Army Deployment in Haryana: 'Last Resort Has Become First Response'
NEW DELHI: The deployment of the Indian Army to contain the recent Jat unrest across Haryana, is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.
Despite the presence of nearly 50 companies, or around 5,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the state in addition to over 60,000 Haryana policemen, the provincial and federal authorities felt compelled to employ the army as the force of first resort to quell burgeoning violence.
It took the authorities barely a few hours to summon the army in aid to civil authority, after trouble erupted across Haryana, with militant Jat’s demanding affirmative action for their affluent and politically powerful community.
“The force of last resort has become one of first response” said Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, former army vice chief.
The civil authorities are mustering the army at the first hint of trouble, merely to cover themselves and deflect blame in the event of something going wrong, he added.
Over decades senior army officers have been critical of the army’s constant deployment on Internal Security (IS) duty.
“The army’s primary role is to fight wars and undergo training during peacetime” said former Lt Gen Vijay Kapoor. It cannot be a substitute for administration that it has become in recent years.
Constant troop deployment on IS duties, dilutes the army’s authority, corrupts ranks and compromises efficiency through lack of training.
Besides, over time army soldiers are looked upon as merely as riot controllers in olive green, losing the respect and mystique they traditionally enjoyed.
But what of the bloated civil police forces and paramilitaries that continue to grow, but remain incapable of maintaining law and order?
An audit of their numbers, in inverse proportion to their operational capabilities, is not only revealing, but scandalous.
The strength of India’s civil and armed police in 28 states and seven Union Territories is around 1.70 million, a shortfall of some 600,000 personnel against a countrywide force of 2.12 million sanctioned by the federal Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Of this 352,110 personnel comprise the respective states Armed Police contingents that, technically are for controlling riots like the ones provoked by Haryana’s Jats.
Additionally, there is the 65,000 strong armed Railway Protection Force (RPF) controlled jointly by the federal government and the public sector Indian Rail and the associated Government Railway Police (GRP) with some 36,600 personnel financed by the States and the Rail Ministry.
The 405,000 strong Home Guards-168,000 less than the sanctioned strength-is yet another of India’s auxiliary armed forces, maintained at great expense.
Then there are six Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) or paramilitaries under the MHA totaling some 9 million personnel, besides two Special Forces Contingents for employment on anti-terrorist operations and VVIP security respectively.
Of these the CRPF with over 300,000 personnel- projected to rise to 400,000 by 2018, is India’s, and possibly the worlds, largest paramilitary force.
It was raised by the Colonial administration in 1939 as the Crown Representative Police, a "non partisan" federal force to deal with recurring law and order problems across the country much like the Haryana turbulence.
In 1992 the government added the blue beret Rapid Action Force (RAF) to it to deal with communal situations and sectarian conflicts as the capability of the poorly equipped, trained and partisan state police forces was deemed inadequate.
And as incipient Maoist violence proliferated 1990s onwards, the government in 2008 approved the raising of 10 CRPF specialised battalions Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) to counter the rebels.
The BSF, on the other hand, was founded in 1965 after the second India-Pakistan war. Currently it has 173 battalions (including three National Disaster Response Force units) or 243,161 personnel. Like the CRPF it too has been employed on IS duties in Punjab to counter Sikh militancy in the early 1980s and later in Kashmir 1989 onwards.
Raised in 1962 after India’s disastrous border war with China, the 50,000-strong Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), is tasked with guarding the northern borders along the Line of Actual Control.
It was deployed on IS duties in Punjab in the 1980s and more recently some 400 of its personnel are in Afghanistan to provide security to Indian workers engaged in reconstruction work in the war-torn country.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) came into being in 1969 and with 133,762 presently personnel provides security and fire cover to some 307 units including 59 domestic and international airports, Delhi’s Metro Rail and 86 Industrial Undertakings.
Raised as the Cachar Levy in 1835 by the British to patrol the Burma border, the Assam Rifles (AR) is India's oldest and possibly only land-based paramilitary unit with a strength of around 65,000 personnel. The other is the Coast Guard.
Staffed by army officers its soldiers are recruited locally from the seven northeastern states.
And, like BSF and the ITBP, the AR too is deployed under the operational command of the army, primarily for counter-insurgency operations in the north-eastern states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.
Headquartered at Shillong, the Assam Rifles also man the Chinese border in Arunachal Pradesh and northern Sikkim and the Indo-Myanmar border.
The Sashastra Suraksha Bal (SSB), was set up as the Special Service Bureau (SSB) a year after the 1962 China conflict as a ‘Fifth Column’ guerilla force to work with the border population against threats of subversion, infiltration and sabotage from across the border.
In 2001-02, after the reorganization of India’s security forces following the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, it was rechristened the Sashastra Seema Bal with an amended charter and given responsibility of manning the Nepalese and Bhutanese borders. It has 61 battalions of 67,029 personnel against a sanctioned strength of 80,697.
The elite National Security Guard (NSG) was set up in 1984 as a Federal Contingency Deployment Force for anti-terrorist activities. It trains other paramilitaries, state police forces and SF of friendly neighbouring countries in special commando action, anti-hijacking operations, bomb disposal techniques and VIP security.
And finally the Special Protection Group (SPG), a select commando corps set up in 1985 following prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination to provide security to the prime minister and a handful of other dignitaries. It has around 4,000 well-equipped men.
Does the Indian state really need to deploy the army to contain violence across India?
The short answer for successive administration is, obviously, No.