By A. K. Verma
For some time Maoism or Naxalism has been the nation’s number one internal security problem but an agreed strategy to combat this menace evades the national and state leaderships.
The nation has seen it grow from a tiny movement, originating from a small village Naxalbari in West Bengal in May 1967, to an ideological campaign straddling almost 13 states. Although it started as an anti landlord struggle the focus has been expanded well beyond that narrow objective. Party documents clearly spell out that the objective is seizure of state power through an armed and violent struggle, co-opting rural and urban classes, mobilizing them against the state on all available issues, political, economic and social. Their strategy has evolved from an early objective of an armed agrarian revolutionary war, encircling the cities from countryside to united front tactics. The revised aims are to establish solidarity between peasants and tribals with working classes, developing links with petty bourgeoisie, semi- proletariat and national bourgeoisie. Their vision dreams of a red corridor extending from Nepal downwards to Karnataka. The movement has attracted the well educated and well heeled who intellectually find themselves at odds with the stormy tides of consumerism, materialism and exploitation, unleashed by globalization, market economy and power of the rich. Kabad Gandhi, a Doon School alumnus, who became a member of CPI (Mao)’s central committee, is an example of the party striking roots in the urban milieu. The party has also successfully raised large funds through extortions and levies which are used for purchase of arms and ammunition including two inch mortars.
There should be no doubt that the party represents a revolutionary movement which, from day one, has been growing in size, strength and influence. Geographically, they are creeping into virgin territories. They have created viable infrastructures in many of the states. A general mood of frustration in the country originating from poor governance and widely believed allegations of high level corruption has led to an environment from which the party derives psychological benefits.
Maoist movement elsewhere in the world also had small beginnings but two of them have turned out to be extraordinary success stories. The one in China swept out the old order completely and still reigns supreme there. The other, in Nepal, became the main instrument of remarkable changes which saw the abolition of the monarchy and its replacement by a republican system. Revolutionary violence played a significant role in both the movements. The Maoists of India are following the same models and believe that ground conditions in the country are favourable to their growth.
Even as Maoism in India becomes the epicenter of extreme left violence, is the Indian leadership at national and state levels rising to meet the challenge? For long years the central Govt. had remained in a state of denial about the gravity of the problem. Intelligence reports highlighting the nature of the threat were generally ignored. The centre saw the issue as an internal law and order problem on which the states should take a call. The Prime Minister twice in 2004 and 2009 described Naxalism, another name for Maoism, as the single biggest internal security challenge facing the country but it was not until P. Chidambaram took charge of the Home Ministry that the Maoism threat started receiving the attention it deserved.
Chidambaram’s efforts have been blocked by the constitutional reality that the federal Government has little powers to enforce its writ on the states on federal security matters. This means that a cohesive integrated planning to deal with an issue such as Maoism is next to impossible. Even as the Centre sends its paramilitary forces to regions affected by Maoist insurgency, they will not be able to operate at their optimum efficiency and efficacy unless the state police cooperate and collaborate. The paramilitary forces do not have the powers of arrest and seizure. In operations against Maoists these powers can be exercised only through the state police. If the state and central government are not on the same page, coordination quickly becomes a casualty.
Chidambaram thought that the Mantra of ‘clear, hold and develop’ i.e. first clear an area under Maoist control from Maoist presence, hold it to reestablish government authority, and develop infrastructure like roads, school and health centers would work but it has not. The Pakistani army had invoked this strategy to impose governmental authority in Swat and in FATA in North West Pakistan in 2005 and free it from Taliban influence. The policy had worked because the principle was applied as an integrated policy and 100,000 troops had been thrown into the area to implement it.
The British had tamed the Mau Mau movement in Kenya and communist insurgency in Malaya through an integrated policy of police military operations and ruthless suppression. That was not an era of awakened awareness about human rights or the majesty of law. Such tactics are now unthinkable in India where there is an absolute insistence on observing the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of human rights, established under the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the constitution,
The brunt of action against the Maoists in India falls on the shoulders of the Central Reserve Police Force and Special Police Forces like the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh constituted in some states. Not originally created to counter local insurgency, the CRPF is reinventing itself to deal with the menace. It is giving special training to its personnel in jungle warfare, has included intelligence operations in its syllabus and has raised a squad of specially trained dogs to aid in combing operations. It is also acquiring aerial vehicles and suitable arms and ammunition including three inch mortars to match the Maoist armoury. Yet, it must depend on the local police for the success of the mantra ‘clear, hold, develop’. This is like building an integrated policy from below upwards. Strangely, some state leaders prefer it that way because the onus of explaining untoward incidents will not be then on them.
Thoughtful planning by the leadership of paramilitary forces has brought down violence and casualties. As against 2213 episodes of violence in2010 the number came down to 1745 in 2011. Only 606 persons lost their lives in such incidents last year compared to 1005 in 2010. Security personnel killed in 2011 were 142 as against 285 in 2010. These statistics cannot however be interpreted as suggesting that the Maoists are on the retreat. On the contrary they are refining their tactics. Their earlier brutalities which caused an adverse impact seem to have yielded to a new focus, abductions of high value individuals. In four different recent events they were able to capture two foreigners, two district collectors and one MLA. The victims were released in exchange for a large number of imprisoned cadres except in the case of the collector of Sukhna in Chattisgarh whose Christian religion may have been responsible for his reprieve.
These abductions call for a quick formulation of a co-ordinated hostage policy but it seems that the affected states, Odisha and Chattisgarh, were determining their own policies.
It is evident that force and development have been unable to make a dent on the scourge of Maoism. Rule of law and concerns for human rights impose rigid red lines which Maoists do not respect but which cannot be violated by the para -military forces. With such limitations how can a focused objective of security and stability be ever achieved?
The governing leadership of the country needs to think deeply about this legal, moral and philosophical conundrum. A solution must be devised if a further march of Maoism is to be averted. Perhaps, the para -military forces will prove too inadequate to solve the complex challenge which has a mix of ideology, people’s disenchantment with the governing processes and mechanisms, and a resolute determination on the part of the Maoists. The reported recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force on national security restructuring, to constitute a Special Operations Command, may be the answer to deal with such threats. The core issue boils down to crafting a composite counter terrorism policy for which there seem to be no takers at the moment.
A. K. Verma is a retired Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.