Is New Delhi finally getting serious about tackling the challenge of Naxalism? The answer seems to be Yes. In what is clearly seen as the first, ‘casualty’ of lack of success of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the anti Naxal front, the government has send a strong message by shifting the CRPF Director General Mr Vikram Srivastava to the post of the Director General of Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D. This is more of a sinecure rather than an effective front line post as per the Indian Police hierarchy.
Normally officers who are unpopular with the Establishment as Ms Kiran Bedi or those requiring a convenient parking slot are send to the BPR & D, which itself is an indicator of the lack of seriousness of police modernization in India. None the less Mr Srivastava seems to be falling in the latter slot.
This transfer was in the offing given that Mr Vikram Srivastava whose elder brother Raman Srivastava heads another frontline organization, the Border Security Force had failed to deliver though the roots of the problem may be some where else for the 200 battalion CRPF is suffering from a variety of ills, which the younger Srivastava would have hardly been able to set right given the challenges are faced by the organization.
There are many issues as structures, deployment, command and control as well as leadership which are fundamental in nature rather than attributable to any individual. Nevertheless there are few instances in the country when the head of an organization is shifted and this is more in the nature of a message possibly that the government wants to deliver of greater accountability and responsibility to perform or perish, something that the top rung is not used to.
What is also relevant is nomination of Mr. K. Vijay Kumar known for his professional no nonsense approach who is grilled in counter insurgency experience in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr K. Vijay Kumar was recently denied the top post in his state cadre, Tamil Nadu and thus proved to be an ideal choice for heading the central police force in need of a major transformation.
Mr K. Vijay Kumar’s principal claim to fame remains his heading the Special Task Force (STF) that eliminated the dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan in October 2004. Veerappan was a notorious bandit who controlled well over 6000 square kms of forest land covering three Indian states, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Infamously known as the sandalwood smuggler, Veerappan had been giving the police forces a slip for many years and had a reward of over $ 1 million on his head for killing over 180 persons, plundering the jungles of sandalwood and elephant tusk.
The police chased Veerappan for over a decade but it was under Mr K. Vijay Kumar’s watch that the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force that he headed succeeded in eliminating him. Ironically thousands were to mourn death of the dacoit who had the reputation of a Robin Hood and rights activists have claimed that Veerappan was killed in cold blood by the police.
All this will be familiar terrain for K. Vijay Kumar as he heads to meet the challenge from the Naxals operating in much the same terrain and with some what similar circumstances of plundering resources and influence over the locals as that exercised by Mr Veerappan.
For the establishment Mr Vijay Kumar is some body who has produced results and would therefore be seen as more appropriate to lead the largest counter terrorist police force in the country and thus requires matured handling.
What ever it be, the Naxal challenge needed an officer who can demonstrate singular resolve to meet the guerrillas on their own terms, using brains and brawn, knows the jungle well and is able to operate in a complex command chain comprising of multiple forces operating in tandem.
K. Vijay Kumar may be the right officer for this assignment having served in the Special Protection Group of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi as well as Inspector-General of Police (Operations) with the BSF in Kashmir and is known to have introduced jungle warfare in the National Police Academy in Hyderabad for probationers as per the Hindu.
Mr Vijay Kumar will face dual challenges handling the CRPF and meeting the threat of Naxals. The CRPF is deployed across the country under a diffused model of command and control where operational deployment is controlled by the local superintendent of police. Under the circumstances delivering results is difficult and Mr Srivastava evolved a curious procedure requiring clearance of all operations by his commanders in the field from Delhi. This was hardly the way to fight guerrillas but constraints of high casualties possibly forced adoption of this measure.
Mr Vijay Kumar could to well to focus on motivation and training of his force and insisting on employing them after validation of their operational efficiency through a style of directive control rather than pulling the strings from Delhi. This will ensure that the CRPF which is capable of excellent results delivers in the jungles of Central India. Best of luck to Mr Vijay Kumar, certainly the Naxals may not be relishing his appointment, for once the Indian government seems to be serious and has its act together.