Days after the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in New Delhi, contours of a new policy vis-a-vis Left Wing Extremism (LWE) remained a matter of speculation. Whether tough measures would replace the ad hoc ones and clarity would substitute confusion were commented upon. Some of the statements of the Home Minister and the Ministry officials in the early days following the formation of the government raised hopes that a policy change, if not the prospect of an immediate solution to the problem could be on the anvil. However, the new 29-point Action Plan evolved by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for addressing the LWE challenge point towards the continuation of the past policies and does not indicate a radical departure from the approach pursued by the previous government.
Three principal assumptions mark the new counter-LWE policy:
a. Security force operations must precede developmental initiatives
b. The Communist Party of India-Maoist’s (CPI-M) military capacities can be crippled by targeting its top leadership
c. Security force operations, with modest gains so far can be made effective by additional force deployment and augmenting intelligence collection.
While each of these assumptions are relevant, whether such measures can be implemented without broad-based security and governance sector reforms, remains a matter of debate.
Ruling out negotiations with the CPI-M has been one of the most highlighted aspects of Home Minister Rajnath Singh's statements in recent times. Speaking on 27 June, Singh, at the meeting of chief secretaries and Directors General of Police (DGPs) of 10 Naxal-affected states said, “There is no question of any talks now. We will take a balanced approach. But the forces will give a befitting reply if the Naxals launch attacks.” Given that several past offers for negotiations have been rebuffed by the CPI-M, Singh's statement aims to serve as a foundation for a primarily force-based approach to the LWE challenge.
The new action plan involves a directive to the Intelligence Bureau to “infiltrate into Maoist ranks” and follow a specific policy of targeting the top leadership for neutralisation. The Naxal-affected states have been advised to raise commando forces similar to the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, 10 additional battalions of central armed police personnel are being deployed in Chattisgarh’s Bastar region by the end of 2014 for a renewed offensive against the extremists. The new policy further speaks of creating a series of incentives for “good officers” to serve in Maoist-affected areas by offering them monetary incentives and career benefits.
All these measures, incidentally, have remained the MHA's counter-LWE approach in the past. None, however, achieved much success due to a range of deficiencies that include lack of ability as well as coordination between the central as well as state security forces and the intelligence agencies. Years since the LWE emerged as a major security threat to the country, both technical intelligence (TECHINT) as well as human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering mechanisms continue to suffer from serious shortcomings. There is an acute lack of enthusiastic participation of the state police forces in New Delhi’s overall design, that neither supplements nor aims to replace the central forces in countering the extremists. The new plan is silent on the ways to remove such loopholes and make operations a principally state police-led initiative. Given the fact that state bureaucracy has remained mostly apathetic to restart governance in areas cleared by the security forces, policies need to go beyond the rhetoric of 'posting of good officers' in naxal-affected areas.
In the previous years, evolving a national policy consensus on a challenge that affects at least 10 states has remained one of the main challenges for New Delhi. The 29-point Action Plan falls short of addressing the problem. It merely exhorts the affected states to appoint nodal officers to increase coordination at the centre and asks the chief ministers and home ministers to visit the affected areas in their respective states to develop a favourable image of the government among the tribal population. In the absence of a reward system to make the non-conforming states fall in line with a central approach, such measures of improving coordination are likely to be met with lack of enthusiasm, if not resistance by the states ruled by non-Bharatiya Janata Party parties.
The current LWE situation is marked by scaled down violence by the extremists who understandably are into a consolidation mode after suffering some reversals. Recruitment activities still continue, so do the efforts to ideologically reshape the movement that seems to have deviated significantly from its original objectives and strategies. A tactical retreat of this nature often creates the illusion of victory among the policy makers. At the same time, low level violence creates significant opportunities for the government to revisit its own strategies, make inroads into the extremist areas, and prepare for future escalations. Whether the MHA would use the time well is something to watch out for.