Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Building trust

It is essential for the young men of the paramilitary forces to be trained as NDA cadets are, and then they need to train as a unit and operate as one.

CRPF personnel taking position during an encounter with militants at Dadsara in Pulwama district, 40 km from Srinagar on March 3.
ON November 28, 2008, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, leading a unit of National Security Guard commandos, took on the terrorists who had virtually taken over the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. He took them on virtually on his own; it is said his last words to his commandos were, “Don’t come up, I will handle them.” He was killed, but not before he killed a number of terrorists; in fact, he and the other units of the elite Black Cats eliminated every one of the murderous assassins who had stormed the hotel.

I mention Major Unnikrishnan for a couple of specific aspects on what was his last encounter with the enemy. One was the fact that he led from the front, a magnificent trait he shared with a number of the young officers in our Army. One has only to look at the list of those who died in Kargil and see how many of them were lieutenants, captains and majors. And before that, at the lists of those who died in 1971 and 1965. These young men fought along with the men they led, and their men gave them their complete trust. They were, in fact, fighting units, of which these youngsters were an integral part. Not that the young soldiers were any less integral parts of the units; but these officers were trained to lead and they did so with no thought for their own safety, with total confidence and determination. That is why they died in such large numbers.

The other aspect is implicit in what he said. It was not, clearly, meant to suggest that he would single-handedly take on all the terrorists. It was meant to protect his men. He had obviously indicated that he would tackle the situation once he knew its nature, and then call the men up. He was doing something he was trained to do, and that was evidently part of his nature – looking after his men, not exposing them to an unknown situation where many of them might be killed or wounded.

Major Unnikrishnan is a fine example, and I mention him only because the name is familiar to many. There have been many others, before and since, who have done the same. Recently, in encounters with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, young officers leading Army units eliminated the terrorists trying to enter India and in the process even gave their lives. This may be what the new Army chief meant when he talked recently of the need to train and operate as a unit. It is what the young cadets in the National Defence Academy (NDA) are trained to do.

Many years ago, as a young Indian Administrative Service (IAS) probationer, I underwent an orientation period with an Army unit in north Kashmir and came to know a number of young officers. Some of them were younger than I was, but many were about my age, around 22. We were sent out to visit a number of posts on the Line of Control; two IAS probationers and a small group of soldiers with a JCO (junior commissioned officer).


NSG commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who lost his life during the operations against the terrorists who had taken over the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 28, 2008.
By the time we visited the last of the posts, it was late in the evening. We decided to stop off at the Brigade mess for a cup of tea before returning to our battalion, and that dragged on until fairly late as we chatted with the officers there, and when we discovered it was dark we quickly took a short cut to the battalion headquarters. As we got there, the company commander, a major, asked us immediately, “Where are your men?” We said they must have waited and then gone back to their barracks. The major vanished, swearing under his breath.

He returned after a while, and we asked him where he had gone. “To get the men, where do you think I’d gone?” he replied angrily. Then he said, in explanation, “Look, these men are trained to obey orders. You asked them to wait for you outside the Brigade mess. They were doing just that. You have to learn to look after them before you think of your getting back and doing whatever you have to do here.” I learned then just how close the relationship was between men and their officers; and how important the welfare of the men was to the young men who led them. It had to be – their lives depended on that bond, on the trust of the men and the leadership of the officers. The terrible massacre of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men and officers at Dantewada underscores just how vital the bond is. I am not for a moment suggesting that Deputy Commandant Santosh Yadav, who was leading the ill-fated company and died, did not do a fine job; in fact, he acted with exemplary courage, killing a number of Maoists before being hacked to death, that fact itself indicating he had engaged them in hand-to-hand fighting. All I am suggesting is that it is essential for the young men who lead units of our paramilitary forces to be trained as NDA cadets are, and then trained with their men as a unit, a unit that trains as one and operates as one.

This cannot happen if the officer cadre in the paramilitary forces are transferred frequently or inducted from outside on deputation. That builds no relationship with the men they have to lead, often to their deaths, and if that leadership has to have any meaning, it means staying together as a unit for a good length of time, training together and operating together. True, it cannot be for decades; the working lives of the men and officers is too short for that, and they sometimes have to be moved for unavoidable administrative reasons. But these moves can be kept to a minimum, recognising that operational units must be kept intact for as long as possible.

There are a large number of other issues that inevitably come up. Why do we need to use the CRPF at all? What is more important, aggressive development that involves the local people and secures their commitment, or first providing a secure environment in which such development can take place? These issues will be addressed by others, by experts in various fields; so will even larger issues that have to do with the alienation of local people in the areas where naxal activities are rife; of the brutal killings of local people as “Maoists” by security forces; of the brutal atrocities committed on tribal people and villagers by naxals in the name of “punishment” and “retribution”.

What is being pointed to here is a small aspect of preparing the paramilitary forces to be even more prepared than they are now to handle conditions that border on insurgency. Much is being done, to be sure, but much more needs to be done if Dantewada is not to be repeated. That does not mean only better equipment, it means better man-officer relationship, on a lasting basis.

No comments: