No central force, the CRPF or any other, can be effective unless it has the backing of the local police
It is far from certain if there is enough clarity at the Centre as regards the nature of the security grid to maintain in Jammu and Kashmir that was downgraded from a full-fledged state to a UT in August, 2020. When militancy was at its worst in the early 1990s, the J&K Police was a traditional, slow-footed, and ill-trained force wholly unfit to deal with the terrorism. As such, the only way for J&K state, which then included Ladakh — that has been hived off as a separate UT — to deal with the full-fledged crisis was to depend on the forces of the Centre — the Army, the central paramilitary forces mainly in the shape of the BSF (and only marginally the CRPF), and the Intelligence Bureau.
There was every sign that the Indian state was at sea. It was called upon to deal with a situation of neighbour-backed insurgency and terrorism, and there were no rule books to consult, no precedent to act as guide. In the space of a few years, the situation began to improve, however. More CRPF, less BSF and Army began to be evident on the streets and in villages.
The J&K Police was transformed into a superb force over the years. While dealing with law and order, it could with panache undertake counter-terrorism operations in support of the Army as well as independently, when required. For a decade or more, it has been the case that it is the state (now UT) police along with the CRPF that has been the prime carrier of security sector responsibility in J&K. In special situations, as in 2016, when large-scale violence erupted upon the neutralizing of the militant Burhan Wani, the Army, is called in. Otherwise, the Army covers the LOC which is in the periphery of rural Kashmir. The BSF, over the years, is deployed chiefly in the Jammu division. The CRPF is the main central force in J&K.
News reporting in this newspaper, emanating from the Centre, suggests that the current thinking is that the CRPF will henceforth be officially earmarked as the primary vehicle for law and order and internal security in J&K. In a way, this describes a situation which already exists. But to make the arrangement formal would imply the relegation of J&K Police to auxiliary status. Following the changes enacted in 2020 and the downgrading of J&K, this too has regrettably taken place. The police force of the erstwhile state has been merged with the AGMUT cadre. Officers from other UTs, with no experience of dealing with the complexity of J&K and the special situation that obtains, are now in leading positions. This is bad for police morale. No central force, the CRPF or any other, can be effective unless it has the backing, in the spirit of camaraderie, of the local police who know the land and the people.
Of late, J&K also has to pay for the CRPF. On this count about Rs. 5,000 crores is owed to the Centre, and this has impacted public goodwill. The best scenario is to let the police force do the heavy lifting, with the CRPF standing in support, not the other way round. The Rashtriya Rifles, a specialised formation of the Army, is rightly dealing with counter-terrorism primarily.