Paper presented at the Regional Network of Strategic Studies Centre's Working Group Meeting held at Istanbul on June 9-11, 2010
NAXALISM AND MAOIST INSURGENCY
The earliest perpetrators of terrorist activity in India were the left wing groups in the state of West Bengal. Informally termed as Naxalism, it was a violent uprising and opposing movement which started in a village called Naxalbari in 1967 in West Bengal as a response to killing of peasants by the landlords. The Naxal movement was part of the larger issue of rural violence and it spread to other states in the country. Though it fragmented in the period following 1970, the movement revived and it was estimated that by 1980, there were 30 odd groups sharing similar ideologies and having a membership of almost 30,000. Although different groups operated in various areas, they have been loosely united since September 2004 as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) with an estimated 10,000 members who use regular weapons, home-made arms and explosive devices, including landmines and the membership is presently suspected to have swelled to an alarming 50,000.
In 2003, the Maoists had influence over 55 districts in 9 states; it is now estimated that they have established their writ over 223 districts in 20 states in India with large areas under their influence, where the guerrillas have control and run quasi-government structures. Large parts of these states are afflicted by rural poverty and have a larger proportion of tribal populace. Several groups with similar ideologies control nearly 19 per cent of India's forest areas where these large tribal population exist. Running through the heartland of India is their ideological territory, the Compact Revolutionary Zone or the Red Corridor. The Maoists have killed civilians, tortured and mutilated those they believe to be enemies, and engaged in extortion and forced recruitment.
This growing insurgency is a major problem for the Indian government and the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh described it as the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country...the movement has gained in strength ....the extremists are trying to establish ‘liberation zones’ in core areas where they are dispensing basic state functions of administration, policing and justice,”
In 2009, West Bengal police started Operation Lalgarh, a massive ongoing operation to flush out the Naxalites by deploying the anti Naxal COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) Force. In June 2009, Operation Green Hunt, an assault operation was launched in three states that formed the tri junction of Maoist dominated area of central India. The action came in for severe criticism as the tribal populations were relocated and they lost their homes and livelihood and were often caught between the police forces and the Maoists. Both the operations were criticized for their disregard for civil and human rights. The Maoists dealt with swift justice for informers and those they suspected as not being on their side. The police on the other hand, often picked up the tribal youths as suspected Maoists and dealt with them harshly sometimes even killing them in fake encounters. The retaliation from the Maoists for these operation against them was swift and deadly and ever since the violence has escalated.
In the biggest attack ever on government forces, on 6th April this year, 73 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed in a meticulously planned ambush by the Maoists in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh, a Maoists stronghold. Several such attacks against police forces and civilians have been taking place regularly in the regions where the Maoists have control. In the state of Jharkand, another Maoist stronghold, a train was derailed by the Maoists on 28th May in which 100 people were killed and more than hundred persons were critically injured. Although the Naxalite movement was once considered to be in organizational disintegration, ideological disarray and confusion; it is now considered a serious threat to the national integrity of India.
CHALLENGES and RESPONSES
1. The fundamental challenge is the structural impediments in launching national counter insurgency operations. Initially, the Maoist insurgency was considered to be law and order problem which was to be dealt by the police of the affected states. As the area under the control of the Maoists enlarged and their influence expanded and their violence increased, the central government was forced to raise the threat from a state level concern to a national security threat. However, the federal structure of the government makes it incumbent on the central government to coordinate with the state forces. The role of the security apparatus of the state is vital as the forces deployed by the central government are under the command of the state structures. The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, reiterated this fact when he articulated his concerns of the ability and will of the states to pursue the counter insurgency operations.
The response that is envisaged is a coordinated joint effort by all states with Maoist presence under a central command. The operations against the Maoists in the state of Andhra are often proclaimed as a success by the state. However, the crackdown by the elite commando forces has resulted in the tactical withdrawal to other states. Moving swiftly form one jurisdiction to another the Maoists have been able to evade the security forces .Therefore, only a swift and simultaneous joint action by all the affected states can result in flushing them out. Also it is important that zones designated as “liberated” zones by the Maoists are regained and the government authority established before any other organization can be set up in the area. The state has to recover its image as the protector of the people especially of the tribals who have been driven out by both the government forces and the Maoists and see both of them as their enemy.
2. The indications that the Maoist violence has crossed the threshold of insurgency and has been termed by them as a revolutionary war have raised deep concerns. After the defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lankan, Maoists have sought to apply the lessons learnt from the defeat indicating that the mistake of the LTTE lay in the lack of study of the changes in enemy tactics and capabilities, underestimating of the enemy and overestimation of its own forces and capabilities. A circular of the insurgency forces sets out general strategic plans to counter government’s expected Anti Naxal plans; it sets out that (i) attack should be organized with meticulous planning, targeting police, informers and other enemies; (ii) carried out in close co ordination with and in support of armed resistance of the people and (iii) linked to seizure of political power and establishment of base areas and (iv) rouse the masses.
Since the Dantewada ambush by the Maoists in which central police personnel were killed, there has been strong support for the deployment of the Army in the area. The Home Minister also indicated the request of the states for the use of air support, as against air power, in these areas. The Defence Minister has indicated that there has been serious consideration for the role of the Army and that the government is examining the pros and cons of Army involvement. So far the Army has provided training to 47,000 police personnel at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School and other Counter Insurgency Training Schools as well as several police academies.
3. Successful campaigns by the counter insurgency forces have left a vacuum in those areas as the civilian government agencies have not been able to move swiftly to occupy the space immediately and resume administration. This has allowed resumption of the writ of the insurgents who have been quick to fill the gap. The preoccupation with the peace and order has proved very costly because the socio- economic conditions have been ignored. The focus on law and order situation by the intelligence agencies has not given a realistic appraisal of the situation. There is no accountability for the violations by the security forces and this has caused deep anger among the civilian and tribal population in these areas. The establishment of the government supported armed vigilantes groups (Salwa Judum) in the areas have led to gross violation of civil rights and the claimed success of the movement has come at the cost of the rule of law.
This situation has underlined two major requirements. The first, that it is necessary to involve the civilian government agencies. Redressal systems have to be set in place to deal with violations of human rights and civil rights. The weakest link in counter insurgency programs is the reestablishment of governance. The middle level government agents therefore, have to be moved in swiftly to re establish mechanisms for legitimate redressals pertaining to social dignity, civil rights and legitimate concerns. The second, is to create a parallel source of information (as against those of the intelligence agencies), to plan inter disciplinary study and form action groups. Socio economic counter insurgency campaigns have to run parallel to tactical operations. Resisting the arming of the vigilante groups, the government has to empower the non violent grievance mechanism and isolate the legitimate demands of the local population and address them.
4. Dr Manmohan Singh stated: exploitation, artificially depressed wages, iniquitous socio-political circumstances, inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, geographical isolation, lack of land reforms, all contribute significantly to the growth of the Naxalite movement”. He further clarified on “In dealing with Naxalism, we will pursue a policy that genuinely seeks to address developmental concerns at the grassroots, while firmly enforcing the writ of the state government would not flinch from frontally battling Maoist violence, communalism and terrorism. Social development of the regained areas is imperative. On May 14, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi stated: while we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root cause of Naxalism.” “…. A reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots……our government is putting in place more targeted development schemes for our most backward districts”. Prime Minister has announced INR 7,300 crores development package and withdrawal of 1, 00,000 petty ceases against the tribals.
1. Time frames for counter insurgency and development programs cannot be reconciled, therefore there has to be emphasis on immediate and swift counter insurgency operations and long term development programs.
2. Clear policy of two pronged approach: Counter insurgency operations and sustained and inclusive development: investment of political and fiscal capital. Development can only take place with effective and clear control over areas cleared of insurgent control.
3. Emphasis on economic counter insurgency campaign and transparency in the implementation of development programs .Development should take into account limitations of demography, available human resources, and means for optimum use of financial resources, structural infirmities and natural surroundings.
4.Perceptible indication of development in areas that have none or minimum significant manifestation of insurgency and in areas adjoining those areas under the direct control of insurgents as a means of establishing faith in the developmental programs reaching those areas subsequent to the counter insurgency operations.
5. Involvement of civilian government agencies to re establish governance. The manpower deficit at mid level of the governmental agencies have to be addressed. Strategies have to cross reference with capabilities, resources available, capacities and factual assessment of ground situations.
6. Corruption and criminalization of government agencies which has placed obstacles in the progress of these agencies evolving and growing to meet the new requirements and the actual needs of the people of these areas.
7. The creation of civil rights cells for redresses and legitimate demands for restoration of civil rights.