New Delhi: The anti-Maoist campaign appears stuck in a quagmire. About two years back, the Government of India embarked on a comprehensive campaign by deploying paramilitary forces in the Maoist affected states. There were expectations. It was projected that within a couple of years, the paramilitary forces would be able to establish their dominance and break the backbone of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. However, that did not happen due to a number of reasons. On the contrary, there were some major setbacks. On April 6, 2010 seventy-five CRPF personnel and one policeman were annihilated in an attack by the CPI (Maoist) armed cadres in Dantewada district. The security forces thereafter became defensive for a couple of months. They concentrated more on holding the ground rather than undertaking any offensive operations.
The tide nevertheless started turning gradually. The operations of the security forces, albeit restrained, had their impact. By the end of 2011, the number of districts affected by Maoist violence had shrunk from 223 to 182. There was also a substantial drop in the level of violence.
The Maoist leadership also suffered considerable attrition. Out of 16 members of the politburo, 2 were killed while another 7 were apprehended. The central committee was greatly weakened with 5 of its members being killed and 13 arrested out of a total of 39. All this meant a severe setback to the Maoist leadership.
A series of abductions in Odisha and Chhattisgarh, however, put the government on the back foot. It started with the abduction of two Italians, Claudio Colangelo and Paulo Bosusco from the Kandhamal district of Odisha on March 14, 2012. The Maoists later extended the tactics to Chhattisgarh and kidnapped the Collector of Sukma, Alex Paul Menon on April 21, 2012 when he was meeting a group of villagers for a government outreach programme. The Collector was eventually released after 12 days on May 3. The Chhattisgarh government handled the situation firmly; the only concession they made was that they would “review all cases of persons in respect of whom investigation/prosecution is pending”.
The tardy progress or even a slide-back in the anti-Maoist operations is to be attributed to a number of factors. At the state level, there are no standing operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed in hostage situations. The state governments are acting as per their own perception. It is also unfortunate that the Centre-State coordination leaves much to be desired.
At the national level, the government should give serious thought to defining its strategy. It is indeed disappointing that while we have been dealing with this problem for the last more than 40 years, we have not cared to codify our response or define our policy.
Government’s response was summarized by the Home Minister in 2009 in three graphic words: Clear, Hold and Develop. It implied a three-stage strategy. In the first phase, the Maoists would be drained out of their swamps by undertaking well coordinated counter-insurgency operations against them. In the second phase, the civil administration would be established in the areas cleared. And, in the third phase, economic development would be undertaken on a priority in these regions.
The policy is sound, though it is a little too cryptic. It should have been more elaborate and covered the various aspects of the Maoist problem – addressing the grievances of tribals, winning their hearts and minds, inter-state coordination, intelligence sharing between the states and between the centre and the states, surrender and rehabilitation policy, developing infrastructure in the affected states, etc.
In any case, the policy even in its limited import, could not be implemented fully. This was because certain elements in the Congress high command either did not want to see Chidambaram successful in the anti-Maoist campaign, or they had genuine doubts about the soundness of the policy.
Digvijay Singh, General Secretary of the AICC, struck a discordant note when he emphasized development to win the loyalty of the tribals. The different signals emanating from the Centre naturally confused the state chief ministers. They also, while enunciating their policy, spoke in different frequencies. Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, said that enforcement action alone would lead to further alienation of the people and stressed that the “underlying disease” needed to be addressed. Mamta Banerji’s attitude has been ambivalent. Jharkhand’s response has generally been tepid.
Need for Comprehensive Strategy
Tackling the Maoist problem would call for a comprehensive strategy. It will have to be a whole-of-government approach with every department contributing within its area of responsibility. The problem will have to be dealt with at political, social, economic, administrative, police and intelligence levels.
A concerted effort will have to be made to isolate the Maoists and challenge their political ideology. Social customs and cultural traditions of the indigenous people will have to be protected. The government has not shown enough sensitivity in the matter notwithstanding the constitutional guarantees on the subject. There can be no substitute for development with at least a functioning primary health centre and a primary school in every village. It will also have to be ensured that MNREGA is properly implemented and the Forest Rights of the tribals are protected. Land reforms must be carried out and alienated land restored to their rightful owners.
The administration should have a people-friendly face; it must address the legitimate grievances of the people in a humane manner. The capability of the police will have to be enhanced by adding to its manpower, giving it better weapons and communication equipments, and imparting to its select personnel training in counter-insurgency. The intelligence set up at the state level will need to be reorganized.
The option of peaceful negotiations should always be kept open, but these may be conducted only from a position of strength. There will have to be, above all, a conscious effort to win the hearts and minds of the people and mobilize their support against the insurgents.
These measures, sincerely implemented, would take the wind out of the sails of the Maoist movement. The Prime Minister has said more than once that the Maoist threat is the biggest challenge to the internal security of the country. Strangely, his statement has not been backed by any comprehensive long-term plan to deal with the problem. Much time has been lost and, meanwhile, the Maoists have expanded their territorial sweep. It is high time that the centre defines its strategy and, in consultation with the states, fine-tunes the tactics to be followed in the affected theatres.
(The writer, a recipient of Padma Shri, was Director General of the Border Security Force and also DGP UP and DGP Assam)