For the paramilitary, all's in a new name

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By NISHIT DHOLABHAI
  • Published 26.03.11
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New Delhi, March 25: Before paramilitary forces get the right weapons, they must be rid of the “wrong” name.

P. Chidambaram has decided that five central paramilitary forces (CPMFs) will now be officially called central armed police forces (CAPFs), the move prompted by the need to remove the impression, especially among foreign leaders and rights representatives, that the troops are part of India’s military.

The Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) will now be described uniformly as CAPFs.

“Henceforth, in all references to the forces mentioned above, a uniform nomenclature of central armed police forces (CAPFs) shall be adopted,” said a circular issued by Chidambaram’s home ministry. The change takes effect immediately.

At present, government officials and documents use terms such as central police organisations (CPOs), CPMFs, paramilitary forces (PMFs) and central police forces (CPFs) interchangeably.

Assam Rifles and the National Security Guard will not be covered by the new nomenclature. While the former is under the operational control of the army, the latter is drawn from the army and paramilitary forces.

Chidambaram is known to be a stickler for the right word. Earlier this week, the Rajya Sabha passed a bill on the exchange of international prisoners — Repatriation of Prisoners (Amendment) Act 2011 — which had been brought to Parliament merely because the minister was unhappy with one word, “martial”, in the law and wanted it replaced with “military”. “It sounds jarring. We are a democracy,” Chidambaram had said about “martial”.

The name-change circular was issued on Tuesday and was sent to the President’s office, Prime Minister’s Office, Parliament and the Election Commission, among others.

“This (the words central paramilitary forces) creates an incorrect perception and the expectations from the forces become unrealistic,” the circular says.

A big concern, however, is unwanted international glare. In some countries, “paramilitary” refers to militant groups while in others, it is perceived to be related to the military, officials said.

Sending the right picture abroad assumes significance at a time India has become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Rights concerns are another factor. This week, European Union representatives along with the UK high commissioner and other European ambassadors reviewed India’s rights record in Kashmir, the Northeast and in Maoist-hit states, sources said. In all these areas, the forces have been accused of rights violations.

But former BSF chief E. Ram Mohan said the name change would have little effect on the forces’ efficiency.