Naxalism: arranging the facts - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 14 June 2010

Naxalism: arranging the facts

The Salwa Judum, a movement to organise local tribals against the Naxals, in order to compensate for police inefficiency, has resulted in mass displacement of civilians and plenty of criticism

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Jun 2010

French diplomat and wordsmith nonpareil, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, remarked of the Bourbon dynasty --- restored to power after the Napoleonic Wars and back to their old excesses --- that “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. That withering observation accurately describes New Delhi today. After six decades of floundering through dozens of uprisings, including multiple insurgencies in the northeast and proxy wars in Punjab and J&K, India’s government is facing the Naxal challenge as incoherently as ever.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was wrong last month in calling the Naxal insurgency “India’s greatest internal security challenge”. He first used that description three years ago and, if it remains so even today, India’s greatest internal security challenge is the strategic bankruptcy of its ruling elite.

The appalling absence of leadership is evident. Two months after the Dantewada debacle, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) is only now absorbing the reality that its traditional response to insurrection --- passing the buck to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) --- is not yet an option. Prompted by an overstretched military, Defence Minister AK Antony has blocked the Home Ministry’s request for using the army’s Rashtriya Rifles and elite special forces to “force the pace of offensive operations”.

The accommodation then reached by the Cabinet --- using the army only for training and “demining” --- reeks of the compromise culture that shapes our answers to crucial questions of national security. Enough military steel has been sprinkled over the pot to deflect potential criticism that the cabinet did not take firm steps, but not enough to generate criticism that the military was being sidetracked from the borders.

This step is hardly likely to rein in the Naxals, given the systemic ineffectiveness of police forces, both those of the state and the centre. But the appearance of action was necessary; and criticism has been deferred to the next crisis.

That this will come before long is evident from the approach of Home Minister P Chidambaram. No Churchill in inspirational leadership, but rivalling that British wartime PM in verbal and ethical gymnastics, Chidambaram claims to have demanded a “wider mandate” for tackling Naxalism even as he sought army units for discharging the primary function of his own central police organisations (CPOs): i.e. reinforcing the state police in maintaining law and order.

His ministry, meanwhile, continues to pass the buck. This week the MoHA is inviting the chief ministers of Naxal-affected states (a term that is entering official lexicon!) to a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) “so that their suggestions on strengthening police and paramilitary forces can be sought”.

Only Chidambaram can answer why those CMs --- who are squarely blamed for the Naxal problem via Home Ministry leaks --- are now being asked for suggestions. Clearly the MoHA wishes to spread thin the blame for policing failure, riding on the fact that law and order is constitutionally a state subject. But what about the CPOs, which function directly under the MoHA and have long operated in Naxal-affected states?

Such is the MoHA’s indifference to its CPOs --- some 7.5 lakh armed policemen in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and others --- that even top MoHA officials refer to them as “paramilitary forces”. A paramilitary force is, by definition, led by military officers on deputation. Only the Assam Rifles, which operates in India’s north-eastern states, is a paramilitary force.

This difference is not merely academic, given that the Dantewada debacle, and others before it, stem from professional blunders by CPO units, which could hardly have happened under military officers. The MoHA has cynically stymied multiple proposals to stiffen CPO capability by inducting soldiers who have prematurely retired after just 7 years in the military. The key reason proffered by the MoHA: this would damage the promotion prospects of directly recruited policemen.

Another reason that the Home Ministry cites in rejecting the proposal to laterally induct army jawans into the CPOs is the military’s institutional orientation towards overwhelming force, which would be unacceptable in dealing with Indian citizens. This logic, while cruelly ironic for the CRPF jawans who faced a hail of Naxal bullets in Dantewada, has been fully disproved in J&K where regular army units have been no less restrained than their CPO counterparts.

Given the MoHA’s stance on guarding CPO turf, and the MoD’s minimalist stance on direct involvement in anti-Naxal operations, the compact on army training for CPOs is doomed to failure. Over the last five years, one of the army’s most experienced trainers --- Brigadier (Retired) BK Ponwar of the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram --- has trained more than 10,000 Chhattisgarh policemen at the state’s Jungle Warfare College in Bastar. The vast majority of them have gone on not to fight Naxals, but to soft jobs on the personal security details of state police officers. A policeman can be trained easily; but changing police culture is far more difficult. The same is true of the CPOs.

Do not write off the possibility that our leaders in North and South Block might have read Talleyrand. The Frenchman also said, “Since the masses are always eager to believe something, for their benefit nothing is so easy to arrange as facts.” That is all that New Delhi has done so far in confronting Naxalism.


  1. India’s greatest internal security challenge is the strategic bankruptcy of its ruling elite.

    So very true. like this sentence.
    Lack of decision, slow making decision process, meetings over meetings, committee formations and sub committee meetings, high command meeting... s ^*(%^*cks

  2. Ajai Sir,
    While your comments on the central government's response are illuminating, its very important to note that tackling the Naxal insurgency is primarily a state problem. The insurgency pans across states which is why its necessary for MHA to be involved but the decisive effort has to come from the state administrations. The centre can help provide boots on the ground where firepower is necessary but the crucial intelligence operations have to carried out by the state police and the central funds alloted for development work will have to be spent by the state governments. Andhra Pradesh pushed the Naxals out of state without extensive assistance from the central government let alone the army. Also as far as the central government's current involvement goes, unlike past administrations it has actually committed central reserve forces to the areas. Short of deploying the army(something the army's brass opposes) there isn't all that much that it can do. Counter-insurgency lessons specific to Naxal infested areas will be learned with time and incidents like the Dantewade ambush will only spur that.

  3. Well....atleast credit must be given to the fact that the present government is seized of the problem. The last home minister as far as I remember stuck to praying to Sai Baba!

  4. "I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defense of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter." - S.H.F.J. Manekshaw

    Though in retrospect gorillas are smarter. The leadership needs backbone, they need to be able to take decisions not dilly dally. The ruling "elite" is a poor choice of words elite implies qualities that bring them above the rabble. The ruling scum which is more appropriate is content o feather its own nest and make dynasties, of its kith and kin. They lack the vision and intelligence to lead. Democracy what democracy we are still a feudal society. Leadership is a burden, it is a duty that calls only to the high an mighty. It is not a baton that should be passed but earned. Alas! merit has no place in modern India. The dream of Nehru and Gandhi languishes away in the few hearts that care. We have accorded to pettiness and mediocrity the helm of our nation, and this is the result. To put it simply we replaced one set of masters with another. W lack the fundamental discipline that could have prevented this garbage from taking over. This parasite of the "paalitishian" is now firmly entrenched in our psyche and our country, only the most radical step can kill it off. And as a parting shot it is because of these parasites that the naxals have a reason to exist.

  5. These Naxals are like a deadly cancer for our nation and these babu smoking tobacco that is causing it.
    What else our government needs? Are they waiting for another incidence like 26/11 when numerous wealthy and foreign nationals will die in hands of Naxals, cause it seems, when poor men die, government dont care.
    The Dantewada debacle, followed by blowing up passenger bus than the train accident and so on. These naxals are bigger threat than any of our biggest adversary nation. They, being indian, terrorising the minds of comman man, peasents. They are opposing education, development, investment and recently killing innocent people to terrorise. These affected people equally deserve their share in developing India and should not be denied by some freaks.
    We just need one massive operation, one blow that will wipe it out this malady. What is our government doing? Why they are waiting till more several thousands die?

  6. Dear Sir,,,
    The strategic bankruptcy will always remain in matters of national security as the politicians - some off questionable intellectual mettle - fail to address the root causes and always keep the armed forces out side the decision making loop.
    The State Govts need to pull up their socks and the IPS needs to get off their high horses and lead the CPOs from the front.

  7. Col Shukla,
    What about the usage of NSG against Naxals?

    1. It is headed by an IPS

    2. It is a 'police force' and not an army unit (Will keep the jholawalas away)

    3. Has the right 'Army' elements through SAG and outer cordon can be done by SRG (paramilitary)

    4. It was created for such purposes only.

    Or is the police action disturbs the whole conversion game going on in the forest belt and derail the church agenda? Is this the reason Maino does not speak against the Maoist violence and PC/Pranab have been left alone in the cabinet to defend the fight against the Naxals?

    GOI needs to be innovative in approach and utilise the tools that have been created by some foresight by Rajiv gandhi and other prime ministers - Police action in Hyderabad/Goa

    These guys are simply surrendering the nation to agendas.

  8. Ajai ji,

    I thought this was an article about tackling naxals but it seems to be about making a case of lateral inductment of ex-military personnel into the CPOs.

    While fully in agreement that this situation is entirely a turf war between with MoHA trying to protect its own turf (the all powerful IPS lobby also has a dog in the fight), it is not true that recruiting of military personnel is the ONLY way forward. Andhra Pradesh with its Grey Hounds has done a commendable job in completely stamping out Naxalism. Karnataka in recent years has completely eliminated the leadership of its naxals groups. Kerala during Karunakaran, crushed the naxals so badly, that even after 20 years naxalism hasnt taken its roots there. All this was achieved with locally recruited Head constables, ASIs and SIs. What is needed is leadership at this time. But how can we expect politicians to see any further than the next elections?

    GoI wants to have the cake and eat it too. Neither does it want to offend the jholawalas who pitch for congress during elections, nor does it want a perception of inaction. In the meantime, the jawan at the bottom of the pyramid will continue becoming cannon fodder. While i dont understand what "strategic bankruptcy" is, i am pretty sure morally our leaders are mostly dead.

  9. Naxalites are the disciples of only Pol Pot, so they can be easily isolated from the people. But the politicians hitherto have only used them as tools against their political and religious opponents. This has emboldened the naxals and resulted in widening of their areas and density of operations.

    Landmines are their primary weapons. It can be averted by staying off the roads.

    They use the cover of high density forests, so bullets are somewhat ineffective against them. Rather various types of propelled grenades, small mortars, mini rocket launchers can be more effective against them.

    Salva Judum originally meant to insulate the peoples from the naxalites, but it could not achieve its target because the real further work of isolating the naxalites from the peoples could not be done.

  10. Col Shukla,

    for sure - bomb them, bring in the big guns. With enough "boots on the ground" mortars,howitzers, gunships and fighters you can solve this "problem".
    Kill em all... that'll rid us off this "menace".

    India's response to the "Naxal problem" typifies it's attitude towards it's poor and disadvantaged.
    It's the apathy and outright hatred of the middle class(caste in India's case) towards the low castes / untouchables / tribals that enable it's politicians to dream up and push asinine ideas like "Salwa Judum" while leaving the real issues untouched.

    Why provide infrastructure, schools and hospitals or even compensate the tribals when you can simply kill them and take their land and resources?
    Why listen to the tribals when you can dictate from New Delhi?

    India is a deeply racist and feudal society. Regardless of how you slice it or explain it, at it's core the naxal problem has come about because of inequities in Indian society. Instead of addressing that, the solution seems to be to police and kill, so now we have an armed confrontation, giving Indians the justification to kill more, with bigger guns... nice!

    When you have administrative officers that belong to the same racist system to solve a "problem", do you think they will ever come up with a creative and equatable solution that gives dignity to those that their system considers unclean and uncivilized?
    You're better off appointing a Nazi to solve the Jew problem, and we know how that turned out.
    So, lets not gas em, but do everything just short of it.

    "We are Indians", and some how that make it allright for Indians to massacre their own.

    The "Naxal problem" is of India's own making, at least for now they can't blame the British or can they?

    Col Shukla, you are a military man and is seems you too belong to the same racist system.

    You have no heart.

  11. Vivek:

    Your argument is exactly the argument that North Block makes. Paraphrased, it goes like this: States, this is your problem. We've been elected by the voters to govern this country, but we've found a clause in the Constitution that clearly says that this is your problem.

    So we don't need to oversee training of police, we don't need to mandate systems to ensure that they function and provide intelligence. We just need to give you the space to learn your own lessons and, if the country falls apart while you do that, well it's written in the Constitution.

    So all the best, guys. Do write and tell us how you're doing. And if you need some of our ineffectual CRPF, don't forget to let us know.


    Clearly you know little about the NSG, or how much of it there is, or what its primary role is. So Google it and read up before trying to place a tribal agitation in a religious fundamentalist framework.

    Anonymous 22:10:

    I love you too!

  12. Vivek:

    Your argument is exactly the argument that North Block makes. Paraphrased, it goes like this: States, this is your problem. We've been elected by the voters to govern this country, but we've found a clause in the Constitution that clearly says that this is your problem.

    So we don't need to oversee training of police, we don't need to mandate systems to ensure that they function and provide intelligence. We just need to give you the space to learn your own lessons and, if the country falls apart while you do that, well it's written in the Constitution.

    So all the best, guys. Do write and tell us how you're doing. And if you need some of our ineffectual CRPF, don't forget to let us know.

    Ajai Sir, I accept the point that the buck stops at the centre but what I'm saying is different. The centre cannot win the war for states. It can only assist. Like I said before, AP faced a Maoists at the very least equal to that faced by Chattisgarh and Jharkhand today. And its the state forces and administration that broke the backs of the Naxals in the state not central forces. The Punjab militancy was crushed not by the army or paramilitary forces but by the state police.

    With regard to the centre, the MHA has already committed most of its paramilitary reserves to Naxal areas leaving barely half a battalion at the centre for deployment in crises. Its established training schools for state police forces and the HM has taken a hard line stance with Naxals and insurgency afflicted states.

    You may criticize his for not deploying the military, but the efficacy of that option still remains a debatable question and not a sign sign of the government's apathy. The Army is certainly opposed to a deployment for such operations. The IAF has asked the MHA to transfer airlifting duties to the BSF. So the issue of military intervention is not as cut and dried.

    The Maoists have been around for almost forty five years. Their influence spans a vast section of the Indian hinterland. Crushing them bloodlessly without casualties was never possible regardless of lessons learnt in J&K, Punjab, Sri Lanka and the North-East. And while it may seem differently, the Maoists are in fact losing today. Half of the politburo is either dead or behind bars. The Maoists' armed cadre have been driven out of AP and West Bengal and are today concentrated only in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. And just as importantly they're alienating large sections of their supporters with desperate acts of terrorism and sabotage.

    But that's different matter. Question is what do you want the central government to do today that its not cognizant of and not addressing itself? With all due respect sir, its become a rather clichéd response to blame the central government for all problems plaguing the nation.

  13. Dear Col Shukla,

    I apologize for the previous somewhat hastily written and ill composed rant.

    What I did mean to say was that I'm deeply disheartened at the clamor for stamping out the "problem" with nothing but an iron fist.

    I understand this is a military blog, but I'm dismayed by the near universal cry for war.

    And against whom? These are our own people.. whose only grievance seems to be want of dignity and equitable distribution of resources. Failing which they seem to have taken up arms.

    Why not address their issues with the same urgency and speed with which GOI seems to want to stamp them out?

    Killing is an easy solution, we are getting very good at it.

    No other country today treats it's people like we ours. Unless you consider the Tribals not "our" people, but encroaches in the way of our "development"... spoil sports who need to be removed.

    Let a few bleed and be sacrificed for the good of the Republic, eh? As long as the few are not us.
    That in a nut shell is our middle class.

    Anonymous 22:10

  14. @Anonymous 22:10

    -----------And against whom? These are our own people.. whose only grievance seems to be want of dignity and equitable distribution of resources. Failing which they seem to have taken up arms.

    See Agreed these are misguided peope, they want their share, they have taken up arms due to injustice.
    Ok Now, these people are reacting against injustice. Done by whom ? The system followed by politicos, Collectors,etc.

    Who are they killing?
    innocent citizens.

    Are they helping the dislocated tribals>?
    No. they intimidate them.

    So, naxalism is just a blood thirsty idea that wants to take roots and take over India. Mind you take over India not the states. So, thats why its now a central problem. Nobody can protect indialike india army can.

    Time and again, whenever they carry out a successful massacre (mind you massacre after massacre of innocents) , the home minister lifts his lungi and invites them to lay down arms and come for talks.
    Response: one more massacre.

    If you call these demented , crazy , out of order your own people, then you can go ahead and call them.
    For us, these are twisted people who will only understand a bullet hole in their as$$$.

    And people like you , mamata bannerjee, the CPI cadres, who support them , are really people who cannot understand the plight of poor people who are getting killed.

  15. Dear Colonel,

    Keeping military tactics in perspective, I would agree with you but if you say provisioning of Security, it envolves bigger issues. Then your pointing out fingers only at ineffeciency of CPOs in application of military force is rudimentary. The rural population of India survives on three basic things. The land to work on, the forests to meets his requirements and the basic security to suvive.

    The entire countrie's land management called revenue administration and all development work at grass root level is looked after by the well trained and well educated, 50 percent OBC, ST and ST staffed IAS. What have they done? They are the biggest and official property dealers of the country involved in all sorts of land grabs for the govt, the corporates, vested interests and the land mafia. So much so that there is no distinction today between a land grabber and a DC who at the drop of hat salivates for land acquisition to make fast bucks. He singularily is responsible for displacement of million in the country. It would very interesting to know how much land has been acquired by the govt so far and put to what use?

    The second aspect effecting the life of the poor is "jungle" which is manged by equally well read, reservationist elite called Indian Forest Service Officer. He has been equally responsible for amking the lives of the poor misrable by denuding the forests in collboration with contractors and denying to the people the use of their natural rights of the use of forest.

    The third dimension of minimum life, that is Security is in the hands of the third elite called IPS. Under their dispensation, the securty of the common man is most threatened.

    It is not share coincidence that all the three happen to the only All India Services ?

    Why hang the CPO guys only? Hang all the DM / DC and SP and DFOs of the effected areas. They are the ones who have brought this situation into being?

    Rihtely said, when all these guys made fortunes in Naxal effected areas, why should Army kill them today? Is Army a force to defend corrupt bureacracy ? Army has all the right to ask these questions as it is composed of citizens and not slaves.

    will Army employment in naxal effected areas mend the ways of the highest elites called All India Services (IAS, IFS and IPS.

  16. Tribals are our brothers, elders and ancestors. But they have been hijacked by Naxals.

    Naxals even being left extreme should not be politically any problem, but they have never shown any signs of democratic elasticity since 1967.

    So if it comes to an impasse, let there be a showdown.

    However there should be a caution that in contrast to LTTE, naxals almost can not be encircled along any sea shore.

  17. Just curious where do these Maoists get their support from, They cant operate so freely without the support of the local's and the money power they have to fund such operations cannot be afforded by the tribals.

    How do we deprive them of their local support : By good governance.

    How to stop the funds flowing to them : Stop the corruption and bureaucracy, Provide better security to the corporates/mining companies operating in those areas.

    I still dont understand why these Maoists target common man and public infrastructure like schools and railway lines instead of politicians and corrupt bureaucrats, who they are fighting against?

  18. "The Salwa Judum, a movement to organise local tribals against the Naxals, in order to compensate for police inefficiency, has resulted in mass displacement of civilians and plenty of criticism"

    But Ajai, a few weeks back, you actually favoured the village vigilante groups like Salwa Judum in Barkha Dutt's programme on NDTV (discussing the Maoist problem) where she abruptly cut and overruled you.

    What's your honest take on Salwa Judum?

  19. @Chandrabhan:

    The NSG has been involved in anti-Naxal ops in the past when 51 SAG (and maybe with SRG) was sent to Chattisgarh area in 2005-06.

    Needless to say, the mission(s) achieved 0% of their objectives because of a myriad of factors like lack of intelligence, the Maoists' ability to dissolve amongst local inhabitants etc, not to mention complete lack of any viable plan.

    Your 4th point -- It was created for such purposes only -- is totally misplaced.

    The 51 SAG's primary job is anti-terror special ops like what we saw in Akshardham and Mumbai (26/11). 52 SAG is an anti-Hijacking unity though personnel from 51 and 52 often cross over units for short term deputations.

    You are right about SRG. Apart from providing security to VIPs, their role is to cordon and provide second ring of defense to the anti-terror ops the NSG undertakes.

    The deployment of NSG may have certain glamour attached to it, but it is the most ill-fitted force to tackle Maoism. For this, Army units trained in jungle warfare with experience in comb and search ops are the best suited.

  20. Dear Ajai,

    While your argument on the sheer inefficiency of our CPOs is 100% right and Dantewada incident proves that; we still need to look at the challenge afresh and holistically. Who are the naxalites? While leadership may have come from the jholewala brigade or across borders(??), these are poor tribals, deprived of their land, resources and dignity by nan unjust state. There are scores of Bellary brothers in the tribal belts digging out iron ore and other minerals but paying pittance to the people who deserved a good compensation. All politicians will oppose them, BJP tooth and nail; because their coffers are filled by these mine barons. I sometimes wonder if the state is not being used for the protection of these mine grabbers, who make huge profits, stack that in Swiss banks and go on holidays on yacht in Mediterranean.

    Why should the CPOs or for that matter Army protect private players in this crazy capitalist race, beats me. After serving in the Army for 30 years, i developed a strange sense of apprehensions that instead of serving the nation; many of our units end up serving these rogue politicians and corrupt babus. Do I let my soldier die for a syatem that is so corrupt around me? never Sir. I believe the security forces should have a say in the future course as otherwise these hapless policemen and soldiers will remain pawns in the hands of these moneybags.

    Negotiate a better deal for the tribal and rural belt of central India with these big mining companies or kick them out of the area. Naxalite problem will get resolved automatically. Injustice at the hands of state, and not revolt against the country is the main cause here.


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