Apr 01, 2014
The ‘People’s War’ launched by the Naxalites requires an equally effective people-oriented counter strategy by the government, perhaps a ‘War for the People’.
The loss of 11 CRPF troops and four Chhattisgarh state police constables on March 13 in a Naxalite ambush on a road opening party (ROP) near Sukma, in Chhattisgarh’s Mukrana forest region, was a sharp jab in the ribs, a reminder of the forgotten insurgency smouldering in the heartland of India. But no one in Delhi or elsewhere seems to be concerned in the least that Naxalism and its associated socio-economic issues exist in a major way inside the drought-ravaged scrub jungle spread over substantial portions of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and the Jangalmahal districts of West Bengal. The poverty and backwardness of this expanse certainly cannot be “breaking news” for any self-respecting Indian government. Yet, it is too far away and inconsequential to attract and retain the attention of politicians and power brokers in Delhi who live snugly from one election manifesto to another. They rarely venture out into the “hot zone” to see things for themselves, leaving rapacious local minions to handle matters on the ground.
The result? An entirely home-grown and progressively intensifying free fire zone in middle India where the Red Revolution has been flickering unattended for decades, with every indication of flaring up into a conflagration that may consume the entire country. If, God forbid, this ever comes to pass, it would cause greater devastation than the Russian or Chinese revolutions.
The scene of the recent encounter was in the Abujmarh forest region which seems to be on its way to becoming India’s Yenan — Mao’s base area for the Chinese Revolution — or the U Minh Forest in Vietnam, during the times of Ho Chi Minh.
Though the graph of violence is creeping ominously and inexorably upwards, it will serve little useful purpose here to tabulate yet again the running tally of casualties suffered by the tired, jaded government forces fighting the Naxalite insurgency. These “vital statistics” never really impacted public and institutional memory, not even the monumental body count of 76 CRPF personnel of 80th Battalion killed on April 6, 2010, near Dantewada, again in Chhattisgarh, perhaps the highest ever number of casualties sustained by the security forces in a single incident anywhere in the country.
Chhattisgarh and its adjoining regions in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are now firmly established as the main theatre of the Naxalite offensive in India. And the Naxals seem to be following almost to the letter Mao Zedong’s instructional manual, On the Protracted War, drawn up as far back as the 1930s. The analogy of guerrillas as fish swimming in a sea of people still remains as relevant as ever, with the local populations, urban as well as rural, trapped in the ricocheting crossfire. It might be time for the governments at all levels to go back to the drawing board and redesign their entire counter strategy which seems to be misfiring badly.
The wretchedly poor and impoverished adivasi population amongst whom the Naxalite insurgency has foisted itself has very little option or choice in the matter. They are truly the most wretched of the earth, living on sufferance of both the security forces as well as the extremists, brutalised, degraded and exploited by both as unwilling informants, providers of logistics and shelter, and, when required, used as human shields. Their sheer survival is an unimaginable nightmare, which compels their adjustment with both protagonists in a conflict they wish to have no part of. Meanwhile, the problem remains defiantly insoluble, notwithstanding the massive presence of paramilitary, Central police and state police forces. Something is obviously very wrong.
The Abujmarh forest region — which the Government of India has officially acknowledged as a “liberated zone” — has not been surveyed since Independence, which by itself should be an indication of the root cause of the Naxalite problem. Given the chronic failure to tackle the issue through civil politico-administrative intervention, recourse to the Army is unofficially regarded by many as more or less inevitable.
The Indian Army on its part has made its distaste for anti-Naxalite operations clear and is not directly involved in any manner. The Central government is only too happy to agree with the Army in this case, because the Naxalite-affected regions are mostly governed by Opposition-led state governments. On sheer cynicism and hypocrisy, the entire situation is hard to beat.
Meanwhile, the Chhattisgarh government has gifted a 750 sq km “manoeuvre range” in the Abujmarh zone to the Army, a very welcome gift considering the reluctance of civil authorities everywhere to part with land for military training and field firing ranges of which there is an acute paucity. Like good soldiers, the Army has commenced the process of setting up a jungle and counter-insurgency training school in Narayanpur district, 300 km from Raipur and adjacent to the Naxalite “liberated zone”.
But it must be remembered always that the critical elements in the fight against Naxalites have to be the indigenous tribals of the area who are both participants as well as victims on both sides. They need to be mobilised by the state into counter-Naxalite “Peoples’ Militias” under strict discipline to function as police auxiliaries. This is a sound and long-accepted solution that seems to have gone terribly wrong in practice. The Salwa Judum, a tribal militia raised on this principle, earned a horrific reputation for gross indiscipline and atrocities against the tribals. The Supreme Court of India has declared the organisation to be unconstitutional and ordered it to be disarmed and disbanded. However, this setback notwithstanding, the historical fact does remain that insurgency can only be combated by indigenous forces, including in Chhattisgarh.
The “People’s War” launched by the Naxalites requires an equally effective people-oriented counter strategy, perhaps a “War for the People”.
Though the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh have been successful, Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and other initiatives in other affected states have been a failure. The case of
Dr Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh has highlighted the moral dilemmas in dealing with almost equally rapacious “Peoples’ Movement”. Which way lies success amidst the terrible fratricidal hatred and bitterness of the conflict?
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament