The Home Ministry’s Annual Report states this about its counter-Maoist strategy: “While it is necessary for the State Governments to conduct proactive and sustained operations against the extremists, and put in place all measures required for this, it is also necessary to simultaneously give focused attention to development and governance issues, particularly at the cutting edge level.” This is based on “the belief of Government of India that through a combination of development, security and Forest Rights related interventions, the LWE problem can be successfully tackled.”
The development front comprises the well known flagship programmes and the INR 1500 crore Planning Commission monitored Integrated Action Plan in the targeted 78 districts. However, the kidnappings of the district administration heads of Malkangiri, and more recently, Sukma, suggest that the development prong may be laudable in intent but the state lacks capacity for implementation. The Annual Report admits to the inability, stating, “the process of development has been set back by decades in many parts of the country under LWE influence.”
There is no doubt that security needs have to be met first. Towards this end 74 battalions of the Central Armed Police Forces have been deployed including 10 Cobra battalions for offensive tasks, and 34 India Reserve units have been raised. However, the nature and culture of central police forces rule out proactive operations that can vacate ‘liberated zones’. Therefore, at best, what the forces can achieve is self-preservation through force protection and showing the flag.
Their incapacity, particularly in training and leadership, have to be removed over the long-term. 21 counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism training schools are being set up for achieving this objective. A reduction in the 16 per cent deficit in the IPS cadre has been achieved through innovative measures such as absorbing 150 officers from the military and paramilitary after special tests by the UPSC, augmenting the vacancies from the civil services exam to an intake of 130 per year, and having UPSC exam separately for IPS cadres.
The interim nevertheless has to be tidied over.
Although Operation Green Hunt is officially denied, slow motion operations continue to take place. Confidence is being gained incrementally through actions, such as the recent foray of forces into Abujhmad for the first time this year. The reliance on militias and proxies tends to compensate for the capability deficit.
However, this practice has been viewed adversely by the Supreme Court in its judgments on the Salwa Judum and on the employment of Special Police Officers. These irregular forces, intended as eyes and ears of the forces, end up acquiring greater power and impunity. This has the potential to disrupt the social fabric of the tribal societies. Therefore, even though they may fill a critical gap in terms of terrain knowledge and the interface between the community and intelligence, their use is counter-productive.
The third prong of strategy – though unacknowledged - is decapitation. The killing of Cherukuri Rajkumar, alias Azad, is an example. The Supreme Court has ruled out a judicial inquiry into the killing. This strategy has accounted for the arrest of Kobad Gandhi and killing of Kishenji in West Bengal. The home secretary has owned up to it on camera, telling the parliamentary committee that the policy is to ‘capture or kill’..
The last prong of strategy is related to peace talks. This has been sabotaged by Azad’s reported killing when he was in the midst of peace negotiations with the government’s unofficial intermediary, peace activist Swami Agnivesh. Also, there is a gain for the state after the lapse of peace talks as happened in Andhra Pradesh and last year in West Bengal. It is fairly obvious, then, that the Maoists are unlikely to resume peace talks.
The upshot of strategy contradictions is that tribal people will be torn between pro and anti-Maoist camps, and a culturally and ethnically alien forces in the form of central police forces will be in their midst. Irregulars will be empowered further. Perception management will be resorted to to air brush the fallout.
The areas controlled by the Maoists will be cauterized with the onus of its under-development laid at their door. The Annual Report states, “This needs to be recognised by the civil society and the media to build pressure on the Maoists to eschew violence…” The opprobrium Maoists attract through their non-military actions such as abductions and so on will further marginalize them, enabling opinion-shaping along the hard line.
The peace plank has not found mention in the Annual Report. Chidambaram has changed his line, stating, "They (Naxals) are not misguided. They are guided by their own objectives. We are misleading ourselves by misreading their objectives." The problem of how to distinguish between Maoists and tribals remains.
Since going after Maoists imposes inordinately on tribal populations, there is a tradeoff to be made. The peace process alone offers a way out in terms of prioritizing human interests over elimination of the Maoists. The state must realize that it has little choice.