Updated: Sep 18, 2020
The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) are the Indian Army’s elite counter-insurgency force that have been the backbone of several operations in the militancy-hit regions of Jammu and Kashmir. One would be hard-pressed to find a parallel for this Force outside India because of its operational effectiveness and tactical might. On multiple occasions, the RR has been deployed to tackle counter-insurgency issues in the Valley plagued by turmoil and conflict. To understand what makes the Rashtriya Rifles so formidable, let us shed some light on what the RR is.
The Rashtriya Rifles operates under the Ministry of Defence. Its supposition under the Ministry of Home Affairs often leads to its wrong identification as a paramilitary force. RR has come a long way from being one of the many services deployed in the Kashmir valley to being the tip of the spear for counter-insurgency operations. The force comprises 65 battalions divided into five companies- Romeo Force, Delta Force, Victor Force, Kilo Force and Uniform Force.
In the process, it became one of the most decorated units of the Indian Army. The RR crest consists of the Ashok Chakra and two crossed rifles with fixed bayonets. Beneath, in a banner, is emblazoned the RR's motto: "Dridhta aur virta" (which translates to Resolute and Bravery).
The Rashtriya Rifles crest. Source: Bharat Rakshak
In the early 1990s late Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh authorised the formation of the Rashtriya Rifles while he was on a flight to the North-Eastern region of the country. The RR unit was raised on 1st October 1990 by the then Army chief General V N Sharma with Lieutenant General P C Monkotia as its first Director-General. Initially, there were six such battalions, three in Jammu and Kashmir and three in Punjab. In order to gain more experience and learn by observation, six RR battalions were exchanged for 6 Assam Rifles units. The inspiration to form the RR came from the success of Assam Rifles in the North East. The RR could perform the excellent role of a battle-hardened rear guard if war were to break out.
Former Chief of Army staff General V.N. Sharma, who raised the Rashtriya Rifles. Source: The Hindu
Initially it was envisaged that retired army personnel, police personnel and central armed police forces personnel would join through lateral entry along with the Army personnel on deputation. Later, however, the entire responsibility was transferred to the Indian Army. They sent personnel on deputation from various services and made them serve for 2-3 years. The recruited personnel receive 25% more salary than regular army soldiers and additional benefits.
The basic principle on which the training works is ‘smaller the team, the quicker the task’. This, in addition to how hard and fast the team hits the enemy, will determine the degree of its success. When a soldier reports to the battalion, necessary procedures like health check-up and documentation are done, post which in a few battalions the soldier is put in a small cadre which acts a refresher and familiarisation course for him as some equipment may not be a part of his daily routine. After the small cadre is over, he is sent to one of the two corps battle schools located at Sarol and Bhalra for four weeks. These schools operate under the command of Chinar Corps where the soldiers become proficient and are made to hone various skills like operating specialised equipment, firing practices, counter-insurgency drills, mobile vehicle check posts, area domination patrols, techniques on cordon and search operations, classes and exercises for ambushes and raids.
The training is a constant part of their routine, even as a part of the unit. Each soldier fires at least ten to twelve times a month. Their preparation ranges from standalone attacks to grenade lobbying to suicide bombings; they prepare for the worst and are always ready to bounce into action. The firing practice takes place using 2 or 3 round bursts keeping in mind the principle of 'Ek Goli Ek Dushman'.
The 20th Battalion of the RR celebrate their Silver Jubilee. Source: ANI News
Half of the Rashtriya Rifles is from the infantry while the other half comes from various other arms and services of the Indian Army. A battalion in RR consists of officers and men from the same regiment other than personnel from the corps like Signals and E.M.E. (Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers) for maintaining equipment, maintaining communication along with jamming it, if necessary, and a host of other specialised tasks. A unit consists of troops mostly from the same battalion to preserve cohesion and camaraderie. A regimental approach was adopted because initially these battalions were like transit camps and commanding officers used them as an excuse to get rid of troublemakers.
The RR operates a wide variety of equipment varying from armoured tractors to modified Kalashnikovs (modifications by the FAB Defence and Ordnance Factory Board). RR battalions unlike conventional infantry battalions do not operate heavy weaponry since they are weapons with a large radius of damage and hence ill-suited for the densely populated environment in which C.I. (Counter Insurgency) operations take place.
They also operate MGL (Multi Grenade Launchers), Rocket Launchers (Carl Gustaf), Bren L.M.G. and the Uk vz. 59. They also utilise weapon systems developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The counter-insurgency force deployed in the J&K Valley. Source: DNA India
The Rashtriya Rifles have played an instrumental role in curbing the violence and terror rates in the country at its borders. Among their most significant operations, 44 RR have been credited for successfully taking down terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander, Sameer Tiger, who reportedly recruited a massive number of militants to the group, in April 2018. The next month, another militant commander of Hizbul, Saddam Paddar, was killed along with 4 other militants in an encounter by the 44 RR in the Shopian district of South Kashmir.
In one of its most successful recent operations, the 21 RR (known as ‘Triple Centurions’ for having killed over 300 terrorists), in May 2020, rescued multiple civilians from Handwara district in Jammu and Kashmir, killing two terrorists in the ensuing encounter. However, this act of bravery was at the cost of the lives of 5 security personnel, among whom was Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, a two-time recipient of the Sena medal. Colonel Rajinder Chauhan of the 21 RR was killed in August 2000 when terrorists triggered an Improvised Explosive Device.
Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Commanding Officer of the RR, martyred during an encounter at Handwara in May 2020. Source: ABP News
Brigadier R Chakraborty, commanding the Rashtriya Rifles’ Sector 1, led a victorious operation in February 2017, killing 2 members each of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, two security personnel and one civilian lost their lives during the clash. One top commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and of the Jaish-e-Mohammad each, were killed among 4 militants in a brief encounter in Anantnag in March 2020. In the early hours of August 29, 2020, the Rashtriya Rifles in a joint operation killed 3 militants in Pulwama district. One army soldier lost his life in the encounter. This was a day after 4 militants had been killed in the nearby Shopian district.
Rashtriya Rifles personnel during an encounter at Kulgam in south J&K. Source: DNA India
Apart from safeguarding the Valley, the Rashtriya Rifles has been instrumental in initiating several development as well. They undertake a civic action program that aims to raise the standard of living of the masses by bettering their social, education and cultural aids. They also undertake vocational education for youngsters, promote the education of women and channelize resources towards the general empowerment of the local population.
A brief look at the timeline of events indicates that there is no room for inaction in the ethos of the Rashtriya Rifles. They are quick, they are effective and they are the best at what they do. It is not without reason, hence, that they have been hailed as one of the best counter insurgency Forces in the entire world. The Rashtriya Rifles don't just guard India’s borders, they safeguard her sovereignty, territorial integrity and the safety of her people. They uphold the spirit and ethos of the Indian Army in a manner that is tough to replicate.
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