Curbing Maoist Terrorism Maoist Terrorism can be Curtailed only by Coordinated and Concerted Action b the Centre and the States

In May 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Maoist insurgency as India’s most serious internal security challenge. Maoist incidents, which account for over 60 per cent of terrorism-related violence, include intimidation, killings, reprisal killings, abductions and kidnappings, extortion, IED blasts and the destruction of government and private property, and that of grass-roots level political institutions. In many of the areas of their influence, the Maoists are 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: corporate sector, mine owners, forest and public works contractors, individual businessmen, rich landlords and corrupt government officials. According to a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), collects Rs 200 Crore annually through extortion. However, some other unofficial sources hold that this could be as high as 500 to Rs 700 Crore. A substantial portion of these ill-begotten funds goes towards clandestine arms procurement.

Classically, Naxalite activity has been understood as organisational phase, primary level guerrilla zone, secondary level guerrilla zone, liberated area. The present state of the movement led by Naxalites of the CPI (Maoist) is best evaluated in terms of the spatial spread and scale of activity in various areas. Presently, Naxalite activities have spread to over 160 districts across 14 States. 

In the pursuit of their objectives, rebels of the CPI (Maoist) work in a determined fashion according to a plan and operate in a methodical manner. In the broadest sense, their activities could be classified as political and military, with both being undertaken simultaneously. At the political level, they organise what are known as partial struggles –– agitations that are centred around specific demands and involve the participation of a ‘category’ of people such as students, industrial workers, agricultural labourers, peasants and the like.

On the military plane, their attacks on the security forces and the symbols of state power, in general, are characterised by meticulous planning, systematic preparation, near surgical execution and a high degree of coordination. Moreover, on at least five occasions in the past, the rebels have also displayed with considerable success their ability to launch synchronised attacks on multiple targets within a given area involving, significantly, large numbers of cadres. In fact, synchronised, simultaneous attacks have become a pattern and the recurring number of such attacks persuades one to suggest that the Maoists would launch similar attacks in future too, with whatever degree of frequency. Indeed, 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’.

Inadequate Government Response

On the other hand, at best, the response of the various state governments and the Centre has often, if not always, been reactive and has been found to be lagging behind the Maoists.  While the Maoists have been expanding to newer areas, gaining ground, consolidating themselves and have steadily been enhancing their military capabilities since at least the past five years, the approach of the governments has been to generally ignore the Maoist movement. The reasons for this apathetic approach were, 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 had gained currency that the Naxal menace is not “as bad as the media makes it out to be.”

In a “Status Paper on the Naxal Problem”, issued on March 13, 2006, for the first time, the Centre announced a 14-point policy on dealing with the Naxalite movement. The announcement was a surprise that the Ministry of Home Affairs sprang on Parliament and the people of the country. The framing of the policy is shrouded in mystery. Moreover, there is no information in the public domain on the quality of inputs that went into the framing of this policy. It is not known whether the Government made use of the recommendations of the Ruling Congress-I appointed “Task Force on Naxalite Violence”, which was headed by senior Andhra Pradesh Legislator M. Shashidhar Reddy, whether the affected states were consulted and whether the Status Paper was discussed by, and had the approval of, the Cabinet Committee on Security. In fact, speaking in Raipur earlier during the day on March 13, the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh, said there was “confusion” in the policy response to the Naxalite threat and there was little or no coordination among the affected states. On a number of occasions earlier too he had called for a national policy on the Naxalite problem.

Some of the aspects of the Centre’s policy are marked by obvious contradictions and confusion in its approach. For instance, Point V of the policy says: “There will be no peace dialogue by the affected states with the Naxal groups unless the latter agree to give up violence and arms.” However, speaking on September 19, 2005, on the sidelines of the Conference of Chief Ministers of Naxalite-affected states, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said: “If they drop arms, it is good. But if they want to carry arms and still talk… we don’t have any difficulty. We are not afraid to do so.” Perhaps it was in line with such thinking that the Andhra Pradesh government implemented a peace process with the CPI-Maoist and the Janasakthi, allowed them to bear arms brazenly, and sat at the negotiating table with them on October 15-18, 2004.

Also, there is no unanimity in the perception of the various affected states on the Naxalite issue.  Thus, while States such as Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu have proscribed the CPI (Maoist), West Bengal has refused to do the same. Orissa has lately proscribed the CPI (Maoist), while Karnataka issued contradictory statements and finally chose not to ban the organisation. On its part, Andhra Pradesh allowed the ban to lapse, initiated a peace process and re-imposed proscription in August 2005, in the wake of the assassination of a serving MLA. It is also pertinent that except for the CPI (Maoist) no other Naxalite group in the country has been proscribed in any of the states or by the Centre, even though some of them are committed to protracted armed struggle.

Further, coordination between the police and intelligence agencies of various affected states has been far from satisfactory until now. Initial indications of a change in this trend are just about being witnessed, as was evidenced by the seizure of 875 empty rocket shells in September 2006. Also, towards end-August 2006, every single affected state has submitted its security and development plan for addressing the Naxalite issue. But, for the past many years thus far, the response by the various states has either been one of inaction, or focused in significant measure, if not excessively, on militarily fighting the Naxalites, rather than simultaneously also addressing the issue on the socio-economic plane. 

On the other hand, the Centre, too, has lately initiated some steps to address the Naxalite issue. Thus far, a three-tier structure has existed in the MHA: a Joint Task Force on Terrorism headed by Special Secretary (Home) to overcome Centre-State jurisdiction problems, a Coordination Centre chaired by the Home Secretary and a Standing Committee of Chief Ministers presided over by the Home Minister. However, these structures have not been effective enough to tackle the Naxalites. Therefore, an Anti-Naxalite cell –– which will have smaller groups to deal specifically with development issues and military response in affected districts –– has just been formed in the MHA, while there would be an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) to provide coordination between the various Ministries connected with addressing the Naxalite issue in a comprehensive manner. Separately, the Planning Commission has formed an “Expert Panel on Naxalism” to make recommendations on how to address the Naxalite issue. At the time of writing, the Panel is yet to submit its report. Besides, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) has been commissioned by the Ministry of Rural Development to conduct a micro-level study in selected Naxalite-affected villages. 

Another grey area is the acquisition, complication, collation, analysis, synthesis and dissemination of intelligence. While an Intelligence Coordination Group headed by the National Security Advisor has been established at the Centre, similar coordinating centres have not been set up by the state governments with the result that operations are still being conducted based on inadequate intelligence. The Naxalites have spread their tentacles to 14 states 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. Unless this happens, success will remain elusive.

Involving the Armed Forces

By now it is quite obvious that, except in Andhra Pradesh, the state police forces in the other affected states, in general, are ill-equipped and ill-trained to successfully combat the serious threat posed by the Naxalites. Therefore, the Central police and paramilitary forces (CPMFs) are being deployed in significant numbers to fight the Naxalites. These are better equipped and trained but 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. Given the rate at which the security situation has been deteriorating, it appears that, perhaps, sooner rather than later, the Government might decide to call upon the army to tackle the rising tide of Maoist violence. This will be a grave mistake for a number of reasons, including because the army is already managing the border along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and parts of the border on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and has a large-scale deployment 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. The peace-station tenure of infantry battalions, the army’s cutting edge force for such operations, has already come down to under three years. The army is in no position to commit additional troops for anti-Naxalite operations.

What the army can do is to provide advanced training to the state police forces and the CPMFs 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 CPMFs 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. Of late there has been some movement in this direction and it will gradually gain momentum. At present the army is reportedly training police personnel in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Uttaranchal. The results should be visible on ground in about two years. 

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.  One UAV detachment has reportedly been deployed in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The operational command of the UAVs is with the IAF and deployment is being coordinated with the state police. A decision has also been taken to use UAVs in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The Centre has also consented to provide “air support essentially for transport of security forces, evacuation and air dropping of food and medicines”. This decision was taken at a high-level meeting of the DGPs of affected states in August 2006. Chhattisgarh has started 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 national security interests. So far the national response has been grossly inadequate, if not completely flawed, 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 and the necessary resources. Only a skillfully coordinated response between the Centre and the states, 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.