forward is total removal of IPS officers from the command of the PMF. The para military forces must raise their own cadre, with enough officers from the army seconded at all levels to strengthen leadership. The PMF character must change from police to military. Assam Rifles is an outstanding example of this type of force; the ‘Sentinels of the East’ have done a highly professional job of all tasks entrusted to them.


In fact the army counter insurgency operations in the North East rely immensely on the intelligence, professional competence and jungle warfare training provided by the Assam Rifles. This is also true of the Rashtriya Rifles in J&K, though based on a slightly different principle, as it is manned totally by the army. They form the grid, through which the army moves to weed out terrorists. Hence a distinct orientation of the PMF to military type of training and operational efficiency must take place immediately. Armed police battalions of states should retain a police character to undertake tasks of internal security, such as riots, and violent agitations in the form of bandhs and hartals. It is the building of empires that has created this anomaly in our vast structure of PMFs. 


It began with the formation of the Border Security Force in the 1960s. Instead of being a force to support the army and ensure border security, it has become a chowkidar force on the border with typical police character. It should have been officered by the army, but promotions and other considerations made it a police domain, with the budget coming from the Ministry of Home Affairs cited as the main reason. Pakistan Rangers on the other side is a comparatively vibrant force, officered by the Pakistan Army. Fortunately this mistake was not repeated when the Coast Guard was raised, perhaps as there was no marine police at that time.


A major failure has been in the field of intelligence. How come the force had no idea that such a large Maoist force of nearly a thousand men, as reported, had infiltrated into the rear of the operation area and its line of communication totally dominated by them. An ambush is generally by a small force that has stealthily sneaked into the area and having inflicted some damage on an advancing or retreating force, pulls out fast to escape. But this was no simple ambush. It was a proper operation by the Maoists against a non-operational force. The result could not be otherwise. Ambushes can be deadly when properly laid and executed with surprise as the main element. Even highly trained troops will suffer casualties, but losing a whole company is unheard of. Worse, the Maoists seemed to understand the lethargic working of the force; the encounter lasted over two hours and no relief force arrived though the base camp was located just five km away.


A cry will now go up to induct the army into Naxal-infested areas. This is the typical reaction of a demoralized leadership at the national level that has no resolve to tackle the situation but to hand it over to the army to somehow to maintain the level of violence at an acceptable level, while the problem itself remains unsolved. But using the army for such tasks is to misuse it; this is not the role it is trained for.


There are two major pitfalls in this course: the army is taken away from its main role, perverting its very ethos to CI ops rather than the war scenario it exists for. Second, the army undertakes the role of PMF, thereby diluting their role and making them mere spectators and more ceremonial than functional. This has happened repeatedly in the North East and J&K, with the result that PMF has become a second rate force incapable of tackling anything but unarmed crowds. Overall, the nation is the loser.


This can prove fatal the day the army is required to defend the country against external aggression, as it would have been blunted in fighting insurgencies and doing internal security duties. Yet it is argued that if the nation breaks up due to these insurgencies and internal civil strife, of what use is the army? Pakistan is cited as an example, where the army remained away from any IS duties, honing its skills for a war against its eastern neighbour, and yet now undertakes operations in Swat and frontier tribal areas.


It is true that the army has a secondary role of internal security and cannot shy away from it, but this has inherent dangers. Pre-1962 the army was considered a non-productive financial burden and asked to undertake civil tasks like building houses and other non-professional duties at the expense of its training. When the emergency occurred, the army was found wanting. So a balance has to be maintained whereby the army is used only to bring a deteriorating situation under control in IS duties and then the PMF or civil police brought in.


But this mostly does not happen. The Army once engaged is not relieved and the task continues indefinitely. In the North East, the army was inducted in Nagaland in 1956, but despite bringing situation well under control many times, its deployment and role remains the same.


We must also understand the role of external adversial forces. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram hinted at mischief from outside by alluding to borders being porous and arms and equipment being smuggled in (we need not go into the details of who wanted and made the borders porous]. This has been true since independence. J&K was the first major aggression in 1947-48; then Nagaland was instigated and supported materially and morally by outside forces; with the violence gradually spreading to Manipur, Mizoram and Assam. 


The scale of support kept fluctuating and the support agency changing, from China and East Pakistan, to Pakistan and China through Bangladesh, Myanmar and now Nepal. The hidden hand of external forces wants to destabilize India by keeping the Indian Army engaged perpetually in insurgency broils. Unfortunately, our political and military leadership falls easily into the trap. Blunt the ultimate weapon of defence and India lies prostrate. The thousand cuts that Bhutto and his successors have been talking of are first and foremost to the army; we have been obliging by exposing our army to those cuts.


The Maoist insurgency is aimed to get the army embroiled via wide collateral damage, hue and cry of genocide of tribals through human rights agencies, hurling falsehoods or half truths and maligning the security forces externally and worse, in the eyes of our own people. This is a major front opened against India where at no expense to the outside power, maximum gain is achieved by destroying the Indian Security Forces physically and morally.


Maoists are no friends of the tribals or down trodden. They have an externally manipulated agenda to fulfill. Maoist sympathizers seen in large numbers on electronic media screens are just waiting to demolish the government resolve to deal with this insurgency. No enemy can ask for a better policy from a slumbering and non-thinking government and the Indian intellectuals who swear in the name of democracy, but are not prepared to fight against those very enemies of Indian democracy.


Lt. Gen. N.S. Malik, PVSM, is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff

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