The government’s decision to withdraw the elite National Security Guard from VIP protection duties is a welcome step. One, the argument that NSG Commandoes were deployed to secure certain VIPs, more as a status symbol, rather than a result of a robust threat perception exercise, is valid. Two, the NSG is a Special Force and its usage must remain strategic.
The NSG is structurally divided into two parts, the Special Action Group and the Special Rangers Group. The Special Action Group (SAG) is further divided into two parts. 51 SAG is the counter-terrorism Unit, which does a variety of operations, including room intervention, amongst many others. 52 SAG is the anti-hijack Unit of NSG. SAG has personnel drawn only from the Indian Army. Support elements like the Bomb Disposal Squad has personnel from army’s Corps of Engineers. The SAG does not provide VIP security.
The second wing of the NSG – the Special Rangers Group or SRG, manages VIP security. The SRG comprises of personnel drawn from the state police forces, the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) like CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF and SSB, and Para Military Forces like the Assam Rifles. It is these personnel who guard VIPs.
India is facing the brunt of a hybrid war unleashed by Pakistan, and Pakistan would want nothing more than to see terrorism, largely confined to the Kashmir Valley, spread to the rest of India. 26/11, the 2001 Parliament attacks and Akshardham terror strikes point to the fact that the next terror attack on India’s mainland will emanate from Pakistani soil. NSG is a critical part of the construct of our response to Pakistan. In fact, it is the only specialized anti-terrorist force India has.
The high-risk individuals whose NSG security is being revoked are in safe hands. State Police Forces and the CAPFs already have a vast talent pool of policemen trained by NSG. They have exposure to the world’s best training techniques, weaponry and tactics. That talent pool includes instructors who can help recreate the professionalism of NSG within various police forces. The same level of professional security will be provided. Nothing will change, except the name and the uniform.
When NSG was raised in 1984, VIP security was not part of their charter. Their charter later morphed into providing proximate and mobile security to politicians, deemed “high risk”.
NSG should be expanded, equipped with the most modern weapons and the process of honing them into a shield to defend India must never stop. But in essence it must remain India’s final argument against the next major terror strike or hijack.
The black dungarees that the NSG commandoes wear are earned. Unfortunately, it has led to needless glamorization and numerous state police spinoffs. For long, people have wrongly assumed that the magic is in the black dungaree itself. It
takes years of blood, sweat and operational experience to make an NSG Commando. It is this needless glamorization that has led to politicians of various hues demanding NSG cover, threat perception be damned. You are deemed important only if you have a dozen black clad NSG commandoes following you.
This thankfully, has come to an end. The 13 “high-risk” VIPs who are currently protected by NSG will soon see a change in the personnel who shadow them 24/7. Both the CRPF and CISF have specially trained VIP security Units, with many personnel who are former NSG Commandoes. It is these Units that will take over their security.
Through Operation Black Thunder (flushing out terrorists from the Golden Temple) to Operation Black Tornado (26/11), from the clinical Operation Ashwamedh (anti-hijack operation for IC427) to countless operations in the Kashmir Valley, the NSG has proved to be both India’s sword arm and shield. Its commandoes are famously called Black Cats, a nod to their famous arm patch. That they are clad in black, head to toe, adds to the legend.
The Black Cats are our elite counter-terror Special Forces. Removing them from VIP duty is a much-needed shot in the arm for this legendary force.