Can there be anything more symptomatic of the current malaise in the police than the caustic retort by the Chattisgarh police DG that his forces can’t “teach the CRPF how to walk”? Coming in the wake of yet another massacre of CRPF jawans in Bastar, the comment is not only in poor taste, it also reflects bitter intra-force rivalries at the ground level. Maybe there was undue pressure from the Home Ministry but surely, differences of opinion can be resolved with greater dignity and sounding scornful of dead soldiers, doesn’t help anybody

Be that as it may, there is a deeper question now about the ability of the central police forces to conduct India’s war against Maoism. There will always be losses in combat – just last week the Army lost a colonel in Kashmir – but the manner of the losses in Narayanpur and earlier in Dantewada demonstrates that the central police forces, trained for a simpler law and order function, may simply not have the wherewithal for a rigorous anti-insurgency role. There is ample evidence that the men who died fought bravely till the end but the failure is systemic, one of leadership and training.

Paramilitary forces are the cornerstone of Mr Chidambaram’s anti-naxal strategy but just pumping in inadequately-prepared soldiers with guns or upping recruitment won’t help. Without a systemic overhaul, the current proposals for sending in Army advisers won’t do much good either. The time has come to think out of the box.

The central police forces need trained soldiers. Only the Army has the organisational skill sets to fight an insurgency, but it rightly does not want to get directly involved in an internal war. It may be time then for an integrated manpower policy to systemically transfer Army soldiers into paramilitary units after a certain amount of service. This is precisely what the Kargil Review Committee had suggested 10 years ago, though its recommendation was ignored.

There are other reasons for this. Till 1965, Army sepoys were recruited for only seven years of what is called ‘colour’ service. Cadre reviews after the 1971 war, increased this first to 15 years, and then, in 1979, to 17 years of service. According to one study, till 1965, except for junior commissioned officers, the average age of combat units was between 18 and 25 years.

This meant that soldiers were fitter, more combat-ready and a large proportion left the Army without incurring a pension bill. In recent decades, a number of senior Army officers have argued that increasing the colour service has affected the Army’s combat readiness – physically and mentally – and equally created re-settlement problems of a sizeable magnitude for soldiers who now retire in their late-thirties, just when their children are in mid-school.

It makes eminent sense therefore to go back to the old seven-year rule for colour service in the Army and then systematically transfer these well-trained soldiers into the para-military forces. In one stroke, it will give the police forces access to a large pre-trained pool of manpower – with soldiers who are still in their mid-20s – reduce the combat age of the Army to optimal levels and save the ballooning pension bills that have only increased since the Sixth Pay Commission.

Similarly, this can apply to officers as well. The fact is that the Army’s pyramid of career growth is far narrower than the one followed by the IPS or the IAS. As such, a number of otherwise good officers fail to make the grade from the rank of colonel onwards and either resign in frustration or continue in jobs that fail to utilise them fully. Their skills can be better used if they are side-stepped to the paramilitary forces at equivalent levels.

In the long-run, the Maoist problem needs a political solution but till that time comes, make no mistake, we are dealing with a fully blown insurgency, one that the Indian state looks ill-equipped to deal with. As India embarks on an internal war with no end in sight, India’s paramilitary forces clearly need a major reorientation and a new counter-insurgency paradigm. At the same time, the Army’s role needs to be kept distinct.

Finding ways of integrating the Army’s olive green into the police khakhi may well be the fastest, cheapest and simplest way of doing it.