Numbers can provide a false sense of security. In a country where ‘how many’ has been more important and reassuring than ‘how’, the aspect of quality — whether in the sphere of education, developmental schemes or what goes under the rubric of ‘demographic dividend’ — gets subsumed by the notion of quantity. The same sense of mistaken confidence seems to have affected internal security, the government’s war against Maoist terrorism in particular. Home Minister P. Chidambaram has put the finger on the problem by stating, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s killing of 27 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district, that CRPF deployment should be “revisited” depending on “operational or developmental” requirements. Another aspect that has come to light — and should be recorded in the preliminary probe report by the Director General of the CRPF — is that standard operating procedure (SOP) was abandoned by the security personnel in Narayanpur. This is practically the same ‘lapse’ that took place in April when 76 CRPF soldiers were ambushed and killed by the Maoists in Dantewada district. We cannot afford such deja vus.
The total CRPF strength is 2.7 lakh. A mix of CRPF, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Border Security Force personnel are deployed across India’s Maoist-strong areas, with the CRPF comprising most of the 60 battalions deployed. A battalion has a sanctioned strength of 1,050 men, with 600 forming an ‘effective fighting force’ while the rest are engaged in ancillary duties and training and are on leave. But flouting rules of engagement such as SOPs (as was the case in Narayanpur and Dantewada where, instead of taking a different route after a ‘road-opening’ exercise, the CRPF personnel apparently retraced their way back and became easy pickings) and being ‘undertrained’, throws the numerical advantage that security forces have over the Maoists out of the window.
Strategically, it makes less sense to deploy personnel with little experience in the jungle terrain of Chhattisgarh, especially when there are soldiers with experience fighting insurgencies in the North-east. The devil is in the details and not in retrofitting a ‘fit-all’ war strategy, both in time and space, to counter the Maoist violence. What we need is leaner, meaner, ‘intelligenter’ counter-attacking forces and not just numbers thrown at the enemy.