Unified command flopped last time, will it work now?

RAIPUR: It was the Centre's big announcement this week: Unified Command for anti-Maoist operations in four states including Chhattisgarh. With Chhattisgarh having got the state-level Unified Command back in 2008 when Shivraj Patil was the home minister, the fresh directive of a two-tiered Unified Command is expected to reinforce the battle against the Maoists. Chhattisgarh was the third state after J&K and Assam to have an institutional mechanism to coordinate counter-insurgency operations.

But in two years, the security group of the Unified Command in the state has met just four times. Its short history shows both the possibilities and the inadequacies of the idea.

Then, like now, the Unified Command was touted as a mechanism to improve "coordination between state and Central forces". If that was its limited objective, recent events show it has had limited success.

Last month, Maoists killed 27 CRPF men in an ambush in Narayanpur. Three months ago, an attack in Chintalnar nearly wiped out a company. A badly bruised CRPF blamed the state police for poor deployment and lack of intelligence. The police DGP, in turn, hit out and said, "We can't teach the CRPF how to walk" — although he later claimed the quote was a poor translation of a colloquial Hindi term.

Officers on both sides spoke of differences at higher levels as well during ground operations. "Our commandants are often senior and more experienced but the police SP thinks he is the maalik of the district," said a senior CRPF officer.

"When failures surround you, there will be mutual recrimination," says Ajai Sahni, executive director, the Institute of Conflict Management. He dismisses the problem of coordination as just an alibi. The real crisis in anti-Maoist operations is not of coordination but of capacities. Coordination fails because the capacity to operate does not exist.

It's here that Unified Command in Chhattisgarh perhaps redeems itself. It fast-tracked important decisions related to infrastructure, procurement and finance. In May this year, when the Unified Command met, CM Raman Singh sanctioned 4,000 additional posts for Special Police Officers without waiting for funds to be cleared by the Centre.