The Naxalite Problem of India
| As many as 455 people (255 civilians and 200 security personnel) have been killed in Naxal violence in 2009 (till June-end, and the killings continue), reveal figures released by the Home Ministry. The Naxal-infested States of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand accounted for 60 per cent of the total deaths in the country in this period. The figures also reveal that Chhattisgarh is the State worst-hit by Naxal violence. In the last three years, the State had topped the list. In 2008, 242 of the total 721 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from the State. In 2007, 369 out of 1,565 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from Chhattisgarh, and in 2006, 388 out of 678 deaths. |
The Naxals, in January-June 2009 period, attacked 56 economic targets. The increasing frequency, with which the Naxals have been hitting economic targets, is alarming. The corresponding figures for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 were 71, 80, and 109, respectively.
The brazenness with which the Naxals carried out one of their biggest attacks killing at least 36 policemen, including a Superintendent of Police, in Chhattisgarh in second week of July 2009, has left the security establishment shaken. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Naxalite problem as ‘the single largest threat to India’.
The CPI (Maoist) swells the list of indigenous terror groups operating in India to 27, making India home to the largest number of domestic terrorist organisations in the world. In June 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) named the CPI (Maoist) as 34th terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; seven of these are transnational terror groups.
CPI (Maoist) join ranks with ULFA and SIMI, and lesser known entities such as Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council of Meghalaya, Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup of Manipur and Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekta Samaj, which though virtually unheard of are considered deadly enough by the government to be designated as terrorist organisations.
Of the seven transnational terror groups, only two—al-Qaida and LTTE—are truly global names. The other five are: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Harkatul Mujahideen, Al Badr, Jamat-ul-Mujahid and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), which are all Pakistan based terror outfits fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir.
Amongst developed countries, only UK has a significant number of terror groups breeding close to home in form of nine Irish militias such as the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Irish Republican Army.
The ‘Red terror’ spots have begun to pop up in India’s capital and northern States’ forest and hilly areas too. It seems that the Maoists are interested in enlarging their area of influence outside the jungles of the ‘Red Corridor’ that runs from the Nepal border down to Andhra Pradesh.
Lately, they have begun targeting India’s seat of power—New Delhi—and many other cities by setting up urban bases with the aim to penetrate and influence policy makers, judiciary, media, civil liberty, human rights, cultural, Dalit, women and youth organisations. So far, the urban units are not indulging in violence. But who knows when they may start firing guns.
Seized documents of the CPI (Maoist) Politburo and Central Committee talk about the need to run a secret service and unleash psychological wars through effective networking of various friendly groups in the urban areas.
According to a confidential report of the military intelligence, India’s 231 districts in 13 States, including three in the NCR, are now being targeted by the Maoists to achieve their ultimate aim—seize power in Delhi by 2050.
So far, it is believed that about 170 districts falling under the dreaded ‘Red Corridor’, also known as the Dandekaran Belt, are reeling under the Maoist terror. In Chhattisgarh, Bastar’s dense jungles are considered to be the Maoists’ centre of gravity. In southern Bastar, the Maoists have declared the Chintainer area as their Dandekaran State’s capital.
The ‘Red Corridor’ runs through the dense forest and tribal belt, from Nepal through Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and all the way to Andhra Pradesh and to the upper reaches of Maharashtra, and some parts of Karnataka. Inside their corridor, the Naxalites run a parallel government and vow to continue their fight against the state—a full-fledged war they call ‘people’s struggle’.
All the Left-wing militant organisations, including the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People’s War Group (PWG), after their merger are now operating under the flagship rebel party—CPI (Maoist).
The Central intelligence reports have also issued a warning that the Maoists are now in the process of identifying ‘new operational areas’ across the country. They are keenly looking at industrial belts, where big corporate houses are planning to set up the Special Economic Zones (SEZs), an easy target to launch violent agitation.
The Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) has published a secret red book ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution’, which is said to be the Naxals’ Bible. The book says: “The central task of the revolution is seizure of political power through protracted People’s war.” Talking about supporting sub-national movements in India, the book says: “Lakhs of enemy’s armed troops have been deployed since long in J&K and the north-eastern States. More and more nationalities may come into armed confrontation with the reactionary Indian State, so it will be difficult for the Indian ruling classes to mobilise all their armed forces against our revolutionary war.” It further says the urban areas are one of the main sources which provide cadre and leadership having various types of capabilities essential for People’s war.
Birth of Naxalism
In the backdrop of organizational upheavals within the Indian Communist movement, an incident in a remote area transformed the history of left-wing extremism in India. In a remote village called Naxalbari in West Bengal, a tribal youth named Bimal Kissan, having obtained a judicial order, went to plough his land on March 2, 1967. The local landlords attacked him with the help of their goons. Tribal people of the area retaliated and started forcefully recapturing their lands. What followed was a rebellion, which left one police sub inspector and nine tribals dead. Within a short span of about two months, this incident acquired great visibility and tremendous support from cross sections of Communist revolutionaries belonging to the State units of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Though the United Front Government of West Bengal, headed by the CPI(M) was able to contain the rebellion within 72 days using all repressive measures possible, these units had a formal meeting in November 1967, as a result of which the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was formed in May 1968. ‘Allegiance to the armed struggle and non-participation in the elections’ were the two cardinal principles that the AICCR adopted for its operations.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Naxalite movement was immensely popular. There were reports of brilliant students, including from IITs, dropping out of college to join the struggle for the rights of the tribals and landless labourers. Over the years, as the principles diluted, Naxalite movement saw much of its membership waning away. Nevertheless, it has an endless supply of men and women, victims of State apathy to their condition joining its ranks, which shows that many still believe in the cause.
How to tackle Maoists
The continuing inability of the government—whether at the Centre or in the States—to counter effectively the spread of the activities of the Maoist insurgents-cum-terrorists was once again demonstrated by the temporary control established by the CPI-Maoist and its front organisation called the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities in 17 villages spread across some 300 square kilometres in the Lalgarh area in West Bengal.
The People's Committee, with the backing or at the instigation of the Maoists exploited local anger over alleged police excesses against the tribals following an alleged Maoist attempt to kill Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee through a landmine blast in November 2008.
What started as a protest movement against police excesses was transformed by the Maoists into a violent political movement. The hesitation of the governments of West Bengal and India to act strongly against the Maoist-instigated committee at the very beginning was apparently due to electoral considerations arising from the recently-concluded elections to the Lok Sabha. This was exploited by the Maoists.
Although the security forces have succeeded in ejecting the Maoists and their supporters from many of the villages earlier controlled by them, the fire is burning from inside.
Since Dr Manmohan Singh came to power as the Prime Minister in 2004, he and his government have been projecting the Maoists as the greatest internal security threat faced by India and calling for and promising a special strategy to counter them through coordinated action involving the Centre and States in whose territory the Maoists are active. The Congress had appointed in 2004 a special task force of the party to go into the Maoist activities in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh to come out with suitable recommendations for dealing with the Maoist activities.
Before evolving a strategy, however, one has to understand the basic differences between Maoist insurgency/terrorism and jihadi terrorism. Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda. Jihadi terrorism is externally sponsored or aided by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh and is motivated by their strategic agenda. Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.
While the Maoist leaders are motivated largely by their desire to seek political power through a Maoist style People's War similar to the war waged by their counterparts in Nepal, their cadres and foot soldiers fighting for them are largely motivated by genuine grievances arising from the political, economic and social hardships.
It is India’s long neglect to develop the tribal areas which has created large pockets of alienation against the government and these pockets have become the spawning ground of Maoist terrorism. The governments concerned have to take note of the genuine grievances of the tribals and deal with them in a sympathetic manner. There has to be a system for a prompt enquiry into all allegations of excess.
Also, Maoist terrorism cannot be effectively countered without modernising and strengthening our rural policing and the rural presence of the intelligence agencies. The tribal areas, which have not yet been affected by the Maoist virus, have to be developed on a crash basis in order to prevent the spread of the virus to them.
The capabilities of the security agencies deployed for countering Maoist activities also have to be different from those of the urban counter-terrorism agencies. The emphasis has to be on greater mobility in the rural areas and greater protection from land-mines used extensively by the Maoists. The failure to develop the road infrastructure in the rural areas has facilitated the spread of Maoist terrorism.
Maoists mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.
Unfortunately, instead of working out an appropriate strategy which will address these operational deficiencies and at the same time pay equal attention to the political handling of the problem, there is an unwise tendency to militarise the counter-Maoist insurgency management.
Bandopadhyay Committee: In May 2006, the Planning Commission appointed an expert committee headed by D. Bandopadhyay, a retired IAS officer instrumental in dealing with the Naxalites in West Bengal in the 1970s. The expert committee has underscored the social, political, economic and cultural discrimination faced by the SCs/STs across the country as a key factor in drawing large number of discontented people towards the Naxalites. The committee established the lack of empowerment of local communities as the main reason for the spread of the Naxal movement. Choosing its words carefully, the report states that "We have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing...''
The expert committee delved deep into the new conflict zones of India, i.e. the mines and mineral rich areas, steel zones, as well as the SEZs. The report holds the faulty system of land acquisition and a non-existent R&R Policy largely responsible for the support enjoyed by the Naxalites. On the other hand, the committee makes a forceful plea for a policy and legal framework to enable small and marginal farmers to lease-in land with secure rights while landless poor occupying government land should not be treated as encroachers.
For the first time in the history of the Naxal movement, a government appointed committee has put the blame on the State for the growth of the movement. Providing statistics of 125 districts from the Naxal-affected States, the committee finds out that the state bureaucracy has pitiably failed in delivering good governance in these areas. The report recommends rigorous training for the police force, not only on humane tactics of controlling rural violence but also on the constitutional obligation of the State for the protection of fundamental rights.
Making a departure from the usual government position, the expert committee concludes that development paradigm pursued since independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among the marginalized sections of society. Citing democratic principles, the report also argues for the right to protest and discovers that unrest is often the only thing that actually puts pressure on the government to make things work and for the government to live up to its own promises.
Dealing with Naxalism needs a holistic approach with development initiatives as an integral part of the security approach. Security here must be understood in its broader perspective, which includes human development in its scope, because human security is an inseparable component of any human development formula, and vice versa.
Plan for Naxal-hit States: The Union Home Ministry has unveiled a new Rs 500-crore fully Centre-sponsored scheme which will be implemented by State governments—for Naxalism-hit States. Centre will give Rs 135-crore a year to the States under the scheme. The scheme has five important objectives: To provide mobility to the police by upgrading existing roads in inaccessible areas; to build camping grounds and helipads at strategic locations in remote areas; to strengthen police stations that have been identified as being at risk; to upgrade and strengthen approach roads to police stations and outposts where there is risk of IEDs and landmines, and to provide for critical needs, specific to the areas where holistic anti-naxal measures are being taken in a focused manner.
The States have been asked to prepare integrated action plans in the most affected districts to achieve the objectives. For this, the ministry has identified 15 action points that include preparation of a comprehensive connectivity plan for the 33 districts seriously affected by Left-wing extremism.
Home Minister admits to government level failure: Alarmed by the apparent failure of the State machinery to tackle Naxalites, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted on July 15, 2009 that the government had failed in curbing Naxal menace in the country. Speaking in Rajya Sabha, Mr Chidambaram said the government had failed in assessing the threat posed by the Maoists, adding it also failed to tackle them with the seriousness they deserve. "Today they (Naxalites) pose a grave challenge ... We are preparing to take on the challenge. Details cannot be disclosed now," he said.
"Regrettably for many years we did not properly assess the threat posed by Left-wing extremism. We under-estimated the challenge and in the meanwhile they (Naxalites) extended their influence," he added.
Chidambaram further informed that a military advisor has been appointed to prepare an action plan for dealing with Maoists. The Home Minister said he was in close touch with Chief Ministers of the Naxal-affected States and would hold a meeting with them to discuss ways to counter Left-wing extremism.
One could take a cue from the successful land reforms in Kerala, and to some extent West Bengal, that have not only assuaged agrarian tension, but have also undermined the clutch of ultras, while exactly to the contrary, failure of the same in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh has changed what was essentially peasant struggle into Naxalite movements. A lasting solution to Left extremist politics cannot be achieved without addressing the socio-economic factors that contribute to its rise and growth.