Bastar Battalion

On May 21, 2018, India’s Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) inducted battalion 241, also known as the Bastariya Warriors. As its name would indicate, its 534 recruits are adivasis drawn from Bastar in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The battalion is expected to utilize their knowledge of the local terrain, camps, and language to complement the government’s fight against the deadly Naxalite insurgency. Some CRPF officials have hoped this will also improve interactions between the security forces and locals. Activists have argued that the new battalion is simply a rehash of the infamous Salwa Judum militia that caused havoc in the region. While it remains to be seen whether the battalion is a new Salwa Judum or an effective fighting force, the proposal that creating a new special COIN unit will lead to military success is flawed.

The success of the army’s Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in Kashmir and the Andhra Pradesh Greyhounds have inspired various states to create specialized counterinsurgency units. Indeed, creating new specialized units seems to be the standard call for all counterinsurgency woes. The same week that the CRPF Bastariya trainees were completing their training, Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for the creation of a ‘black panther’ unit in Chhattisgarh similar to the Greyhounds. Yet the creation of these special units is by itself insufficient to bring about military triumph. Indeed, it greatly misunderstands why the Greyhounds and the RR were successful.

When the Rashtirya Rifles were implemented in Kashmir, this was after the army had already engaged in counterinsurgency operations. While the fighting was still ongoing, the RR were directly plugged in to a greater network of the army’s COIN operations. Their creation also came after a long history of fighting insurgencies and experimenting with successful methods. However, the success of the RR in India’s COIN campaign in Kashmir remains mixed.

The Greyhound force was a long-term investment in the Andhra Pradesh police that did not pay dividends for 20 years. Its creation was accompanied by a better trained and equipped police force as well as the development of a better intelligence network to fight against the Naxalites. While the Greyhounds did run raids and small team attacks, it was the regular police that held and defended the territory obtained from the insurgents. While the force was a success, this was because it was accompanied by an improvement of the police and a strategy that effectively used the Greyhounds.

All of this shows that the creation of a special unit is not the panacea that some commentators and policymakers seem to believe it is. The creation of a proper counterinsurgency force requires time and investment These forces also require well developed networks of support to achieve military victory. Of course, this should not (as it often does) take away from the necessity of a political strategy, something that is lacking in much of the coverage today. Simply celebrating Naxalite surrenders or casualties does little to solve the causes of the insurgency, or prevent the continued outbreak of violence. After all, the military success of the Greyhounds and Andhra police did not end the Naxalite insurgency, but rather push the insurgency in to Chhattisgarh. Nor have the Rashtriya Rifles been successful in ending the insurgency in Kashmir. A political strategy is needed, and a security strategy that does more than rely on a special unit.