When a bad wart grows on your back, you hide it under your shirt, and wait for it to go away, temporary irritant. Then one appears on your face, and it becomes an embarrassment. So you find some ointment, and, may be, dab on some concealer. But what do you do when rashes pop up all over your body?
Then you panic. Or, if “panic” is too sensitive a description, just like “morale” in this context, at least you wake up, find a doctor who would most likely send you to a path lab for a few tests. It could be one of many things. Something serious but treatable, like an infection, scary like a cancer, or chronic, like diabetes.
How does this compare with the issue we now see with our Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) which are more popularly, although erroneously called Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs).
The two videos that popped up on social media this week, one each from soldiers of Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force, still put the warning signs at the second stage of our description: an ugly outbreak of warts on the face. We have the option to try and hide them and duck. But these won’t go away. These will get worse.
That’s why, before contemplating any stupidity like disciplinary action against the BSF constable who complained, first call to account the top officer who plotted and authorised the way he was maligned on national television by bosses in full livery. Besides being colossally unwise, it also raised a more important question: what kind of armed force fields generals (ok, inspectors-general) to rubbish their own troops in public?
Important fact is, these videos are not the first. For the past several years, particularly since central forces became more involved fighting Maoists, such complaints have been emerging, only to be buried. But these aren’t lost, to friend, like our own soldiers, or foe, like the Pakistani propaganda machinery.
Three videos of injured CRPF men (including a deputy commandant in one), bleeding and shouting for help, even crying out loud for doctors “that are never available” in Chhattisgarh have circulated. Indian media was careful not to make much of these: these were the irritating warts on your back, better concealed. But Pakistani propagandists unleash them whenever a hostile situation develops on the borders and there is need for psychological warfare, as they did after the “surgical strikes”.
The deputy commandant among the wounded, is being transported in an ordinary bus and shouting out for help, reminding everybody that he has two children at home, and what if he dies because there is no doctor. You could have conveniently shot this messenger too, and may be it was done. It won’t change the fact that the shortage of medical facilities and doctors among CAPFs is a national embarrassment. They are now involved in mortal combat as much as the army–in fact, in the last decade CAPFs have suffered more than twice as many casualties as the army with combat shifting inland, particularly in east-central India with the Maoist upsurge. Unlike the Army, they do not have field hospitals or advance dressing stations (ADS), very poor casualty evacuation with helicopters rarely available. How poor, we saw when IAF choppers under fire abandoned CRPF men they had gone to rescue in Chhattisgarh even though they were escorted by air force’s own Garud commandos.
Quick excuses were found to defend this. I’m not sure this is how risk-averse IAF may have been if it was army soldiers at the other end, or would have got away so lightly. CRPF hasn’t forgotten this. Nor have the CAPFs forgotten the ugly (I use that description carefully and deliberately) responses from the then army and IAF Chiefs on how armed forces couldn’t be involved in fighting “our own people”. It speaks for the pusillanimity of UPA that they were not told to calm down. First of all, they could be asked why the same “our people” principle didn’t apply to Kashmiris and northeastern tribals. And second, more relevant now, how would that make paramilitary forces in Naxal theatre feel.
None of this is lost on the soldier in khaki. Today’s jawan is not your old-style yours-is-not-to-reason-why stereotype of crappy Sunny Deol movies. He’s literate, aware, questioning, and aspirational for himself and his children. The first question he is bound to ask in a combat situation is, where are my officers, have my top bosses ever seen such action or hazard. Top brass of CAPFs, including the vaunted anti-terror NSG, are mostly IPS who come in brief sinecures and would find it hard to face these questions. Now they can’t evade them.
Resentment and frustration among central police forces has reached a stage of alarm. You won’t see it in Delhi, especially if you visit the fancy clubs and “institutes” the brass has built for itself. Nor will the ministers see it in ceremonial parades. Creases on the hearts and minds of simple troops are less visible but more important than those on their crisp, marching uniforms. For decades now CRPF, moved from one place to another at short notice, rattling in the backs of trucks or sometimes cargo planes, have preferred to call themselves “Chalte Raho Pyare” (keep on the move, buddy).
This is so deeply institutionalised that one of its legendary D-Gs in the eighties even had his band compose a marching tune with that name. But the reality isn’t funny. In most places they see themselves as second-class soldiers, poorly paid, fed, led, looked after or pensioned than the army. In the army at least articulate, senior veterans influence public opinion through the media on issues such as pay commission and OROP, but no such luck for CAPFs whose leaders come from the IPS and go right back there. Following the CRPF’s example, the BSF also calls itself “Bistara Samhal Force” (roll up your hold-all force). It’s funny and self-deprecating when the going is good. Not quite when you think your food sucks, meal after meal, or you have lousy medical help or even inadequate stores for camp security, as the E N Rammohan inquiry in Chhattisgarh had found out.
The past two decades have seen massive expansion in CAPFs. CRPF, BSF, SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal), Assam Rifles, NSG, ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police), CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) all add up to more than a million. See it this way: India’s armed forces are the fourth largest in the world. But the fifth largest also belong to India, but to its home ministry, not defence.
They require reform, modernisation and better leadership at all levels. It is too large and important an establishment to remain just another of the many tasks of a stretched home ministry. It needs a cadre, welfare and doctrine review and an active political leadership. An empowered minister of state for internal security was among the more positive legacies of Rajiv Gandhi’s five years. It was buried under Vajpayee’s NDA and not revived by UPA although it mostly (barring P Chidambaram after 26/11) had clowns as home ministers. This is where we must begin. Unless we want a rash all over us.
This article was originally published on 14 January, 2017.