India: Centre Wakes To Winning Hearts And Minds – Analysis


Several reviews have been carried out by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in its attempt to put together a ‘strategy that works’ against the Left-Wing extremists. It now wants the affected states to change the strategy “from heavy-handed security action to bottom-up approach of winning hearts and minds”. In simple language, the MHA is coming to terms with the reality that a military victory against the Maoists won’t be possible unless it is carried out in an environment, where such operations receive support of the civilian population.

On August 27, New Delhi hosted an MHA-organised day-long workshop for the Superintendents of Police (SPs) of the 30 worst Maoist-affected districts, which account for 80 per cent of the Maoist violence across the country. The SPs heard Indian Army, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other security officials instruct them on how to (i) win hearts and minds of people, including Maoist sympathisers; and (ii) counter Maoist propaganda and defeat them in the information war.

Home Minister P Chidambaram reportedly chipped in to ask the SPs to ‘target the top leadership of the CPI-Maoist’ rather than pursue a policy that ends up netting petty cadres and sympathisers of the outfit, thereby sapping bulk of the forces’ energy and expertise in a highly non-productive way. Thousands of Maoist cadres have been arrested in recent years. In the first six months of 2011, 883 such cadres were arrested and another 243 surrendered. Yet, the movement remains potent.

On the face of it, the latest insertions are sound, although to what extent these would be integrated into their strategy by the states remains questionable.

The first strategy of winning the hearts and minds of Maoist sympathisers does represent a course correction on part of the MHA, which had tried to browbeat the Maoist sympathisers into submission in 2010. Over time, it has been realised that such intimidation does not work. However, one wonders if just leaving the so called Maoist cheerleaders alone won’t be good policy rather than trying to win them over. Strategically speaking, the voice of the opposition appears to be at its loudest, when one is on the losing side.

The second strategy is about using information to counter Maoist propaganda. In spite of the recent advice, the MHA now appreciates the value of using information to its advantage as part of a concerted policy. The ministry remains religiously attached to a policy of secrecy and suppression of data and information, even as the Maoists unleash a publicity war through blogs, websites and the traditional ways of pasting posters. The MHA needs to ink a policy of strategic communication to explain its efforts and win support for its activities. It is the job of professionals and not the bureaucrats.

Thirdly, Chidambaram’s advice to focus on targeting the Maoist leadership represents a thought process that believes the Maoist movement in India remains leadership-centric and neutralisation of the key leaders would sound a death nail for the movement. This, at best is partly true.

Among all the police departments in the country, the Andhra Pradesh Police have been the most successful in accounting for a large number of members of the Central Committee (CC) and Politburo of the CPI-Maoist. Bulk of the credit for the arrest of 14 politburo members and 11 CC members of the outfit goes to the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB) of the Andhra Police. Such arrests have weakened the outfit somewhat, a fact acknowledged by the outfit itself. But at the same time, the outfit’s top leadership have found a way to keep the movement going. Moreover, with the level of criminalisation setting in the Maoist movement in states like Jharkhand and Bihar, it would be difficult if not impossible to end the movement by mere neutralisation of leaders.

In the end, a policy would work only when there is unity of purpose and states aren’t exactly working at cross purposes with each other. Operations against the Maoists stand suspended in West Bengal since Mamata Banerjee came to power. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar thinks that Naxalism can be solved through negotiations. He chose to send only one SP to the August 27 meeting, when five of Bihar’s districts are among the 30 districts categorised as worst affected by Maoist violence. Jharkhand, sandwiched between these two states, continues to carry out operations against the extremists. Won’t it be a good idea to end the ambiguity by a chief minister’s conference to arrive at a national strategy? A state which is not on board with the national strategy obviously does not deserve any allocation of the Central resources.

This article was published at Expressbuzz and reprinted with permission.

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray served as a Deputy Director in the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India and Director of the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)’s Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati, Assam. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the South Asia programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore between 2010 and 2012. Routray specialises in decision-making, governance, counter-terrorism, force modernisation, intelligence reforms, foreign policy and dissent articulation issues in South and South East Asia. His writings, based on his projects and extensive field based research in Indian conflict theatres of the Northeastern states and the left-wing extremism affected areas, have appeared in a wide range of academic as well policy journals, websites and magazines.

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