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Red Terror, sloppy state October 28, 2009

Posted by sandygordon in : India , trackback

Guest author: Dr Nihar Nayak, Associate Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi

This article first appeared in The Pioneer on 24 October 2009.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has good intentions but would do well to carry out a SWOT on the government’s position before launching his operation to end the Maoist menace.

October 2009 will be recalled for long as the ‘red’ month. Maoist insurgency has captured the collective imagination of India on an unprecedented scale. The resolve of the government, as articulated by the Home Minister, is also one of the most significant in our times because though Maoism/Naxalism has been around for a while, the ruthlessness and brutality with which these Communist terrorists operate was somehow accorded less attention than the more glamorous  jihadi variety.

Also starkly evident  is the lack of preparedness of the Indian State to meet this kind of terror. The security forces don’t seem to have learnt from past incidents involving Naxalite violence. They have repeatedly ignored, at considerable cost to themselves, the standard operational procedure circulated by the Centre to states affected by the menace. Such negligence becomes even more worrisome in the light of the resolution passed by the Communist Party of India-Maoist Politburo to prepare and mobilise the People’s Liberation Group Army (PLGA) and sympathisers to carry out tactical counter-offensives and various forms of resistance to inflict maximum losses targeting the security forces.

2009 has already witnessed 766 fatalities in Naxalite-related violence, the highest in the past five years. About 274 Security Forces personnel have been killed, the highest since the current phase of the Maoist movement commenced in 1980. The death toll has gone up because the Maoists have been using improvised explosive devises (IEDs). Traditionally, they used to attack with small arms. Their Politburo has passed a general instruction to use IEDs to minimise casualties among the Maoist armed cadres.

The following factors seem to have emboldened the PLGA:

The Francis Induwar incident [in which a Police Inspector was beheaded – Ed] has had a serious emasculating effect on the Intelligence agencies. Another objective of targeting low-level officials has been to create mistrust between the Indian Police Service (IPS) and state cadres. For example, after Inspector Ajit Vardhan was killed by the Maoists in July 2009 in Sundargarh district, Orissa, there was resentment in the Orissa Police Association that its constituent personnel were inadequately armed and equipped to counter Maoist attacks.

The central government has woken up finally and has worked out a blueprint for launching a major operation against the Maoists in the tri-junction of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa to root out the menace, commencing in November.  The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on October 8 cleared the strategy proposed by the Home Ministry. As many as 35 battalions of paramilitary forces will be involved in the massive offensive, backed by a heavy dose of development programmes. The government has decided to spend about Rs 1,000 crore in the Naxal-infested regions this year. Home Minister Chidambaram has also asked the affected states to remain open for dialogue with the Maoists.

The proposed anti-Naxalite action plan may, however, only have an antipyretic effect, considering the woeful state of the state police forces in terms of equipment and morale.

Two major lacunae in the current offensive against the Maoists may be noted:

Meanwhile, the Maoists are sure to mobilise their front organisations to form human chains in those strategic areas. They may also adopt new tactics like dispersing, relocating the platoons, safe-hoarding their weapons or forming smaller groups of two or three cadres to carry out attacks on the forces.

In the past, a number of major offensives against the Maoists have failed. After the major operations against them in the early 1970s and again in 2002-03 in Andhra Pradesh, for example, the Naxalite movement regrouped with vigour.

The following factors favour the Maoists:

The security forces are not famous for respecting local cultures, values and rights. Their operations, if not properly managed, may cause needless harassment, arrests, and failure to sustain the development programmes. This eventuality could generate enormous anti-state feeling in the affected areas, favouring the Maoist agenda.

At the same time, it would be imprudent for the government to withdraw the special forces without strengthening the capacities of the local police and civil administration. Also, it could be a tactical error to opt for a dialogue with the insurgents unless the central committee of the Maoists declares a unilateral ceasefire in the entire country.

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