Meeting the Maoist Challenge

The gruesome murder of political leaders by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh has once again brought to the forefront the fragility of the internal security situation in Central and Eastern India and the inability of the state police forces to deal with it effectively. Clearly, the nation has failed to evolve a comprehensive strategy to counter Maoist terrorism.
In May 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had for the first time described the Maoist-Naxalite insurgency as India’s most serious internal security challenge. Naxalite activities have spread to about 230 districts across 20 states, though some are very moderately affected. Maoist incidents have accounted for almost 60 per cent of terrorism-related violence in India over the last decade. These include intimidation, killings of innocent civilians, reprisal killings, abductions and kidnappings, IED blasts and the destruction of government and private property. In many of the areas of their influence, the Maoists have been collecting taxes and dispensing instant and brutal justice through kangaroo courts.
Through their sheer capacity to cause violence, the Naxalites extort huge sums of money from a wide variety of sources: the corporate sector, mine owners, forest and public works contractors, individual businessmen, rich landlords and corrupt government officials. According to reports in the public domain, their annual income from extortion could be as high as Rs 1,500 to 2,000 crore. A substantial portion of these ill-begotten funds goes towards clandestine arms procurement.
Maoist attacks on the security forces and the symbols of state power are characterised by meticulous planning, systematic preparation, near surgical execution and a high degree of coordination. On several occasions, the rebels have achieved considerable success in launching synchronised attacks on multiple targets involving large numbers of cadres. For the Maoists, besides waging a protracted people’s war with the ultimate objective of capturing or seizing political power, participating in a peace process and talks is a ‘tactic’, and is considered ‘war by other means’.
The Maoists have been consolidating their gains and expanding to newer areas. They have been steadily enhancing their military capabilities and improving their tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). The response of various state governments and the Centre has often, if not always, been reactive and inadequate. The reasons for this apathetic approach are, firstly, that Naxal terrorism is not an emotive issue at the national level like the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K); secondly, there has been some confusion whether the Naxalites are terrorists or not as they have a ‘social justice’ tag attached to them; and, lastly, am impression has gained currency that the Naxal menace is not “as bad as the media makes it out to be.”
Coordination between the police and intelligence agencies of various affected states has been generally unsatisfactory. The acquisition, compilation, collation, analysis, synthesis and dissemination of intelligence are poorly organised. The Naxalites are continuing to spread their tentacles and it is crucial that intelligence about their activities, arms and equipment, training, sources of funding and future operations is shared on a daily basis so that it trickles down in near real-time to the functional level. A great deal more needs to be done if the states are to coordinate anti-Maoist operations across their borders.
State police forces as well as the Central armed police forces (CAPFs) need to be better equipped and better trained to successfully combat the serious threat posed by the Naxalites. At present they lack the army’s organisational structure and cohesiveness, the army’s institutionalised operational experience and ethos and its outstanding junior leadership, qualities that are mandatory if the Naxalites have to be defeated on their own turf. Calling in the army to tackle the rising tide of Maoist violence will be a grave mistake for a number of reasons. The army is already managing the border along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and is deployed in large numbers for counter-insurgency and internal security duties in J&K and the north-eastern states. These prolonged commitments are hampering the army’s preparedness for conventional conflict, gradually but perceptibly affecting morale and wearing down its equipment and transport fleet. Calling on the army to commit additional troops for prolonged anti-Naxalite operations would be a retrograde step.
What the army can do and has been doing for some time now is to provide advanced training to the state police forces and the CAPFs to enable them to acquire the necessary skills. The army can “train the trainers” of the CPMFs at its training establishments so that they go back and train their respective forces. The army can also send its instructors on deputation to the training academies of the state police forces and the CAPFs to train their personnel. Some police personnel could be trained by utilising the spare capacity of the Regimental Training Centres of the army such as the Punjab Regiment Centre, Ramgarh, the Bihar Regiment Centre, Danapur and the Grenadiers Regiment Centre, Jabalpur.
In addition to the support that it can extend for training, the army, and the air force, can provide some technical equipment for better reconnaissance and surveillance. Some UAV detachments have been deployed in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The Centre has also consented to provide “air support essentially for transport of security forces, evacuation and air dropping of food and medicines”. Chhattisgarh has established a school of counter-insurgency warfare headed by a former army Brigadier who had earlier headed the army’s Counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Vairangete, Mizoram. The army can help other state governments to establish similar training academies.
The Maoist threat presents a clear and present danger. It can be ignored or neglected only at great peril to India’s national security interests. So far the national response has been inadequate, both at the policy formulation and execution levels. To cope with this serious threat, India needs a well-deliberated and finely calibrated response strategy with matching operational doctrines. Only a skillfully coordinated response, with all concerned pooling in their resources to achieve synergy in execution, will achieve the desired results. Above all else, a comprehensive socio-economic strategy must be evolved to treat the root causes of this malaise that is gnawing away at the nation’s innards, along with a carefully drawn up plan for perception management.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.