Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
Insurgency is a long drawn out affair and often defies attempts to bring it to a quick conclusion, whether by force, coercion, or strategies that are primarily geared at gaining fame for individual politicians or the leaders of security forces. 2016 proved just that, like the years that preceded it. The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) continues to be a source of instability in sizeable tracts of India's territory, although their potential for violence has declined considerably, owing partly to state initiatives and partly to its own follies. A comprehensive solution to the problem remains, however, a distant goal.
LWE Status Report
LWE continues to be the source of the maximum number of fatalities in India, compared to other theatres of conflict such as Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the Northeastern states. According to provisional data by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in 2016, LWE was the reason for 433 deaths, whereas 267 and 165 fatalities were reported from J&K and the Northeast respectively. This translates to Naxalites being responsible for over 48 per cent of fatalities in the country. In fact, the 2016 LWE-related figures represent not just a quantum jump of over 71 per cent in 2015, but surpass annual deaths recorded in the last six years. 2016 therefore was the bloodiest LWE affected year since 2011. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data reveals that territories in five states - Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Maharashtra - either continue to remain under Maoist influence or are affected by the outfit's activities. LWE is only marginally influential in parts of states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, whereas West Bengal, where the CPI-Maoist once used to be predominantly active, continues to be Maoist-free.
On 24 October 2016, in the biggest counter-insurgency (COIN) success of the year, 24 CPI-Maoist cadres from the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) zone were killed in a security force operation in Malkangiri district. Among those killed were Appa Rao alias Chalapathi, the East Division Secretary of the outfit; his wife, Aruna; Gajarala Ashok alias Uday, the military head of the AOB zone; and Munna, the son CPI-Maoist's central committee member, Ramakrishna. Chalapathi carried an INR 20 lakh reward on his head, and Aruna, another INR 5 lakhs. The killings, the result of a meticulous operation, inflicted a serious blow to the outfit's fledging presence in the area. The AOB zone today is among the weakest operational divisions of the outfit, having endured splits, killings, and alienation from the tribal community. Similarly, other zonal divisions of the CPI-Maoist, such as the Dandakaranya Special Zone and the Jharkhand-Odisha-Bihar Special Zone, too, are under immense pressure.
In addition to these 24 fallen cadres, the outfit lost another 220 members throughout the country in 2016. Cadres suspected of belonging to the CPI-Maoist and other smaller groups accounted for 56 per cent of the total LWE-related fatalities. Of these 244 LWE cadres who were killed in security force operations, 215 (amounting to 88 per cent) were killed in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha. This points to the fact that these three states are the worst LWE-affected in the country, necessitating a greater concentration of counter-LWE operations by the state. The rest of the country, probably with the exception of Bihar and Maharashtra which registered 194 LWE-related incidents, is only marginally affected.
According to the MHA, in 2016 (till 15 December), 1,750 LWE cadres were arrested and 1,431 cadres surrendered, thus severely depleting the strength of the outfit. Since the outfit's capacity to recruit cadres among the tribal population is believed to have been weakened, such loss of cadres should have a telling effect on its activities in 2017. The narrative on surrenders, however, has remained problematic.
Behind these seemingly impressive figures, which many believe have broken the back of the LWE movement in the country, however, is a COIN campaign marked by a range of infirmities. Police in most of the LWE-affected states remain incapable of dealing with the threat without central assistance. As a result, an estimated 109 battalions of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) are currently assisting the police and providing security to a number of infrastructure building projects that have not taken off due to the extremist threat. Police infirmities, ranging from lack of intelligence and adequate numerical strength, have allowed a dependence on policies that could be counter-productive in the long-run. These include the use of vigilante groups against Naxal sympathisers, persecution of activists and lawyers who have been working to provide legal aid to tribal victims of police atrocities, and overt state support to police officials who have indulged in a number of human rights violations. Most of these COIN facets are witnessed in Chhattisgarh, which remains the worst affected. However, states like Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Odisha are also not immune to these policies. Killing tribals unconnected to Naxalism in fake encounters, including a nine-year old child, sexual exploitation of tribal women by security force personnel and vigilante groups, and burning tribal villages, continue. A number of these allegations have been found to be true by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Supreme Court.
'Mission 2016', Chhattisgarh police project to combat the extremist problem, had raised the hope of a Naxal-free state by the end of 2016. However, in hindsight, it predominantly allowed certain police officials to curb press freedom, generate a rogue band of state loyalists to pursue so-called Naxal-sympathisers among academics and civil rights activists, and create an atmosphere of fear in which none of their controversial actions could be questioned. 'Mission 2016' ended with the Chhattisgarh police claiming the killing of 134 CPI-Maoist cadres. The Mission has since been rebranded, and the 2017 edition has declared 'safedposh Naxals' (white collar extremists) as its principal target.
One of the multiple government strategies to deal with LWE is to inculcate values such as "national integration, patriotism, nation building, and communal harmony" among tribal groups. Strategies to attract tribal youth to the 'mainstream' rather than LWE has led to the implementation of employment generation schemes that include recruiting tribal youth in Bastar to a specially formed battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Scripting a narrative of triumph is also leading the police establishment to organise mass-scale surrenders of just not active Naxal cadres, but almost anybody who chooses to declare allegiance to the state. This primarily explains the reason for the 2.5 fold increase in the number of surrenders in 2016 over 2015. The NHRC, in September 2016, found the allegation of stage-managed fake ‘surrenders’ of well over a hundred ‘Naxal-operatives’ in 2011-12 as "prima facie true." Police in Chhattisgarh's Bastar division boasted of 1,210 Naxal surrenders in 2016, but a screening and rehabilitation committee of the state government held that 97 per cent of the surrenders did not adhere to the definition of “Naxal cadres” and were not eligible for benefits under the Centre or state government’s rehabilitation policy. Such adverse feedback notwithstanding, the Chhattisgarh police force is likely to use the surrender of manufactured Naxalites as a principal element of its perception management strategy. On 29 January 2017, 195 LWE cadres were shown to have surrendered in Narayanpur district.
At a time when its top leadership's interactions with the media has become a rarity, a somewhat honest assessment of the CPI-Maoist's past actions and future strategies was provided by Chalapathi, a few months before his death. In a media interview, he blamed the multi-pronged attacks by the security forces as well as the outfit's own mistakes for its weakened state. He admitted that the outfit's ability to wage a class struggle by mobilising people had not been very successful. Guerrilla warfare techniques, too, have been successfully challenged by the security forces, making the launch of counter-attacks on difficult. He, however, expressed hope for a revival of the outfit's fortunes in the coming months.
It is, therefore, unlikely that the CPI-Maoist will perish without an attempt to stage a comeback. Its new war strategy, in vogue since 2013, includes recruiting new cadres to offset losses; protecting its leadership and cadres from security force operations; and inflicting losses on the adversary in carefully planned operations. An analysis of its pattern of attacks in 2016 demonstrates an attempt to mount small and focused assaults on security forces and police informers within tribal groups. 109 such attacks were carried out on the police in 2016. MHA data indicate a significant increase in the number of police informers killed by the CPI-Maoist in 2016 (162) over 2015 (92). Intelligence agencies also point to a plan of expansion by creating a new guerrilla zone along the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh (MP) border region, which will serve as an extension of its Abujhmad stronghold.
LWE is certainly on an ebb. But its capacity to delay its defeat by the state would probably be assisted by the state's follies.
Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
In Odisha's Malkangiri district, a 910 m-long bridge over river Gurupriya is being attempted to be built for the last 34 years. This could arguably be the most delayed infrastructure building project in the world. In a layman's calculation, had the state succeeded in building merely 27 m of the bridge per year, the project would have been completed by early 2016. This project, like many others, speaks poorly of the much hyped commitment of the state to bring development to remote areas. It also questions the popular narrative that left-wing extremism (LWE) and not official complacency is the primary hurdle in transforming the lives of people in conflict-affected areas.
As the country's intellectual debates hovered over the imposition of the emergency by the Indira Gandhi government, the construction of a dam that would provide water to the Balimela hydroelectric project created an enormous situation. People living in 151 villages, spread over 900 sq km, discovered that they suddenly belonged to the 'cut-off' area. Legally, they belong to Odisha's Malkangiri district, but the physical connectivity between the hamlets and the district headquarter have vanished. Reaching Malkangiri town, which caters to the health, educational and administrative needs of the people involved walking, bus journeys, boat rides, and more walking through forests, rivers, and rocky roads. In some cases these arduous journeys spanned over more than 50 hours.
The Balimela power project provides 510 MW of electricity to Odisha, an electricity surplus state. However, the narratives of abundance and wretched lives co-exist. An Indian Express story in September 2016 summed up a villager's frustration over the last four decades. “The reservoir may have provided electricity to Odisha, but it has ensured that we remain a pariah. Most of our lives are spent travelling across the river. Everyday I just dream of a bridge crossing the river." Understandably, for the country's urban and semi-urban class, it is difficult to appreciate the condemned lives of the hundreds of villagers who live in the 'cut-off' area. Whether such sacrifices over lifetimes can be compared to the lives of soldiers protecting the country's borders is a valid question.
Not surprisingly, development has eluded the 'cut-off' villages since the late 1970s. Only one primary health centre has functioned all these years in this area. Officials have had to travel on motorbikes to reach the villages, and on most occasions, have chosen not to, citing a range of difficulties. The villagers have not had any such luxury. Post-school educational facilities existed beyond the river. For serious health issues and complicated pregnancy cases, the river had to be crossed. Apart from a large number of personal accounts, no official estimates of the lives lost due to the lack of connectivity exist.
While the topography of the region have posed challenges, the consolidation of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in the area further complicated the problem. Extremists from bordering Andhra Pradesh established a safe haven. Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramakrishna of the CPI-Maoist made the 'cut-off' area his base. In June 2008, 38 personnel of the Greyhound commando force drowned in the Gurupriya river after being attacked by Maoists. In 2011, then Malkangiri district collector and a junior engineer were abducted by Maoists while on a visit to the area. The collector was on a motor bike and paid the price for being responsive to the needs of the people.
The plan for the bridge has existed on paper since 1956, although the first tender was floated in 1982. Since then, the government has requested bids on 10 instances for the construction of the bridge, but no work happened till 2016. Many contractors cited the threat of the extremists. The first Border Security Force (BSF) camp came up in the area in 2015 and another contract was floated in early 2016. This time the cost was INR 172 crore, 23 times more than the first tender in 1982, worth INR INR 7 crore. The bridge to be constructed over the narrowest width of the 68 km-long river will re-establish connectivity. Ambulances and officials will be able to reach the villages. Villagers will be able to reach Malkangiri town. The bridge will also help security forces intensify their anti-extremist operations.
The fresh deadline for completing the project is September 2017. The bottleneck now is not posed by the Maoists, but by the lack of funds. Of the total INR 172 crore required for the construction of the bridge, New Delhi has so far sanctioned INR 45 crore. The Indian government's demonetisation drive that has led to a shortage of currency notes for daily payment to labourers poses an additional challenge for the Kolkata-based Royal Infra Construction that is building the bridge. While the weekly requirement is to the tune of INR 2.5 lakh, only INR 1 lakh is available from the banks. Even the river, flowing at a height of 458 m, which is 6 m more than the maximum level with which capping of piles and construction of piers can be done, is unfriendly. According to estimates, the 452 m level wwill notbe reached till March 2017.
Hope floats for the 30,000 people in the 'cut-off' area.
Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
India's not so glorious counter-insurgency (COIN) history has stories of police officers who gave direction to the faltering campaign of their predecessors, mobilised the limited resources at their disposal, negotiated well with their political masters, convincing them of the need to effect a course correction, and pursued a ruthless and yet determined campaign to root out insurgency. Some succeeded and some did not. However, the urge to become such officers with their names going down in history continues to inspire the Indian Police Service (IPS). It is also true that the zeal to bring left-wing extremism (LWE) to an end has facilitated the rise of some such police officers whose unaccountable ruthlessness has become an end in itself. The sooner the state realises the danger of resting its hope on the shoulders of such officials, the better it would be for the campaign to defeat LWE.
It is a doctrinal flaw to assume that COIN campaigns can be clean wars devoid of incidents of human rights violations. These are violent contestations where extremists have violated every principle that differentiates them from terrorists, and the state has invariably been forced to adopt methods that on occasion find no mention in the rule books. In addition, the liability of fighting with ill-equipped, poorly-led and motivated forces, who often operate without their basic needs fulfilled, is bound to produce instances of high handedness. But what has been consistently reported from some of the LWE afflicted regions in recent times point to a dangerous trend affirming the allegations of some of the civil society activists. India's war on LWE especially in states like Chhattisgarh is turning out to indeed be a war on the people who have valiantly chosen to point to an alternate method of conflict resolution.
What is explored in this paragraph and below explains the extent to which the ongoing conflict has allowed police officials to assume extraordinary power without an iota of accountability. A particular senior police official in the state of Chhattisgarh has been accused of direct and indirect association with the sexual abuse of tribal women. False surrenders of people not associated with extremism have been organised to shore up support for the state. Under the said senior police official's command, innocent tribals have been imprisoned and killed after being falsely accused of sympathising with LWE. Included in the COIN method devised by him is the unique technique of male security officers pressing the breasts of tribal women to differentiate the lactating ones from the extremist cadres who the police believe undergo abortions and are thus never pregnant.
Under his direction, the COIN campaign has been outsourced to vigilante groups who unleash their ire and a misconstrued sense of nationalism on activists and media persons. Under his command, a large chuck of COIN activities are also directed at the so called 'extremist sympathisers'. Security forces have in full media glare organised the burning of the effigies of prominent social activists and academicians, an unprecedented development in the entire history of COIN. Under instructions from the said official, the Chhattisgarh police has filed false charges against Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University professors, accusing them of soliciting support for the extremists. Other police officials of the rank of superintendent of police have regularly used social media platforms to issue threats to the vernacular media reporting on the ground. To ensure that negative reportage about the police is nipped in the bud, the entry of media personnel and activists into the LWE affected areas is regulated and is possible only after permission from the police.
These police officials have been hailed as role models by the highest political office in the state, lest their actions are construed as isolated acts without the knowledge and complicity of the ruling class. Some of them have been awarded the with president's medal for bravery, and have reportedly also been assured of protection from human rights groups. Notwithstanding the persistent demands for their transfers from various quarters, the chief minister's office has clarified that these police officials remain integral to Mission 2016, an ambitious project of the police establishment in the state to get rid of the LWE problem. With barely a month to go before the year ends and extremism still retaining its firepower, the Mission has been extended for another year or two.
For an apt illustration, the anti-LWE COIN architecture in states like Chhattisgarh can be compared with the fascist architecture of Hitler's Germany. One of the objectives of erecting these monumental structures was to make the common man look and feel utterly small and powerless, incapable of even thinking of posing a challenge to fascist ideology. COIN, however, cannot be an oppressive, decimating and unaccountable project. It is about winning the hearts and minds of the people, and not alienating them. It is not about implementing a personal project of a particular police official, but to give shape to a well-thought out strategy that provides and assimilates alternative courses of action. How much harm has been caused to the anti-LWE campaign by these overzealous police officials is something that needs urgent calculation.
For the left-wing extremism problem in India to be resolved, tribal population in the affected areas must be won over by the State. This truism is reflected in public statements of ministers and other politicians as well as official policy documents. Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had underlined the need to bridge the trust deficit between the State and the tribals. An expert group of the erstwhile Planning Commission in its report had suggested that the tribals must be at the core of any development plan in the extremist affected areas.
However, one of the fallouts of the decade-long war on the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and the urge to bring to secure a victory over the extremists by any of the Kautilyan means is resulting in the fracturing of the tribal communities. Since the war on the Maoists began, the State may not have been able to convince the tribals of its intentions of bringing in development to the area. The security agencies, however, can claim to have nurtured sections within the tribal community who readily participate in government sponsored rallies denouncing extremism; join the state sponsored vigilante groups; swear by the oppressive regime of the extremists; share their liberating experience in areas freed from Maoist control; and so on and so forth. It is a different matter altogether that the participation of tribals in government organised programmes can hardly be taken as an expression of their conviction in the goodness of the State, but merely as a pointer at how the powerful State structures can find ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of the marginalised communities to its advantage.
On 18 September 2016, the Chhattisgarh police backed Action Group for National Integrity (AGNI) organised a Lalkar (defiance) rally in Jagdalpur. Termed as the biggest ever anti-Maoist congregation of people consisting predominantly of tribals, security force officials shared the dais with vigilante group leaders declaring a war against the extremists. Bike-borne youths led from the front in which 50,000 tribals are said to have participated. Selfie points had been erected for youths to take photographs with the placard holding population in the background. Slogans like 'Free your village from Naxals and take a selfie' summed up the instant gratification the tribals can have after the extremists are vanquished. The State, it appeared, has finally succeeded in convincing a large number of tribals to be a part of the mainstream.
In October 2016, the Chhattisgarh police for the first time inducted two tribal women into its fighting squad against the CPI-Maoist. In their first ever encounter, both police personnel were credited with killing two Maoist cadres. Subsequently it turned out that those killed were tribal youths unconnected with extremism.
Prior to that, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) unveiled its plan to recruit tribal youths from Bastar into a fighting battalion, aptly named the Bastariya battalion. The physical attributes and other requirements of the candidates have been lowered to facilitate the diversion of 1000 young men who could have been part of the recruitment pool of the CPI-Maoist. Their first-hand knowledge of the terrain and command over the language spoken by the tribals will come in handy when they are deployed in COIN duties. The State can claim to have a genuine tribal fighting wing to take on the tribals on the side of the CPI-Maoist.
When states like Chhattisgarh have embarked upon a mission to get rid of the Maoist problem by the end of 2016, such incidents and expressions of loyalty does give the impression of the State inching towards a victory. The fact, however, remains that if vigilante programmes like the Salwa Judum and its various other subsequent avatars were the State's instrumentalities of launching a tribal versus tribal warfare in the areas controlled by the CPI-Maoist, the developments listed above have further deepened the divide to a point of no return. The Maoist affected areas today are rife with incidents of tribals killing tribals, tribal young men sexually abusing tribal women, tribals burning the huts of tribals, and various other atrocities. Most of these acts not only go unpunished, but are widely considered to be the new normal in extremist affected areas.
Among the strategic circles of the country, there is a cautious unanimity that Left Wing Extremism is in its death bed. The excitement over bringing what used to be the 'biggest internal security challenge' to an end must, however, nudge us to think as to what cost this victory will be achieved at. Will the inhabitants of the 'Maoist-free areas' be anything more than fractured communities and scarred tribals whose experience of abuse and subjugation at the hands of their own tribal brethren outweighing the feeling of liberation? Will such areas in the true sense of the term ever be integral parts of a stable nation? These questions must figure in the imaginations of the policy makers as such short-sighted tactics are persisted with.
Given that the state has continued to wrest territories from the control of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), the nature of governance to be unleashed in such areas has remained a subject of speculation. Whether a developmental state would seek to undo the decades-long policies of neglect and deprivation that formed the edifice for a Maoist success story? Or would the state behave in the same predatory way the extremists have warned all along, acting to open up the tribal inhabited resource rich areas for a range of economic activities including mining, while glossing over the need to involve the tribals in the decision making process or even bothering to gather their consent.
In spite of the claims of advance against the extremists, Chhattisgarh still remains noticeably affected. Its Bastar region continues to be a stronghold of the CPI-Maoist, a state-of-affair which may not change for at least a couple of years to come. However, Jharkhand and Maharashtra are two states that have made steady gains against the CPI-Maoist. And the recent developments indicate what the Maoist literature had warned might be true, i.e. these states have indeed initiated steps to start mining and other activities in the erstwhile extremist affected areas, without bothering to seek the consent of the tribals who would be the most affected by such decisions. Worse still, such decisions have been enforced by attempting to silence any hint of opposition.
Although Jharkhand pursued a somewhat confused policy against the CPI-Maoist initially, its police force has nearly accomplished what its Andhra Pradesh counterparts had managed to achieve in 2005. Using a range of tactics that includes investment in police capacity building, carrying out sustained high profile area clearing operations, and also pursuing a policy of using renegade extremist factions against the CPI-Maoist, it has nearly managed to cleanse the state off the outfit's presence.
The state's abysmal failure in kickstarting development projects in Saranda, an area cleared of Maoist presence since 2013, has been mentioned in several forums. Unfinished roads, incomplete school buildings, and failing healthcare systems narrate how the state bureaucracy lost interest in the area after it became Maoist free. Additionally, recent developments have drawn attention to the state's future plans of opening up tribal areas in the state for economic projects. Proposed amendments to two important Acts, the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, will allow tribal lands to be taken for not just infrastructure projects and 'just' mining and industry, but even for, as a newspaper article put, "construction of marriage halls." A massive tribal movement is building up in the state over the decision of the BJP government, which interestingly in 2015, had categorically promised to maintain the sanctity of these two Acts.
Maharashtra is not comparable to any other Maoist affected state. Only one of its districts, Gadchiroli, sharing a border with Chhattisgarh and the Maoist stronghold of Abujhmaad is affected by extremism. According to police claims, Maoists have been comprehensively defeated in the district. The CPI-Maoist has accepted to have lost 60 of its cadres to security forces' operations in the past seven years. Of the total 270MT iron ore reserves in the state, over 180 MT are in Gadchiroli. Lloyd Steel and two small companies were granted the permission for mining operations in the Surjagarh hills, Damkodvadavi hills and Agri Maseli in 2007. But the project has been delayed in view of the Maoist threat and opposition from the tribals. In 2013, the vice president of Lloyd Steel was shot dead by the CPI-Maoist. In March 2016, months after the state police declared victory over the Maoists, Lloyds Steel began extracting ore from a mine in Surjagadh and claimed to have provided jobs to about 300 people at the site. But the operations shut down within days due to local opposition by groups against mining as well as others who wish for a processing plant closer to the mining site. Since then, the state government has been asking New Delhi to increase the troop presence in the region.
Apparently a systematic regime of terror has been unleashed by the C-60, Maharashtra's anti-Maoist commando force, targeting the anti-mining tribal activists as well as tribals who have been working to implement the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act in the district. The CPI-Maoist has brought out a pamphlet listing over 191 cases of such torture between January and June 2016. The government's response has been to propose a law that makes distribution of any literature an offence attracting arrest.
It is convenient to see a CPI-Maoist conspiracy in opposing the state governments' initiatives in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. It is probably right to assume that the outfit will gain out of the popular discontentment. However, the larger question is the gap between the dream that the state is attempting to sell to the areas afflicted by extremism and the reality of its intentions after the extremists have been defeated.
The killing of 23-year-old Rakesh Karu Gawde on 30 July 2016 by the cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was the latest onslaught by the extremists on what they perceive to be a competing and overwhelming development initiative by the government. A second year tribal graduation student in Gadchiroli district, Rakesh, according to the police sources, was providing information about government schemes to his community. The extremists, who labelled him as a police informer, picked him up from his village and shot him dead in a neighbouring village.
Rakesh may or may not have been a police informer. Assuming that he was indeed a police informer, killing him served two purposes for the extremists. Firstly, the intelligence network of the police was disrupted. Secondly, official outreach attempts regarding development schemes meant for the tribals suffered a setback.
Not only would it become somewhat harder for the tribals of the area to know of such schemes, they would also be reluctant to avail these given that the Maoists have killed Rakesh.
An important component of the contestation between the state and the Maoists to dominate areas and secure loyalties of the tribal population in many remote parts of the country continues to be between two distinct development paradigms. At one level, it appears ironic that the extremists who have accused the state of neglecting the tribal population have themselves remained a cause of their lack of development. Maoists have destroyed schools, roads, mobile towers, and health centres. They continue to abduct, attack, and kill Sarpanchs in many villages, ensuring that rural self-government institutions are incapacitated. Their opposition to developmental projects has been interpreted as a strategy to maintain the backwardness of the tribal inhabited areas of the country. A deep level of alienation and disenchantment among the tribals towards the state is a critical necessity to maintain the relevance of the Maoist ideology. Development, on the other hand, undercuts Maoist influence.
At the other level, Maoists insist that their opposition to the state's development project does not make them anti-development per se. While critiquing the state's development plan as nothing but a sinister design to dispossess the tribals from "jal, jangal and zameen," the CPI-Maoist insists that its own development model excels over that of the state and has rescued the tribals from the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus in areas under their control. What constitutes such a paradigm and how much of this has been actually implemented is much less known and has remained confined to select pages of the Maoist propaganda material and occasional media reports. Yet, the available literature does provide some indication regarding what Maoists consider to be development and also, how such strategies have been sought to be used by the outfit to win over the tribals.
The Janathana Sarkar, modelled along the lines of the Soviets in the revolutionary Russia, remains at the heart of the development paradigm of the Maoists. At one point in time, the CPI-Maoist claimed to have set up these embryonic centres of power in hundreds of villages in the Dandakaranya region, where they set up base in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Janathana Sarkar, Maoist literatures claim, is "involved in production, cultural, educational and military sectors, aiming at all round development of people’s lives, livelihoods." The literature speaks of distribution of cows, poultry, goats, seeds for agriculture that made the villagers self-sufficient. The outfit distributed money during times of famine and repaired damaged houses. Distribution of land seized from landlords and rich peasants; cooperative activity ensuring selling of forest produce in weekly markets; and ensuring a good rate for those products, are other activities that constitute the Maoist development plan. Maoists, on the other hand, remain opposed to the indiscriminate use of technology in agriculture "without people's understanding and involvement."
Whether or not these measures are token in nature, is debatable. In any event, none would have expected the Maoist development initiatives to out-scale the capacity of the state to transform the area. The key question, however, is whether such a development model is capable of bringing changes to the lives of the tribals or whether it is only an instrument to subjugate them to the diktats of the Party for perpetuity. Will not insulating the lives of the tribals from the changes taking place all around further feed alienation and disenchantment?
While critical questions can also be posed regarding the state's development model for the tribals, a degree of change is perceptible on the ground to an extent. As Nirmalangshu Mukherjee sums up, "The Indian state, including the judiciary, has initiated remedial measures (belatedly) for adivasis such as action against the illegal mining and severe punishment to powerful violators, cancellation of problematic MoUs, re-enforcement of panchayat in schedule areas, introduction of forest rights and education acts, additional welfare funding in conflict zones, and the like." The state has indeed made a course correction, but the implementation of its intentions may have continued to be problematic.
If bringing development to the lives of the tribals is the real aim of the Maoists, to a large extent, they have been able to achieve those objectives by forcing a course correction on the state. This creates additional reasons for cessation of violence and be part of an unarmed resistance for the benefit of the same tribals.
Maoists Vs Former Maoists: A Peep into Jharkhand's Counter-LWE Policy
Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya, Goa, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
Given that a force-centric policy, in which the states are inclined to use vigilante groups and former Maoists against the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), is largely seen to have taken precedence over the other identified components of the official anti-Left-wing Extremism (LWE) strategy, what sort of end game can one foresee in the next five years? Will the efforts of the Indian state result in a complete defeat of the CPI-Maoist, thereby resolving the problem of left-wing extremism? Or will the CPI-Maoist's absence merely lead to an enabling environment for smaller extremist groups to thrive? Jharkhand's experience points at the second possibility. An operationally convenient and yet shortsighted policy pursued by the state that encourages the smaller factions or vigilante groups to operate against the CPI-Maoist may end the bigger problem to a large extent. However, the resultant vacuum is likely to be exploited by these very agents of change to keep the fire of extremism, if not revolution, burning.
In Jharkhand, the 'unofficial' policy of using factions of the CPI-Maoist against the parent outfit was a direct result of the operational constraint of not having enough policemen on the ground to fight the extremists. The state had been carved out of Bihar in 2000. In 2002, the first year for which official data on police strength is available for the state, Jharkhand's total strength of police personnel stood at a meager 10,493. For a state spread over 79,714 sq km, it meant a police density (policemen for a 100 sq km area) of 13. By 2005, the total strength had increased to 24,563, but still translated to a police density of 30. The state police establishment was in no position to resist the surge of the CPI-Maoist's activities that had begun in 2004, immediately after the outfit's formation. By 2010, the strength and density had increased to 46,613, representing a police density of 58. In comparison, geographically smaller states like Tripura, Punjab and Haryana had a police density of 231, 132, and 107, respectively.
Under an unofficial policy, Superintendents of Police in various LWE affected districts in Jharkhand started exploiting the fissures that had started appearing in the CPI-Maoist's ranks along caste lines. Tribal versus non-tribal, tribal versus tribal, and upper caste versus lower caste divisions played out as the outfit desperately failed to use its ideology to unite its diverse array of foot soldiers and medium and low rank leaders. The People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI), the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), and the Jharkhand Jana Mukti Parishad (JJMP) were some of the prominent groups that emerged breaking ranks with the CPI-Maoist. Each of these outfits present a fascinating narrative of collusion with the state and the operational benefits they provided the state's ineffectual police force.
In 2011, about 50 former Maoist cadres set up the JJMP. The JJMP not only carried out operations against the Maoists, but also picked winning candidates in the Panchayat elections by forcing candidates who did not meet its approval to withdraw from the polls. By 2015, the JJMP had nearly tripled its strength. While the state officially denies links with the JJMP, private conversations with police officials reveal the strategy of divide and rule - of pitting former Maoists against their erstwhile colleagues. In its short existence, the VRGI headed by Pankaj Munda led operations against Kundan Pahan, the CPI-Maoist's senior cadre in Jharkhand. Both the TPC and the PLFI similarly led a number of operations against the CPI-Maoist and none against the state or the central police forces.
In 2013, Jharkhand's police strength and police density stood at 56,415 and 71, respectively, a significant improvement over 2005, although nowhere close to the internationally recommended figures for conflict affected states. However, with assistance from central armed police personnel, the state is much better prepared to take on the extremists. Not surprisingly, its dependence on the militia groups has reduced and it is in a much better position to disown them and even consider operations against some of these groups like the PLFI. Some police officials have even been quoted in the media claiming withdrawal of support to such groups. However, groups like the JJMP today are financially independent, collecting about five per cent from all contractors operating in the districts of Gumla, Lohardaga and Latehar districts. The PLFI does the same in Khunti district. Reports have indicated that the JJMP has attempted to siphon funds meant for the flagship MNREGA programme by threatening the beneficiaries. The withdrawal of financial support is less likely to impact their operations.
CPI-Maoist's capacity to orchestrate violence has dipped considerably in Jharkhand. And yet there is little respite from violence, extortion and other criminal activities, predominantly led by groups such as the JJMP and PLFI. The policy that economised the state's effort against the CPI-Maoist for a number of years has created these little monsters whose agenda may not include replacing the state structure. But in terms of rebuffing the state's writ over a large part of its territory and running a criminalised enterprise, they continue to be inherently successful. The apparent anticipation of the officials that these fratricidal wars would consume both the big and the small outfits has proved to be wrong.
In the latest of the state's march against the left-wing extremists, the Andhra Pradesh police in June 2016 declared the Nallamala forests 'extremist free'. In a media statement, the state police claimed to have been able to deal with the problem “with an iron hand” and has ensured the non-occurrence of “a single extremism related incident” in the area in the past decade. The history of counter-Maoist operations in Nallamala, however, makes this claim a bit of an exaggeration, and points at a decade long contestation by the police and the extremists to dominate the area.
Nallamala has a long history of Naxal activity. Spread across 4500 square kilometres, the dense forests are spread across five districts — Kurnool, Prakasam, Mahabubnagar, Guntur and Nalgonda. It remained one of the impregnable fortresses of the People's War Group (PWG) before the outfit's peace talks with the Andhra Pradesh government and the eventual formation of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). After the peace talks failed, the police was able to mount one of the most successful operations recorded so far in India against the outfit. The CPI-Maoist retreated, but has since made several attempts to regain its foothold in the area.
The last major killing carried out by the CPI-Maoist in Nallamala was the killing of ten village elders in Nippula Vaagu in 2005. The outfit justified the killings as a revenge against the massacre of 12 Dalits by the village leaders more than 10 years ago. Despite its flight from Andhra Pradesh, the outfit managed to hold a week-long plenum in Nallamala in September 2015, which was attended by state secretary Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramakrishna, other state leaders Shakamuri Appa Rao and Sudhakar. A 1000 member security force contingent which scanned the area after being tipped off could only recover copies of Telugu newspapers and biscuit packets from the venue.
However, the tide turned in 2006, the year in which the outfit's state secretary Madhav and seven other cadres were killed. Madhav had succeeded Ramakrishna who had partaken in the peace talks with the state government and was sent to the comparatively secure Andhra-Odisha border (AOB) area by the outfit. The outfit lost a number of senior level leaders in Nallamala including Appa Rao, Central Committee Member Matta Ravi Kumar, Prakasam District Committee Secretary Naveen alias Satyam in subsequent encounters. And yet, the Maoists managed to retain a skeletal presence in Nallamala. In July 2008, the outfit's cadres attacked a doctor and killed one his relatives in Mahbubnagar district. Few days earlier, on 29 June, 38 Greyhounds personnel had been killed in Balimela reservoir in Odisha after a Maoist attack leading the police to alert all the police stations in the Nallamala region and ask political leaders to curtail their movements.
By 2009, the outfit had almost been wiped out of Nallamala, a development that probably contributed to the Congress party's victory in the region in the parliamentary elections. The party rarely won elections in the Nallamala belt when the Maoists were active. In 2011, the Andhra Pradesh police claimed Nallamala to be extremist-free for the first time.
The 2014 bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh effectively split the Nallamala region among two states – Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Kurnool, Prakasam and Guntur districts went to Andhra Pradesh, whereas Mahabubnagar and Nalgonda districts became part of Telangana. The police capacities of erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh split too, especially the highly decorated counter-Maoist Greyhounds commando force, raising fears of a revival of the Maoist movement. War of words between the erstwhile colleagues and a sense of victimhood owing to a perceived unjust bifurcation of resources appeared to pervade both the state police establishments. The Andhra Pradesh police accused their Telangana counterparts of not parting with the list of informers and intelligence sources. On the other hand, the Telangana police somewhat drearily announced that they will manage with “whatever resources came to them (sic).” Nallamala's strategic location along the inter-state borders created a somewhat favourable condition for the CPI-Maoist to exploit absence of inter-state coordination.
In May 2013, security forces began combing operations in the Guntur and Prakasam districts along with the neighbouring forested regions of Warangal and Khammam. In the wake of a spate of extremist attacks in Chhattisgarh, special forces who were confined mostly to the police stations for the past two years were engaged in specialised operations. The lack of violent incidents had pushed the police into a complacent state.
By late 2014, Maoists had returned to Nallamala. Extortion activities and a lone incident of exchange of gunfire were reported from Belum caves area. In early 2015, tribals living in Nallamala reported not only increased movement of the Maoists but incidents of cadres taking shelter in the remote villages. However, the surge was claimed to have been controlled after the police arrested 10 suspected cadres in May 2015. In spite of the allotment of an additional Border Security Force (BSF) battalion to Andhra Pradesh, the director general of the Central Reserve Police Force in February 2016 predicted a return of Maoist extremism to both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The recent claim of the re-cleansing of Nallamala would at best be a temporary setback for the CPI-Maoist attempting to regain a hold on an area that once served as its prime operational ground. The history of past decade showcases the ability of the extremists to revive, taking advantage of the lull in security force operations that invariably follows intermittent area clearing operations; and also to exploit the prevailing ‘objective conditions’ that allowed the movement to take root in the first place.
Left-wing extremism (LWE) in India has more or less ceased to be a national problem. Over the past two years, there has been a significant drop in the extremists' ability to orchestrate violence, and consequently, extremism-related deaths have decreased. However, in order to defeat extremism completely, in 2016, the state needs to build on the gains made thus far, failing which this year could well mark the revival of the movement that has demonstrated remarkable survival capacities in the past.
From National to Regional A far cry from its domination over nearly one-third of the country's geographical expanse, the influence of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is now confined to only five states of the country.
Of these, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha cumulatively account for 80 per cent of such activities. While approximately 20 districts in these five states witnessed most of the LWE violence in 2015, six districts (three in Chhattisgarh, one each in Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra) can be termed as the worst affected districts, accounting for witnessing almost 60 per cent of the violent incidents. PReviously a national problem, LWE has now become a regional problem, mostly limited to India's eastern board.
Since 2013, the CPI-Maoist has admitted to such losses in a series of publications. The CPI-Maoist's central committee resolution that was adopted in early 2013 spoke specifically about how the mass base and recruitment abilities of the outfit has decreased in the Dandakaranya area. In early 2014, in an internally circulated interview for the Maoist Information Bulletin, General Secretary Muppala Lakshman Rao acknowledged the "loss of considerable number of party leaders at all levels starting from the central committee to the village level party committees" and "weakened movement in rural plains and urban areas." He termed the protection of its "subjective leadership from enemy attacks as one of the foremost tasks before the party."
The trend of shrinking space for extremism is likely to continue in 2016 as effective counter-insurgency operations continue in states like Bihar and Jharkhand. However, whether or not such operations can make the outfit completely vacate its strongholds in Chhattigarh, Jharkhand and Odisha remains a key question.
Increasing Desperation Levels The acute level of desperation among the extremists over a stream of losses of cadres, especially senior cadres, is reflected in the tone and frequency of their appeals to their constituencies and prospective cadres. Not long ago, Maoist propaganda machinery churned out regular press releases detailing the outfit's agenda and its opposition to the government's moves. Not only have the sheer numbers of such press statements decreased significantly (the last press statement was issued in November 2015), lately, calls for armed revolution have been missing from the usual vocabulary of defiance. For instance, the 28 November 2015 statement called on the "patriots" to come forward to protect the country's natural wealth and resource for our future generations." Not only has the outfit made no secret of its discomfort regarding the use of drones and helicopters by the security forces that further titled the balance in favour of the state, it also appears extremely disturbed about the probable use of aerial attacks on its facilities in the Dandakaranya area. As the state makes further advances, such levels of desperation can become even more acute.
Chhattisgarh's Problem Chief Minister Raman Singh has termed Chhattisgarh a "safe state" for investment with "some Naxal activities," which are "reducing rapidly." However, extremism related data paints a different picture.
Chhattisgarh accounts for 43 per cent of the violent LWE activities. In 2015, against the general trend of declining Maoist violence, the state registered a significant increase in extremism-related incidents over the previous year: from 326 to 488. According to the security establishment, the rise in incidents is due to the proactive operations undertaken by the security forces, especially by the District Reserve Group (DRG). According to the Chhattisgarh police, the DRG, comprising local youth and surrendered extremists in the Bastar division, carried out 644 anti-Maoist operations in 2015, both individually and in coordination with other state and paramilitary forces, during which they killed 46 extremists. This is indeed a huge achievement, given how 89 extremists were killed in total in the entire country in 2015.
Yet, the extremist stronghold in Abhujhmad, large portions of which is located within the state, continues to be undisturbed and constitutes the 'liberated zone' where the janathana sarkar (people's government) has been established. Chhattisgarh's Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada districts are among the six worst affected districts in the country.
In 2016, the survival of Maoist extremism will crucially depend on how the outfit manages its control over its strongholds in Chhattisgarh.
Assaults and a Slow Burn Strategy In 2015, 168 civilians and 58 security forces were killed in LWE-related violence across the country. Of the slain civilians, 92 were termed as police informers by the extremists and killed as part of its campaign to establish a complete dominance over the area. Destroying of schools, roads, health centres and mobile towers are other components of this strategy. While targeting the security forces, the extremists resort to morale boosting pre-planned attacks that result in heavy casualties. The January 2016 attack in Palamu, Jharkhand, which killed seven security force personnel, and the April 2015 attack in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, in which 11 police personnel died, are examples.
However, a bulk of the civilian and security force fatalities occur in smaller attacks that go unnoticed due to the limited number of casualties they inflict. This enables the extremists to keep away from the limelight, preserve their cadre strength and at the same time, continue nibbling at the state's presence in the remotest corners. As the CPI-Maoist deals with its organisational weakness, it will continue to resort to this dual strategy of inflicting serious as well as enduring losses on the state.
Questionable Surrenders The surrender of a large number of Maoist cadres has been projected as a key to the declining strength of the outfits and also as a reflection of a growing disenchantment with the ideology of mindless blood spilling among the extremists.
According to available data, 11,608 CPI-Maoist cadres surrendered between 2010 and 2015. Combined with the number of Maoists killed and arrested, the total number of neutralised extremists stand at 14,838 in the same period. This is larger than the officially acknowledged cadre strength of the CPI-Maoist, which is about 12,000. The fact that the outfit still survives points either at its continued ability to recruit cadres or raises serious questions regarding the genuineness of such surrenders.
Over the years, numerous reports have surfaced, detailing episodes of fake surrenders in which civilians unattached with extremism or petty criminals have been paraded by the police as extremists. The trend is at its worst in Chhattisgarh, where even senior officers within the police establishment have raised questions about the genuineness of surrenders. However, given the proclivity to project surrenders as achievements and the state government's willingness to ignore such charges made even by insiders, such policies are likely to continue with the objective of amplifying the state's achievements.
Human Rights, a Low Priority The broad contours of the counter-Maoist policies of the government in New Delhi remain unknown. Contrary to the clear elucidation of its policies by the previous government, a great deal of secrecy surrounds the current policy. Yet, as evident from the odd official statements and on ground mobilisation, a force-centric approach now dominates the official line of thinking. Deployment of additional battalions of central forces with an objective to actively pursue the senior leadership of the CPI-Maoist has emerged as a key component of this strategy.
However, such a policy has also led to the state closing its eyes to episodes of violations of basic rights of law-abiding citizens. Increasing use of vigilante movements in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh has resulted in a growing number of cases in which NGO activists, media persons and tribals are being targeted by the state. In Chhattisgarh, where most of such incidents have occurred, local leaders of the ruling political party have reportedly joined the police in targeting journalists reporting violation of human rights. While a clean and just war can only be an idealistic goal in a counter-extremist situation, willful persecution of voices of dissent as a state policy is likely to continue, which ends up justifying the extremists' narrative of the state being a principal violator of tribal rights.
Conclusion In spite of the academic and official attention it garnered and the propaganda it sought to indulge in, the CPI-Maoist never posed a pertinent danger to India's urban centres. Never in its short history of 11 years did the outfit come close to fulfilling its purported objective of overthrowing the government, even in the worst affected states. Attacks were carried out mostly on its near enemy, i.e. the security forces and the civilians intruding into its sphere of influence, whereas the far enemy, i.e. the government structure removed from the conflict zone, has remained unscathed.
However, even with its current weakness, the outfit's capacity to hold on to its strongholds would pose the real challenge to the Indian state. The state has to deal with an outfit that does not kill many and yet, makes the entry of the state into the remotest areas of many states severely risk prone. In fact, weakness of the adversary must not lead to a state of complacency facilitating a extremist revival. A nuanced policy of making security force operations accountable and governing the reclaimed areas well would form the basis of a future free from extremism.
Anti-Maoist Operations in Chhattisgarh: Successes and Claims of Successes
Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
Conforming to the speculations that New Delhi under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government would adopt a hardline approach against left-wing extremism, a two month-long operation is underway in worst affected Chhattisgarh to dislodge the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres from their strongholds in south Bastar's Bijapur and Sukma districts. A critical objective of the operations is to neutralise senior Maoist functionaries with the belief that if successful, the leaderless movement would collapse in quick time. This formula has been adopted in the past with questionable success.
There are two notable features of the present operations. Firstly, there are enough indications that the current operation is driven by a strategy inked in Delhi. A visit by the National Security Adviser AK Doval and the Special Security advisor (internal security) K Vijay Kumar in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to Chhattisgarh in October 2015 started the initiative. Secondly, to an extent, the current operations are somewhat comparable to Operation Green Hunt in 2010, which had amassed a huge number of forces with the intention of bulldozing the extremist movement to nothingness. This time, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has deployed 11 battalions of its forces in Sukma and another eight battalions in Bijapur. As a result, nearly 25000 security force personnel including the state police forces are currently operating in the two districts.
According to the Chhattisgarh police, three new developments make the current operation different from the past. Firstly, there is an increase in the level of coordination between the central forces and the state police. Secondly, the coordination and exchange of intelligence with neighbouring states have improved. And lastly, the state police establishment has been able to effect an optimum utilisation of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) consisting predominantly of the Koya tribals. In June and July around 500 Chhattisgarh police mostly from Sukma and Dantewada districts underwent a 45-day counter-insurgency training course in Assam with an eye on the operations. This has allowed the police to carry out operations even during the lean monsoon season.
Among the major 'successes' claimed by the police is the killing of 10 Maoists, including five "commanders" in Sukma and Bijapur districts in November. In the first week of December, the police further claimed that 26 Maoists including seven hardcore cadres have surrendered in Sukma district. The CPI-Maoist, on the other hand, questioned the claims. With particular reference to the surrender of 26 Maoists, the outfit claimed that villagers unconnected to the outfit have been shown as surrendered by the police. Independent media investigations have supported the Maoist claim. At least three persons termed as Maoists by the police have been found to be petty criminals who had declared themselves as Maoists under police pressure. On most occasions, the intense conflict situation makes verifying such claims and counter-claims difficult. However, fake surrenders have precedence in the state.
Along with the 'successes', excesses and human rights violations by the security forces have also been reported. Large scale violence by a section among the two companies of security forces who carried out operations in five villages of Bijapur district between 19 and 24 October, included rape of a pregnant women and a teen; looting of money, livestock, and food items; ransacking of houses; and intimidation of the villagers. An investigation being conducted by the police department has not led to any arrest so far. The state's reputation of failing to prosecute similar culprits in the past has indeed reinforced a culture of impunity among the security forces in these remote regions.
For analysts, the level of motivation among the Maoist cadres and future strategies of the outfit have mostly remained subjects of speculation. While the state for known reasons underlines a deep state of desperation among the Maoists leading to frequent desertions, a rare media interview of Papa Rao, a senior Maoist leader and one of the planners of the 2010 Chintalnar attack on the CRPF that had claimed the lives of 76 personnel, revealed a different picture. Papa Rao, while acknowledging the temporary state of weakness in the outfit, dismissed the possibility of a peace process with the government and underlined the commitment of the outfit to a protracted war against the state. "Violence will the forbearer of peace," he claimed.
In spite of the tall claims by the Chhattisgarh police, the prospect of a resoundingly successful operation remains doubtful. Structural and operational deficiencies within the police force persist. Little progress has been achieved in ground-level intelligence collection. The state's efforts to strike a chord with the tribals remain an unfinished project. The bureaucracy remains as aloof as it used to be and is still not an active player in the development projects. This probably compels the police establishment to fabricate its success stories. That, however, is not so much of a surprise. The real surprise is the persistent belief of New Delhi that security forces with low morale and under leaders of questionable ability will be able to root out a problem that needs a much more nuanced approach.
It is a curious cocktail of bravery, success, and also operational paralysis. Like most incidents reported from the theatres affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE), the 16 May 2015 incident in Chhattisgarh also has a twist in the tale. In the end, the big picture that emerges from the incident merely reinforces the oft-repeated assertion that a victory over the reds is improbable in the near future.
In the early hours of 16 May 2015, an encounter took place near Ponjed in Bijapur district, between the Special Task Force (STF) and the District Reserve Guard personnel of the Chhattisgarh police (who were conducting an anti-LWE operation) and the extremists. A prolonged exchange of fire resulted in the death of three police personnel and two Maoists. Notwithstanding the loss of lives of its three men, the police establishment projected the incident as one of their "best battle[s]."
The "best battle" assessment by the Director General of the Chhattisgarh Police is based on the success of the police personnel in recovering the corpse of Hemla Masa alias Vijay, the commander of Company 2 of the West Bastar Division of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) who was killed in the encounter. Maoists usually drag the corpses out of the encounter sites. The recovery of Masa's corpse, described as the lone case of such recovery of a "top-most cadre in the entire history of the Maoist conflict," is an achievement.
Additionally, 15 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, nine shells of the Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, a 12 bore rifle and a wireless set were also recovered following the encounter. Given that it took almost 24 hours for the police to recover the bodies of seven of its personnel killed in the 11 April 2015 encounter in the neighbouring Sukma district, a task that was achieved only after the local journalists sought permission from the extremists, the recovery of Masa's body could be a source of gratification, although with negligible operational value.
This 'success' of the Chhattisgarh police, however, needs to be placed within the overall context of a difficult phase of anti-LWE operations in Chhattisgarh. This year, till 16 May, 30 security forces have been killed in the state, constituting a staggering 83 per cent of fatalities among the forces in all LWE-affected states. This data underlines why the state is the worst affected by the LWE problem. However, what invariably points at a much deeper malaise affecting the anti-LWE operations in Chhattisgarh is the fact that not a single one of these 30 fatalities belong to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has deployed 593 companies in the LWE-affected states according to the last count.
Far from an expected deduction that the CRPF personnel have been more successful in avoiding losses among their ranks, the on-ground reality remains what a prominent newspaper report concluded recently. The CRPF "has almost stopped sending its men to distant areas for operations," wrote the Indian Express on 18 May 2015. Notwithstanding the periodic rebuttal issued by the CRPF, which flaunts its own set of data of successful anti-LWE encounters, the force, once at the fore-front of the anti-LWE operations, has today become a defensive one, operating with the sole objective of completely preventing deaths among its personnel. According to a directive issued by the CRPF headquarters last year – which is still in vogue – officers on the ground must wait for sanctions from their higher-ups in the headquarters before launching an intelligence-led operation. The invariable bureaucratic delay ensures that such operations are either avoided or achieve little purpose when carried out due to the fact that these were undertaken much after their specific period of utility.
In his April 2015 media interview, CRPF chief Prakash Mishra attributed the drastic reduction of casualties among his personnel to tactical and intelligence-based operations. He outlined that the CRPF now focuses on helping building infrastructure in affected states, providing more facilities for people in the areas, including medicines, which will eventually lead to "more surrenders of Naxals in the coming times." He also pointed at the problem in generating ground level intelligence especially in areas where no functional police station exists. Some of Mishra's assertions run contrary to the opinions of the Chhattisgarh police authorities who swear by the 'CRPF taking a backseat' narrative. They emphasise that there is a persisting problem of coordination among the state and the central forces and accuse the CRPF of acting like an "unhelpful big brother."
New Delhi on several occasions in the past has underlined its intention to effect policy changes to resolve the LWE problem. Deployment of more forces, allotment of more resources, and undertaking of development projects in the affected areas have been highlighted as priorities. Somewhere in these big policy statements, the persisting operational problems affecting coordination between central and state forces appear to have been missed out. A course correction is urgently required, especially at a time when the extremists are struggling with their own set of existential issues.
On 7 December 2014, in the first ever incident of its type, personnel of Thunderbolt, the elite paramilitary commando unit of the Kerala Police exchanged fire with a six-member team of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) at the Chappa forest area located on Kozhikode-Wayanad border. No casualties were reported as the Maoist team escaped following a 10-minute long encounter. In the subsequent days, small teams of Maoists vandalised forest offices at Wayanad and Palakkad and carried out an attack on a private quarry-cum-crusher unit in Kannur district.
On the basis of these three incidents that occurred within a span of two months (December 2014 and January 2015), it is difficult to conclude that Kerala could soon become a stronghold of left-wing extremists. However, what is undeniable is that the social conditions that allowed the rise of Naxalism in the late 1960s in Kerala continue to persist and are again being exploited by the extremists. Worse still, in spite of at least a two-year old input of the CPI-Maoist's foray into the region, the state administration has done little to meet the exigencies.
Inspired by the Naxalbari uprisings, Kerala witnessed the first incident of left-wing extremist violence in the form of a raid on the Thalassery police station in North Malabar's Kannur district on 21 November 1968. The attack, however, ended in a failure. Of the 1000 Naxals and their sympathisers planned to take part in the raid, only 315 turned up. A lone grenade hurled at the police station failed to explode and as the sentry at the police station set off the alarm, the group fled.
Two days later, however, a successful attack was carried out on the Pulpalli police wireless station that resulted in the killing of some police personnel. Other raids on the same day targeted estates of landlords in the Wayanad forests by armed peasants, workers and students under the leadership of Kunnikal Narayanan. Grains seized from the estates were distributed among the poor. However, most of the people who took part in the attack, including Arikkad Varghese and Philip M. Prasad, were arrested.
Following these raids, Naxal supreme leader Charu Majumdar sent a congratulatory message hailing the "heroism and courage displayed by the impoverished masses of Kerala" which he said "have raised a new wave of enthusiasm among the revolutionary people all over India." However, apart from the fact that arrests played a role in weakening the Naxal movement in Kerala, Majumdar's insistence on targeting the unarmed landlords and zamindars further divided the Naxals in the state. Leaders like Kunnikal Narayanan wanted to remain focused on attacking the police stations.
Few more raids took place in the subsequent years. In 1969, a police station in Kuttiyadi was attacked, in which Naxal leader Velayudhan was killed. In 1970, Naxals killed a landlord in Thirunelly and looted grains from another landlord's house.
The spike in extremist violence led the Congress party-led state government to launch an operation that led to several Naxal leaders being arrested. Prominent leader, 32-year old Arikkad Verghese, was killed in controversial circumstances. Such measures crushed the Naxalite movement in Kerala by 1976. Charu Majumadar's hope that the "heroic peasant revolutionaries of Kerala would lead the tens of millions of revolutionary people of India," failed to materialise.
The December 2014 and January 2015 incidents, have been interpreted as a resurfacing of left-wing extremism in the state after nearly four decades. Districts like Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur, and Kasaragod have been identified as areas of Maoist presence. State police sources indicate that these districts would link up the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats and provide the Maoists a safe route for movement of cadres and arms.
While these assessments could be true, what is being forgotten is that the CPI-Maoist has been building up its base in the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at least since 2011. The Kerala government had been alerted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2011 regarding the outfit's plan to develop the tri-junction into a ‘perspective area’ for their activities. However, riding on a lethargic state response, by 2012, the CPI-Maoist had prepared well for launching the second stage of its presence in that region by declaring the formation of the Western Ghats guerrilla zone in Dakshina Kannada. The outfit made an abortive bid to attack the Thirunelly police station on 18 February 2012 to mark the martyrdom of Arikkad Varghese. And yet, till the attack on December 2014 took place, the state administration did little in terms of a futuristic plan of meeting the extremist challenge.
In terms of human development indicators, districts like Mallapuram, Wayanad and Palakkad lie at the bottom, thus, constituting perspective areas for Maoist growth and operation. The CPI-Maoist is a far more organised and capable extremist outfit compared to the Naxals who were crushed in the 1970s. Kerala would do well to develop a synchronised plan of development and security to respond to the emerging threat.
In 1956, the British authorities fighting the Communist insurgents in Malay granted a lump sum of M$12,000 to a former member of the Min Yuen, the supply organisation of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). The information provided by the renegade member cum police informer led to a successful ambush in which three insurgents were killed. The reward was a substantial sum, amounting to almost seven times the then average annual Malayan income. Disbursement of such generous rewards was part the psy war launched by the British against the Communists – that successfully helped cultivate large numbers of informants, ultimately leading to the decimation of the Communist insurgency.
In comparison, Korsa Jagaram alias Shivaji, who played a similar role of a facilitator in India's fight against left-wing extremism died in penury. On 1 January, Jagaram, a former cadre of the CPI-Maoist, who had risen to be a member of the outfit's West Bastar Division Committee, was attacked by a group of ten Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres and killed in Kottapal, his native village in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district. Jagaram had surrendered in May 2013. According to the prevailing surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy, Jagaram was entitled to a job and other benefits. Instead, he was recruited as a gopaniya sainik (covert operative) of the Chhattisgarh police's state auxiliary force.
According to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Maoists have killed 1169 alleged 'police informers' between 2008 and 2013, accounting for 41 per cent of the 2850 civilian fatalities during the period. While a number of these informers have acted as active agents of the police establishments, those killed also include civilians whose contribution to the security force operation is only incidental.
Birsi Kumari's is a fitting example. Three days before India sought to exhibit its 'Nari shakti' by positioning women officers as marching contingent leaders of all the three military services during the Republic Day parade, 18-year-old Birsi Kumari was tied up and shot dead by the CPI-Maoist cadres in Jharkhand's Khunti district. By all means, Kumari's nexus with the state could not have gone beyond skeletal information regarding rebel presence or movement in her village, at the prodding of a security force contingent. However, in Maoist lexicon, any contact with the state is a cardinal mistake, often punishable by death. Death is not only punitive, but is also used as a deterrent to rein in potential state-agents.
Insurgency as well as the methods to contain it revolve around the strategy of dominating the space and seeking support among civilian populations that inhabit the space. On the flip side, this often amounts to targeting people who are believed to belong to the other camp. Cleansing an area of police informers is strategic, for it ensures an unhindered extremist domination over the area.
As Maoist ideologue Charu Mazumdar wrote in his 1969 article, "The annihilation of the class enemy does not only mean liquidating individuals, but also means liquidating the political, economic and social authority of the class enemy." Class enemies included landlords, rich peasants, government employees, rival party members, and police informers. Lest this be construed as an act of calculated provocation, such killings are manifestations of domination by the extremists over geographical areas vis-à-vis the state's fleeting presence. At one level, informers are easy prey. On the other, killing them is crucial to drain the state of its authority.
Mazumdar, who has been accused of elevating "homicidal mania to a political principle" went on to prescribe how the communists must "spring" weapons such as "spears, javelins and sickles" at the enemy to kill him. "He who has not dipped his hand in the blood of class enemies can hardly be called a communist,” Mazumdar concluded. The CPI-Maoist continues to steadfastly adhere to the ideology of retribution and Mazumdar's prescriptions.
It is unlikely that either Jagaram or Kumari's family members would receive any compensation from the state. State governments that have wilfully defaulted on rehabilitating the surrendered extremists on a number of instances are less likely to look after the deceased and peripheral entities in its counter-maoist campaign. Worse still, its own tactic of targeting civilians and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) believed to be on the side of the extremists would continue to make the plight of the civilians in the conflict theatres miserable.
Among several examples of the state's highhandedness is the February 2015 incident where the police arrested and tortured a group of tribals in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district. Accusing them of playing a role in the killing of a police informer Anil Thakur, the police picked them up from their homes at night, detained them in a police station and subjected them to torture. The saying, ‘being caught between the fire and frying pan’ could not have assumed a more appropriate meaning.
This edition of the IPCS Column, 'Red Affairs', is the precis of a larger document titled 'Left-wing Extremism in 2015', published under the IPCS Forecast 2015 series. Click here to read the full report .
At the onset of 2015, left-wing extremism (LWE) in India under the aegis of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is confronted with a choice of either coming to terms with the realities of its weakness and revisit the strategy of sustaining a protracted war with the state; or continuing with carrying out periodic attacks on the security forces and other state protagonists with the long-term aim of resurrecting itself yet again in the coming years.
Although the past few years have reinforced the notion that CPI-Maoist has ceased to be the force it used to be, there is little hope that in 2015, the outfit would halt pursuing its strategy of carrying out intermittent raids as well as expanding into newer areas. How the state responds to this challenge via its reformulated strategy would be something to watch out for.
Shrinking Extremist Domination In 2014, the trend of declining fatalities in LWE-related violence continued. According to provisional data, only 314 fatalities were registered, which is the lowest since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in 2004. While Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand account 67 per cent of these fatalities, Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar are the other states that reported the remaining fatalities. The CPI-Maoist, which once wielded influence over almost one-third of the country's geographical expanse, now operates with a constrained presence in these five states. A sudden expansion in the CPI-Maoist's area of operation is unlikely in 2015. The outfit would mostly be involved in guarding its remaining influence in these states.
Persisting Weakness Affected by surrenders, killings and arrests of a large numbers of its cadres, the CPI-Maoist is clearly on a back foot, necessitating a phase of tactical retreat when the outfit rebuilds its strength. Among the many denominators that point at the state's tightening grip over LWE is the former's ability to carry out largely peaceful elections in various states. Jharkhand went for an assembly elections in November and December 2014. Additionally, the CPI-Maoist largely failed to carry out its threats of disrupting the poll; the over 66 per cent voter turnout – a record percentage in the state – demonstrated a growing popular confidence in the State's ability to provide security. A stable government, now a reality in state, has an opportunity of heralding an era of decisive action against the extremists.
Morale-boosting Assaults The operational weakness of the CPI-Maoist, however, has not curtailed its ability to carry out periodic attacks resulting in high casualty among the security forces. In fact, such attacks would remain part of the CPI-Maoist's continuing attempt of seeking relevance, rebuilding its organisational strength, and inflicting setbacks on the security forces. The fact that the security forces in each of the LWE-affected theatres continue to face issues of coordination, leadership and direction, would aid the extremist efforts. Successful attacks such as the one that resulted in the killing of 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on 1 December 2014, has already led to a defensive mindset among the forces, with the CRPF headquarters insisting that all major operations against the extremists must be cleared by the top brass of the organisation.
Enclaves of Strength New Delhi has assured the affected states of support in dealing with LWE. However, for the states, emerging from an era of overwhelming dependence on the central forces has proved to be difficult. Progress in enabling its own police forces to take a lead role in countering extremism has remained a non-starter. This is apparent in the significant level of popular compliance to the CPI-Maoist's periodic calls for shutdown in various states. Even as the state makes advance establishing its writ over hitherto extremism-affected areas, several enclaves of extremist domination, especially in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha would continue to mock the official claims of success.
Missing Bureaucracy Resurrecting governance over the erstwhile Maoist-dominated areas has proved to be New Delhi's Achilles Heel. As of the beginning of 2015, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs is pushing the state governments to appoint "officers with zeal" as district magistrates and superintendents of police in the extremism-affected districts. Even as the security forces register some successes in ending extremist domination over select areas, bureaucratic inertia in kick-starting governance has remained one of the primary hindrances in cementing success. Government functionaries are either reluctant to function in such hazardous zones or are indulging in rampant corruption exploiting the lack of accountability a conflict situation provides. The attempt to inculcate "zeal" among functionaries, both in the higher and lower levels of bureaucracy is likely to be a tough one for the state governments.
Southern Expansion One of the less highlighted aspects of the CPI-Maoist's activities in 2014 was its foray into Kerala. With a handful of incidents involving attacks on a forest department office and an outpost, and KFC and McDonald’s outlets, the Maoists have announced their presence in the southern state. While expansion into new areas remains an avowed objective of the CPI-Maoist exploiting fertile grounds, the divided official response has helped the outfit gain strength and sympathisers. Amid the Kerala police's steps to deal with the emerging threat, a senior government functionary has called for a stop to the hunt and has praised the Maoists for "energising the government machinery in tribal areas." The CPI-Maoist would continue its attempts to spread its activities into new areas in 2015. Sans a national consensus on dealing with the threat, some of these areas would lapse into new hunting grounds for the extremists.
The 1 December 2014 killing of 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) should invariably go down as one of the country's worst security force operations in recent times. In terms of the killing of trained personnel, looting of their weapons, and the follow up response of a well established security establishment in the state, the attack surpasses even the far bigger extremist attacks of the past in which the force had lost far larger number of personnel. The incident further gives rise to the question whether a victory over the Maoists is at all possible under a CRPF-State police force combination formula?
The attack took place as over 2000 personnel of the CRPF were conducting a four-phase operation against the extremists in the district. As expressed by the involved personnel to the media, without much of intelligence to back these initiatives, there was little objective behind the operations rather than what broadly is described as area domination exercises. During the end of the third phase of the operation, a section of the force, variously described as consisting of 200 to 700 personnel came under attack by the Maoists – who apparently used civilian villagers as shields. There was little resistance from the forces, who as reports suggest got away only 14 fatalities. While 12 perished in the combat, two personnel died while being shifted. Had the Maoists persisted and continued their attacks, the toll could have been much higher, perilously close to the 2010 Dantewada attack in which the CRPF lost 76 troopers. The attack has led to an early conclusion of the area domination exercise in Sukma.
The attack raises several questions regarding the ability of the force that has been designated as the country’s lead counter-insurgent force after the Kargil attack, vis-a-vis the Maoists. There are issues of leadership, logistics, intelligence and coordination with the state police force. However, none of these concerns are new. Each investigation following a major attack has unravelled the same ills affecting the force that has been fighting the extremists for nearly a decade and whose battalion strength in the conflict theater has grown manifold over the years. While some incremental improvements in the way operations have been conducted are natural and are there for everybody to see, fundamental issues such as the CRPF leadership's strategy of fighting the war with well-motivated and adequately supported personnel have been chronically absent.
This explains why the transient successes that have pushed the 10-year old CPI-Maoist arguably to its weakest state notwithstanding, the CRPF's own history of engagement with the extremists is replete with mistakes, setbacks, and a perennial search for the right principles of operational accomplishment. The force's projects to generate intelligence by setting up an dedicated wing; its initiatives of developing bonds with the tribal population by providing them with gifts, medical facilities, and organising sports and cultural events; and its efforts to narrow down the differences with the state police forces have all achieved marginal results. Even the 10-battalion strong Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA), raised with the specific objective of fighting the Maoists, which has since been diluted to make them deal with the insurgents of all denominations in the northeast, have minor achievements to demonstrate, in the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)'s own assessments.
The uncomfortable conclusion one can derive from the state-of-affairs is that the CRPF, in its present state, is not the force that can deliver significant successes in the Maoist conflict theaters. Even with an ever-expanding budget of Rs. 12,169.51 crores for the current financial year - amounting to almost 1/5th of the MHA's entire budget – the successive chiefs of the force have failed to provide its fighting troops even the basic of the provisions. Media narratives indicate soldiers keeping themselves operationally fit with rice, lentils and Maggi noodles. Worse still, seen in combination with poor condition of the state police forces and their virtual irrelevance to the conflict resolution project, it points at an ignominious future of a permanent state of conflict in a sizeable geographical expanse of the country.
In response to the Sukma attack, the MHA plans to induct more forces into Chhattisgarh. Such a move, in the pipeline since the new government assumed power in New Delhi in May 2014, is based on the premise that more boots on the ground would be able to reverse the success of the Maoists. Nothing can be farther from truth. The CRPF's failure needs to be seen in the context of the overall lack of imagination among the country's policy makers in dealing with the Maoist threat. Ever since the CPI-Maoist emerged as a major challenge, lackadaisical, reactionary, and adhoc-ish measures have been passed off as official policies. Even as such experimentation continues, the soldiers, among others, are paying with their blood and lives in conflicts mainland Indians are completely oblivious to.
As electorates in Jharkhand start casting their ballot on 25 November, marking the beginning of the five-phase assembly elections spanning almost a month, the threat of left-wing extremism hangs heavy over the poll process. However, while the elections may pass without much violence, addressing the issue of extremism would remain important for the party assuming power.
Statistics reveal an improved security scenario since the last assembly elections. From 208 civilian and security force fatalities in 742 violent incidents recorded in 2009, 152 deaths in 387 incidents took place in 2013. This year, till the first week of November, less than 60 deaths have been reported. Police claim that the Maoists have retreated from the majority of their strongholds, leading to the return of normalcy in several areas.
However, media personnel covering the elections portray a different picture of a lacklustre campaign under a pervading regime of fear. In districts like Latehar, Gumla and Khunti, police personnel bury themselves under barricaded and fortified police stations advising civilians not to venture into the interior areas. The candidates and their supporters, as a result, have indulged in isolated efforts to seek support among the people. Rallies and open canvassing of votes have remained predominantly urban affairs. Prominent journalists from the state like Dayamani Barla have indicated that the results of the polls in several districts of the state are indeed being decided by the power of the gun, wielded by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and another three dozen splinter criminal groups, some of whom have been courted by the political parties.
Several incidents of recoveries of arms have given further credence to the fact that the CPI-Maoist that has been announcing the boycott of the polls through pamphlets and posters is determined to carry out some acts of violence targetting the security forces and political activists. Over 400 kilograms of local explosives and 1,740 detonators were among the items recovered in Latehar district on 10 November. On 15 November, an improvised explosive device (IED) weighing 40 kilograms was found dug under a road in Khunti district.
On 15 November, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel was injured in an encounter with the Maoists in Gumla district. The apparent Maoist strategy before the polls has been to use forested areas such as Kumari and Saranda to launch attacks on the security forces and poll officials. These are indications that the reduced violence of the past months, mostly due to the monsoon rains, may not serve as a parameter of state success any longer. The general secretary of CPI-Maoist's Bihar Jharkhand special area committee (BJSAC) Rupesh has indeed warned that the relative silence of the Maoists should not be confused with the disenchantment of the militia. "It could be a part of our strategy that we are not willing to waste our energy, forces and weapons but apt reply would be given to the security forces if they continue with their repression," he said in a media interview published on 15 November. Thus, some attacks can be expected both during the polling process and also in the days following the exercise, when levels of preparedness decline.
However, sporadic acts of violence are not likely to disrupt the polls in a significant manner. The percentage of voters casting their ballot in the past elections indicate both a popular yearning to take part in the democratic exercise and also the ability of the forces to provide a reliable security cover. Latehar, for example, recorded over 55 per cent of voting in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 58 per cent during the 2009 assembly elections. Tribal-dominated Khunti district recorded 61 per cent voter turnout in the Lok Sabha elections, whereas Singhbhum recorded a 63 per cent turnout. Over 40,000 security forces were on duty during the Lok Sabha elections. This time, the election commission has promised to treble the number of forces.
A violence-free election ensured by force saturation can only be the first step towards addressing the problem of left-wing extremism. The newly elected government must evolve a credible policy to address the problem. The manifesto and other political pronouncements of the main political parties, however, portray a gross lack of imagination on how to solve the problem. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) broadly promises in four sentences in its 56-page manifesto that it will "try to combine social as well as developmental solutions for extremism." The JMM's 16-page flaws-marred manifesto did not even mention the issue.
Given the state of left-wing extremism that assumes additional complexity in states like Bihar and Jharkhand owing to the caste dynamics as well as factionalism among outfits, an immediate solution to the extremism problem is unforeseeable. While its own police force has been found wanting, Jharkhand's reputation of under-utilising the central forces has remained a matter of serious concern. The least the young state with 40 per cent of the national mineral wealth can hope for is to take forward steps towards the containment of the threat. The past has been disappointing. The future, one hopes, would be different.
On the morning of 18 October 2014, Shiv Kumar, a personnel belonging to the Chhattisgarh Armed Police was pulled out of a passenger bus in Sukma district by a group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres and killed. Kumar was ill and was on his way to the hospital when the bus he had boarded was waylaid by extremists. On the previous day, Raghunath Kisku, Founder Member, Nagarik Suraksha Samity (NSS), an anti-Maoist organisation, was killed by Maoists in Ghatshila sub-division of Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district.
Kumar was the 69th security force personnel and Kisku, the 164th civilian, to be killed by Maoists in 2014. Other activities perpetrated by the Maoists till 15 September include 125 attacks on the police; 40 occasions of snatching of weapons from the security forces; and holding of 25 arms training camps and 46 jan adalats in areas under their influence. While the occurrence of larger attacks have substantially decreased, the number of extremism-related incidents roughly remain the same compared to the corresponding period in 2013 – indicating the continuation of the challenge.
And yet it is a hard time for the Maoists. Till 15 September, 1129 CPI-Maoist cadres were neutralised, including 49 who were killed in encounters, and 1080 cadres, arrested. While the outfit can take pride from the sacrifices made by these men and women, what continues to trouble it is the perpetual desolation creeping into its ranks and files, leading to a large number of surrender of its leaders and cadres.
Among the 395 who have surrendered till 30 September are leaders like Gumudavelli Venkatakrishna Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, Secretary, Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), arguably the outfit's most potent military division based in Bastar and his wife Raji; GP Reddy, Member, the DKSZC, and his wife Vatti Adime; and Bhagat Jade and his wife Vanoja. According to the Chhattisgarh police, over 140 cadres have surrendered between June and September 2014 in Bastar alone, partly due to the disillusion with the outfit's ideology and partly convinced by the police's method of highlighting the discrimination suffered by the local Chhattisgarh cadres at the hands of those drawn from Andhra Pradesh.
Press statements of the CPI-Maoist, while condemning these surrenders as demonstration of opportunism and desertion of the movement by corrupt and politically degenerated persons, admit that the revolution is currently undergoing its most difficult phase. The CPI-Maoist has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi of launching the third phase of Operation Green Hunt, a ruthless war aimed at annihilating the Maoists who are the "biggest threat" to its "pro-reform" policies. Asserting that it has merely only engaged in a "war of self defence," the outfit has called for a "widespread struggle to fight back the threat by uniting all the revolutionary and democratic forces."
Its progressively declining capacity to annihilate enemies since 2010 – in spite of the ability to pull off some of the most spectacular attacks on security forces and politicians in recent years – has remained a matter of worry for the CPI-Maoist. Its failure to disrupt the parliamentary and state assembly elections coupled with a regular desertion of its cadres has descended as an existential threat on the outfit that once controlled one-third of the country's geographical area. Even with the persisting bureaucratic inertia and unimaginative security force operations, most of the affected states have gained in their fight against the extremists.
However, the outfit's domination over large swathes of area in Chhattiagrh, Odisha and Jharkhand with significant presence in states like Bihar provides it with the ability to continue with its small ambushes. Its recruitment and fund raising ability appears to have shrunk. And yet, the outfit harps about a people's militia "now in thousands" united by apathy of the state and carefully calibrated image of the government being a representative of the exploitative industrial houses. Hence, a scenario in which surrenders and killings of the Maoists would push the outfit into oblivion is remote.
The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), after months of deliberation, is now armed with a new policy to counter the Maoists. The policy, subject to cabinet approval, would remain open to use "any element of national power" against the extremists. Although it does not rule out peace talks with the extremists, it makes the peace process conditional to the CPI-Maoist renouncing violence. It plans to make the state police the lead counter-insurgent force against the extremists while assigning the central forces, especially the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the responsibility of holding the counter-insurgency grid together "like a glue." While impressive in its nuances, the approach is guided by the belief that it is possible to wipe out the Maoists by force alone.
The impact of the new official counter-Maoist policy remains to be seen. However, in the clash between a militarily 'down-and-not-yet-out' CPI-Maoist and the official security apparatus that has its own set of serious problems, little more than persistence of the logjam can be expected.
Six Thousand Plus Killed: The Naxal Ideology of Violence
Bibhu Prasad Routray Visiting Fellow, IPCS
How does one analyse the killings of 6105 civilians and security forces in incidents related to left-wing extremism between 2005 and 2013?
Given that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), since its formation in 2004, has been responsible for majority of these killings, conventional analyses have mostly focused on big and small incidents that produced these victims. While such methods are useful in terms of attempting to grasp the growing or declining capacity of the outfit, it is also useful to analyse the unceasing violence as upshot of an ideology that has for decades underlined the necessity to shed the enemy's blood to bring about a change in social and political order.
Three leaders – Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Kondapalli Seetharamaiah – dominate the discourse on Naxalism, which began in the 1960s. Mazumdar, in his ‘Eight Documents’ in 1965, exhorted the workers of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to take up armed struggle against the state. He underlined that action and not politics was the need of the hour. Such calls resulted in a number of incidents in which the CPI-M workers started seizing arms and acquiring land forcibly on behalf of the peasants from the big landholders in Darjeeling. These incidents went on to provide the spark for the 1967 peasant uprising.
Following the formation of the All India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries (AICCR), that emerged out of the CPI-M in November 1967 and was renamed as All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in May 1968, Mazumdar further reiterated his idea of khatam or annihilation of class enemies. Although incidents of individual assassinations influenced by khatam resulted in repressive state action targeting the naxalite cadres, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML), which was formed in 1969 breaking away from the CPI-Marxist, continued professing violence as the key tool of revolution.
While Mazumdar's preference for using violence to overthrow existing social order and seizing state power remained the CPI-ML's mode of operation till 1972, a counter ideology with a stress on agrarian consolidation preceding an armed struggle was reiterated by Kanu Sanyal following Mazumdar's death. Sanyal was not against the idea of an armed struggle per se. However, he opposed Mazumdar's advocacy of targeted assassination.
In the subsequent years, the CPI-ML split into several factions. Although Sanyal himself headed a faction, he gradually grew redundant to the extreme left movement and committed suicide in 2010. Towards the last years of his life, Sanyal maintained that the CPI-Maoist's reliance on excessive violence does not conform to original revolutionary objectives of the Naxalite movement. On more than one occasion, Sanyal denounced the “wanton killing of innocent villagers”. In a 2009 interview, Sanyal accused the CPI-Maoist of exploiting the situation in West Bengal's Lalgarh "by using the Adivasis as stooges to carry forward their agenda of individual terrorism."
In Andhra Pradesh, since the 'Spring Thunder' of Srikakulam in 1970, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, was responsible for the growth of the Naxalite movement under the aegis of the CPI-ML. After leading a faction of the CPI-ML and forming the People's War Group (PWG) in 1980 Seetharamaiah oversaw a regime of intense violence, thus, earning the outfit the description of "the deadliest of all Naxal groups". Even after the expulsion of Seetharamaiah in 1991, the PWG and its factions remained the source of extreme violence targeting politicians and security forces in the state.
Kanu Sanyal's reluctant support for armed violence was, thus, somewhat an aberration. Playing down the importance of mindless bloodshed remained a peripheral of the Naxalite movement. Each transformation of the movement thereafter in terms of splits, mergers, and formation of new identities escalated the ingrained proclivity to use violence as an instrument of expansion and influence. The CPI-Maoist represented a natural progression of this trend. And as the fatalities data reveal, each passing year, since its 2004 formation through a merger of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the PWG, it became more and more reliant on violence, rationalising the strategy as a defensive mechanism essential to its existence.
In 2009 Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, who led the outfit in West Bengal termed the violence as a "struggle for independence". Ganapathy, the CPI-Maoist general secretary, reiterated in his February 2010 interview that the violence is only a "war of self-defence" or a "counter-violence" in response to a "brutal military campaign unleashed by the state". Maoist Spokesperson Azad, who was later killed in controversial circumstances, rejected the appeal for abjuring violence by then Home Minister P Chidambaram in April 2010 indicating that such a move would allow the "lawless" security forces "continue their rampage". Azad also maintained that while the outfit generally avoids attacking the non-combatants, "the intelligence officials and police informers who cause immense damage to the movement" can not be spared.
Thus understood, few conclusions can be drawn, in contrast to beliefs that a peaceful resolution of the conflict could be possible. Its current frailty notwithstanding, regaining capacities to maximise violence would be a priority for the CPI-Maoist. It will continue to reject other methods of social and political change and maintain an unwavering faith in the utility of violence. Even while realising that a total victory vis-a-vis the state is unattainable, the outfit would remain an agent of extreme violence in its own spheres of influence.
Anti-Naxal Operations: Seeking Refuge in Symbolism
Bibhu Prasad Routray New Delhi-based security analyst
The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfurled the national flag from the precincts of the historic Red Fort to mark India's 68th Independence Day, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) authorities in Chhattisgarh unfurled the tri-colour at Tadmetla in Sukma district. Flag hoisting at the site of the bloodiest massacre that claimed the lives of 75 CRPF personnel four years ago was apparently to make a statement that the forces have reclaimed the territory from the extremists and are asserting their authority over the piece of land. This avoidable symbolism, in the backdrop of apparent extremist domination over the area, in a way, sums up the country's stagnated approach towards the Naxal problem.
The 2010 attack at Tadmetla (then in Dantewada district which was bifurcated in 2012 to create the Sukma district) still counts as the worst attack ever to have been carried out on the central forces by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). The loss of an entire company of the CRPF cast a pall of gloom, and more importantly, pushed the forces into a defensive mindset. It also brought New Delhi's attempts to subdue the extremists through a multi-theatre military offensive to an abrupt halt. Subsequent inquiry by a retired police official revealed serious command and control lapses among the forces. The CRPF has not suffered a loss of that magnitude thereafter. Whether this has been achieved by addressing the weaknesses exposed by the attack or merely by becoming more defensive in its approach is debatable.
Behind the 'successful' flag hoisting at Tadmetla, however, were painstaking preparations. A CRPF contingent consisting of the specialised Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) commandos and led by an Inspector General, camped in the area for several days. A detailed sanitisation exercise was carried out in the area during which a CRPF personnel was injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion and had to be air lifted for treatment. A senior official told the media that the ceremony was essential "to mark the domination of this area."
Extremism related incidents reported in 2014, however, do not indicate any security force domination over the area. Sukma continues to be among the worst extremism-affected districts in Chhattisgarh. On 9 February, two CRPF personnel, including a Deputy Commandant, were killed and 12 others injured in a landmine blast carried out by the CPI-Maoist. Not far from the site where the tri-colour was hoisted, three COBRA personnel were killed and three others injured in a Naxal ambush on 9 April. And on 11 May, extremists killed 15 security force personnel at Jeerum Nullah in the district. Several other incidents of ambush, attack and explosion have been reported from the district. In fact, the domination of the extremists has forced to the CRPF to take upon itself the task of building a seven km road stretch as no private contractor has agreed to take up the job.
In October 2013, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami had pulled up the central armed police force organisations including the CRPF operating in Chhattisgarh for their "defensive strategy." Goswami regretted the fact that there was a lull in the action by the security forces despite New Delhi's directive to engage in result-oriented operations. The forces were not just reluctant to carry out sustained offensive operations against the extremists, even the routine area domination exercises were avoided. It is not clear whether the flag hoisting in Tadmetla, with significant sanitising preparations, marks the beginning of a change in the tactic of the forces and is demonstrative of a newfound vision.
It is unfair to blame the CRPF personnel deployed in Chhattisgarh for the lull in action, for the current state of affairs emanates from a policy stagnation that marks the anti-Naxal initiative. Apart from their own internal problems and the continuing confusion whether to remain a supporting or lead counter-Naxal force, lack of coordination with the state forces, lack of adequate progress in state police modernisation, inertia at the level of bureaucracy, and lack of a national consensus with regard to solving the Naxal issue, have affected the performance of the central forces. This could be pushing them to find refuge in symbolic events rather than attempting decisive gains.
At one level, such policy stagnation is strange especially when the CPI-Maoist has lost several senior leaders across states and has failed to maintain a level of violence necessary to keep its own internal mechanism alive and kicking. At the other level, however, it underlines the country's predominantly reactionary counter-insurgency doctrine, which does relatively well in responding to extremist violence, but dithers when violence dips, either due to the setbacks suffered by the extremist outfits or because of the latter's tactical retreat decision.
The task for New Delhi, thus, is well cut out. It has to find a way to instill a sense of purpose among the state as well as the central forces. It has to ensure that the bureaucracy and grass root politics works in tandem with the security forces. And it must ensure that the acts of symbolism come to a grand halt.
Bibhu Prasad Routray New Delhi-based Security Analyst
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.
Tackling Naxal Violence: An Agenda for the New Indian Government
Bibhu Prasad Routray New Delhi-based Security Analyst
In a way the challenge of left-wing extremism the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in New Delhi faces bears close resemblance to the situation that confronted the United Progressive Alliance regime in its second tenure in 2009. However, given that the Congress party-led government failed to contain the threat, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government needs to revisit the overall approach and not repeat the past polices that contributed to the survival of the extremist outfit.
In 2009, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was in the upswing with a dramatic spike in the deaths of civilians and security forces. Extremism-related incidents and fatalities among the civilians and the security forces increased by 41 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, in 2008. States such as Maharashtra and West Bengal contributed significantly to this upswing, with the eastern Indian state becoming the third most extremism-affected state of the country, in 2009, with 255 incidents and 158 fatalities. The CPI-Maoist was indeed looking at expanding its sphere of influence.
The UPA government sought to tame the rise of extremism with an iron hand.. The change of guards in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks led to a series of brain storming sessions, and a new policy aiming to annihilate the CPI-Maoist, titled ‘Operation Green Hunt’ took shape. However, hope expressed by the then Home Secretary that security forces would be able to liberate the areas quickly and the civil administration would kick-start development work in those areas met an early end in 2010 with the Central Reserve Police Force receiving a series of setbacks at the hands of the extremists.
Over the next four years, the UPA government experimented with a cocktail of force-centric and development-oriented approach. However, even with improvements in the overall situation, the CPI-Maoist continues to remain a formidable adversary. As per the official data, each day of the year recorded over three Maoist-related violent incidents resulting in the death of at least one civilian or a security force personnel, in 2013. An identical situation has prevailed over the first six months of 2014 as well. Maoists might have been prevented from expanding their area of operations into newer territories, but the old theatres such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, parts of Odisha and Maharashtra continue to report significant violence. The number of attacks carried out by the CPI-Maoist and close to 50 deaths in the days preceding and following the parliamentary elections underlines the military capacities of the extremists.
Three significant deficiencies, among many, that have marked India's response to the challenge of left-wing extremism are: first, there is no national consensus on ways to meet the challenge. States and ministries have debated on whether to pursue a social development or a force-centric model of conflict resolution. Second, although the security forces have made some advances vis-à-vis the extremists, the civil administration continues to be a reluctant partner in reintegrating the former Naxal hotbeds through development administration. Third, there is an acute leadership crisis at the political as well as the security establishment levels, hindering success. These deficiencies must be addressed by the new government in New Delhi in order to make a substantial impact in the extremist-dominated areas.
Policy Prescriptions to Deal with the Red Menace First, the unity of purpose is a key element for success in any counter-insurgency campaign. The lack of success vis-à-vis the Naxals is predominantly rooted in the diverse as well as conflicting prescriptions made not just by the states, but also by the various departments within the UPA government. Annual meetings of the chief ministers organised by the government merely provided platforms for airing diverse opinions, but made little progress in terms of arriving at a common approach. The new government must find a way to bridge the divide between the prescriptions. The prime minister as well as the home minister must not be seen as detached actors expressing helplessness at the state-of-affairs, but should lead from the front.
Second, contrary to the common perception that periodic military setbacks suffered by the security forces are the primary reasons for the continuing extremist domination, the lack of enthusiasm of the civil administration is a bigger reason for areas freed from the extremists relapsing into chaos. Development projects planned for the Saranda region in Jharkhand is an example of this malaise. A solution must be found to make the bureaucracy both at the centre as well as in the states sensitive and participatory in the development projects.
Third, small achievements would remain critical for the state's campaign against the CPI-Maoist. A leaf must be taken from the book of the Maoists, who persevered for years to find support among the tribal population and subsequently dominate the areas. The state must attempt incremental and non-reversible progress against the extremists.
In the first week of May 2014, security forces launched a fresh anti-Naxal operation at the Saranda forests in Jharkhand's West Singhbhum district. The operation was started following intelligence inputs that a squad of armed Maoists had entered the forests. Few days into the operation, the state police Director General of Police (DGP) led a contingent of troops and spent a night deep inside the forests. The motive was to make a point. The media personnel were told by an assertive DGP, “We have conquered Saranda and nobody can dispute it now.”
It was, however, strange for the DGP to affirm the success of his forces, for Saranda had reportedly been conquered three years back. Considered to be a Maoist liberated zone, which housed the Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist)'s Eastern Regional Bureau (ERB) headquarters and also a large number of arms training camps, the impregnability of Saranda had been shattered in 2011.
Between July and September 2011, about 10 battalions of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel conducted Operation Anaconda seeking to liberate the area. Not many encounters took place during the operations, probably due to fact that the Maoists had decided to desert the area rather than to put up a fight. The state duly claimed victory. The domination of the security forces over the 855-square kilometre area had apparently been established.
The recovery of Saranda was important for two reasons. Firstly, it came after the failure and subsequent abandonment of Operation Green Hunt, the multi-theatre counter-Maoist operation which was launched in 2010. The OGH's failure, following a series of Maoist attacks on security forces, had convinced the MHA of the criticality of small area operations as opposed to a nation-wide blitzkrieg against the extremists. The recovery of Saranda through a focussed area approach, thus, became a reaffirmation of the fact that an incremental approach is key to ultimately defeat the extremists.
Secondly, for the Union Ministry of Rural Development, Saranda became a test case for a development-led solution to the Maoist problem. Under Minister Jairam Ramesh, support was extended to Jharkhand's 'Saranda Development Plan' that sought all round development for its inhabitants. It was hoped that the establishment of the civil administration's writ over the area would provide a bulwark against the relapse of the area into extremism. Among the schemes sought to be implemented in the area were housing, connectivity, forest rights, watershed development, drinking water, and employment as well as free distribution of solar lanterns, bicycles and transistors.
Under ideal circumstances, the retreat of the extremists from the area and intervention of the development administration would have been able to make wonders. However, the government's ambitious plans of seeking loyal citizens among the tribal population were nullified to a large extent due to the lack of enthusiastic participation by the civil administration. A prominent newspaper's op-ed piece summed up the developments in Saranda, nine months after the SDP came into being. "Nine months on, police camps sole development in Saranda Plan", the piece appearing in The Hindu, June 2012, read. Other reports detailed how bicycles procured for distribution were rusting in the government offices, solely because no official was prepared to do the ground work of preparing a list of beneficiaries.
Over the passing months, even as Minister Ramesh pleaded to the media to give SDP a "second chance", Saranda saw only a haphazard development initiative, providing enough opportunity for the extremists to attempt a come back. Although the area has not seen much violence in recent times, the necessity for re-launching a security force operation to dominate an area that had already been cleared, underlines the reversal of gains made by the state.
In the near decade-long endeavour of conquest vis-à-vis the CPI-Maoist, a realisation has dawned over the policy-makers that the extremists cannot be defeated through military means alone. Therefore, in spite of what appears to the human rights and civil society organisations to be a predominantly military effort against the Maoists, a number of developmental as well as perception management initiatives have been undertaken by the government. However, this strategy of "clear, hold and develop" has not been able to make much headway mostly due to the fact that the civil administration has remained somewhat reluctant to build upon the accomplishments of the security forces.
For the new government in New Delhi, ways to make the bureaucracy an enthusiastic partner in the counter-Naxal endeavours would remain a key challenge. The political leadership both in New Delhi as well as in the affected states would have to make extra effort to inject vigour into what till now remains a mostly a sluggish civil administrative establishment. In fact, Jharkhand DGP's victory speech on 6 May underlined the key steps required to avoid relapse of recovered areas into extremism. "The villagers now require immediate administrative attention", he said.
That the Communist Party of India-Maoist (Maoist) does not believe in democratic principles and electoral processes is too well known. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections provided the extremist outfit with yet another opportunity to reassert its vision for the country. In words and as well as with accompanied violence, it proved once more that the probability of a negotiated settlement to the long-standing conflict is rather low.
The CPI-Maoist released three sets of somewhat contradictory statements in March 2014, two signed by the spokesperson of the outfit's Central Committee (CC) and one on behalf of the outfit's Eastern Regional Bureau. Dated 24 March, the CC released its customary boycott of elections calling the affair "another huge financial burden on the people", which can not transform the "present exploitative system." Critiquing all the political parties for their dishonest policies towards the tribals, the statement termed the government's peace proposals "deceptive."
Interestingly, another 19-page document was released by the CC on the same day, which contained answers to 11 questions posed by the media persons to the outfit. Responding to a question on the outlook of the outfit on peace talks with the government, the spokesperson stated that while the outfit is "not against Peace Talks with the government", since talks are "an integral part of the political struggle." However, five demands were outlined which the government must fulfil before a peace process could begin. These included declaring the CPI-Maoist a political movement; de-proscribing the outfit and its front organisations; initiating judicial inquiries into the killings of its senior leaders; stopping of security force operations; and releasing arrested leaders/cadres of the outfit.
The statement surprisingly was hailed as the outfit's declaration for peace by the media, ignoring the fact that the conditions outlined have remained an integral part of the outfit's statements in the past. While the outfit expects the government to fulfil some of its most impious demands, the outfit itself has rebuffed the minimum condition laid down by the home ministry to "stop violence for 72 hours" as the lone condition for starting of a peace process.
Few days prior to the release of the twin CC statements, the CPI-Maoist's Eastern Regional Bureau had issued a four-page 'short-term vision document' appealing the masses to chose between "real democracy" or a "pseudo-democratic system." This document, which effectively constituted a manifesto of the outfit, reiterated the need for a "new constitution" including provisions for "equal socio-economic rights to women" and "death penalty compulsory for molestation and rape." It further called for "freedom of speech and expression, right to congregate and protest, form an organisation, primary health care, access to primary education, primary and minimum employment and compulsory participation in daily governance system." The outfit additionally promised not to suppress the separatist movements with the power of the gun, but to "honour nationalist movements and self-decision to allow them dignified and peaceful co-existence (sic)."
Neither the proclamation of intent for peace nor the declaration of its own manifesto, however, stopped the outfit from carrying out a series of attacks on security force personnel, poll officials as well as civilians in the affected states that went to polls. Compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, during which 19 people were killed by the outfit, till the writing of the article, at least 20 civilians and security forces had been killed in Maoist attacks.
These contrasting signals emanating from the outfit signify two possibilities. One, peace negotiation as an instrument of conflict resolution does not figure in the imagination of the extremist outfit and its utterances on a peace process are merely rhetorical. Two, the outfit intends to use violence as a bargaining tool in case a peace process with the government comes to fruition.
Faced with this deceptive extremist strategy, the action plans of the political class to deal with the challenge, remains highly fractured. Going by the manifestos of the political parties, the probability that the new government in New Delhi would be able to address the anomalies of the past and chart a new course looks blurry.
While the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promise to deal with the problem with a "firm hand" and a policy of "zero tolerance" respectively, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) prefers a "multi-lateral dialogue." The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) opines in favour of "specific measures to tackle the socio-economic problems" faced "particularly by the tribal people." The BJP insists that "talks with the insurgent groups will be conditional and within the framework of the constitution." The Congress, on the other hand, is silent on the process of dialogue and prefers to pursue "a development agenda to empower people" in the affected areas. While the CPI-M insists that left-wing extremism is "not just a security issue," the AAP reiterates that "socio-economic development and effective political de-centralisation" hold the key.
A project that attempts to reconcile these stark differences is not only difficult, but is likely to produce a compromised and ineffective policy. Thus, in all probability, left-wing extremism will continue to be a challenge, inhibiting growth, development and governance, in the foreseeable future.
Would the Maoists continue to carry out intermittent attacks targetting the state in the foreseeable future? Or would they eventually disintegrate and disappear owing to a leadership crisis because the state has been able to neutralise some of their top leaders while the remaining are too old for a continuous fight? The answers would shape the response to what has been the most potent case of extremism in India.
Commentary on the activities of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has been in a state of flux in recent years. Commentators have shifted their positions along with incidents and with rising or diminishing death tolls. Two recent instances can be cited. Neutralisation of seven Maoists in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra on 17 February, for instance, underlined that advancement of the state and weakening of the Maoists. However, following two Maoist attacks within a fortnight in Chhattisgarh that killed 20 security force personnel in February and March 2014 in Dantewada and Suka districts, the narrative shifted and the potency of the extremists was reconfirmed. The Maoists, who appeared to have previously weakened, have resurfaced as a real threat to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in certain states.
Much of these fluctuations in analyses owe their origin to the states’ claims of success against the extremists. There is no denying the fact that the security forces have indeed made some advances in the Maoist-affected theatres. The most usual parameter to judge this is the dip in violence in recent years. Compared to 2010, when 1,005 civilians and security forces were killed in extremist attacks, 394 deaths occurred in 2013. Additionally, combined with figures of killings of Maoist cadres, the number of surrenders as well as occasional confirmations from the outfit, the CPI-Maoist's capacity to orchestrate violence has been interpreted as having declined.
If these conclusions are true, how does one interpret the 28 February and 11 March attacks in Chhattisgarh? Are these attacks only aberrations and constitute desperate attempts by the extremists to reiterate their presence, more so before the elections? Or do they indicate that the success of the state was more of a tactical favour granted by the extremists and hence, the lull in violence was merely temporary?
While the assertion that Maoists have indeed killed less civilians and security forces in recent years is sustainable, whether this decline in extremist violence is demonstrative of augmented capacities of the state remains a relevant question. With particular reference to the 11 March attack, the security force establishment has argued in defence of the ambushed Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) team, vouching for its bravery. While some arguments have tried to locate Maoist successes in the violation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) by the security force personnel, the CRPF chief has stated that SOPs are not sacrosanct and can be improvised if situations demand. Similarly, criticisms regarding lack of intelligence and coordination between the central and the state police have all been rebuffed.
If all is well with the mode of operations, why are the security forces regularly falling prey to attacks by a so called weak and demoralised extremist outfit? The answer to this seemingly complicated question is relatively simple. The state, with all its instrumentalities of power, has failed to dominate the extremism-affected territory under question. Blame it either on the lack of adequate strength of security force personnel or a cohesive strategy to dislodge the extremists, the fact remains that much of the territory which report incidents of violence continues to remain under the grip of the extremists.
Either the state's success of neutralising key Maoist leaders through encounters, arrests and surrenders or its inflicting of losses through disruption of means of communication and logistics has not enlarged its writ into the ungoverned territories. As a result, security force raids into extremist-held territories, while making impressive media headlines, have not converted those areas into state-only areas. The lack of a strategy to gradually expand the state's domination is also the reason why the development initiatives of the state have failed to win over the tribals. One cannot expect to have loyalists in areas that are controlled by one’s adversary. And in such areas under extremist domination, the losses undergone by the outfit are recovered fairly rapidly. This is precisely the reason why the statement of the Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde that the state will ‘take revenge’ for the 11 March attack in Chhattisgarh appears hollow.
A few hours after the 11 March attack, a social network page, ostensibly supportive of the extremists, uploaded a picture of a bloodied Indian map along with a gun totting rebel. "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed," Mao Zedong's famous line, was scribbled across the picture. The picture is a pointer towards the future. The Maoist war against the state, as long as it lasts, will be bloody. The least that the state can do is to embark upon a strategy to ensure that the areas in which the Maoists launch these bloody wars are shrunk on a gradual basis.
On 9 June 2013, just before the clock struck midnight, a police contingent in Assam's Tinsukia district boarded the Chennai-Egmore Express, minutes before its three-day long journey, and pulled out 66 youths. A critical intelligence input received by the police had indicated that these youths from tea gardens, Ahom and Moran communities were going to join the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). Following two days of interrogation and confirmation from the employers of the youths in Chennai, all were released. To cover up a major embarrassment, the police establishment forced the parents of the youths to sign undertakings that they would produce their wards before the police whenever asked for. The incident in a way summed the mindset of the security establishment in Assam, which for the past couple of years, has been pursuing a non-existent enemy, invariably under political orders.
Media reports on the alleged inroads made by the CPI-Maoist into the Northeast in general and Assam in particular have produced alarming narratives comprising encounters, arrests, shadowy extremist game plans, and a vision for taking over the region. While few of these incidents are real, most, like the incident narrated earlier, are unsustainable.
Arrested Maoist cadres identified as central committee members, training instructors, and key leaders of the outfit's eastern wing have been found to be old men in the age group of 65 to 70 years, a clear departure from the mainstream Maoist movement whose leaders and cadres are much younger. Post-arrest, the so called high profile cadres like Aditya Bora have been given instant bail by the courts in view of the weak and unsubstantiated charges brought against them. The so called extortion notes recovered in upper Assam districts contain expressions such as ‘Maubadi 147’ and symbols of a rising sun, indicating the involvement of petty criminals posing as Maoists or even cadres of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), whose party symbol is the rising sun. The ‘disappearance’ of 300 youths from various Assam districts has been described as a successful recruitment drive by the CPI-Maoist. The Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border region has been described as the new hotbed of Maoist activity. Hundreds of kilometres separate the area from the nearest Maoist area of activity in West Bengal, violates the principle of contiguity, which the CPI-Maoist steadfastly hold on to in its expansion drive.
Such disquieting narratives, as a result, coexist with saner assessments, incidentally by some of the senior police officials in Assam. They in fact, insist that there is no constituency in Assam which the Maoists can exploit to spread their ideology. In January 2014, Assam's director general of police confirmed that "Maoists have also not yet been able to make strong inroads into Assam."
The purpose of this column here is not to argue that Maoists have no plans for the Northeast. They do. However, that is not a near or medium-term plan for sabotage, armed struggle and carving out of liberated zones in the region, but a more rational and realistic stratagem for using the region's weaknesses and vulnerabilities for weapons procurement and services of the insurgent outfits for training purposes. The joint declaration between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Manipur and the CPI-Maoist goes back to October 2008. As part of the declaration, the PLA in 2010 organised arms training camps for the Maoist cadres in Jharkhand. Maoist leader Kishenji (who was killed in November 2011) travelled to the PLA and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) camps in Manipur and Nagaland respectively to deepen partnership and explore arms purchase and joint training opportunities. The NSCN-IM purchased arms from a Chinese company intended for the Maoists. ULFA chief Paresh Baruah has congratulated the Maoists for their successful ambushes in Chhattisgarh and sent condolence messages following the killing of Maoists in encounters.
However, none of the outfits in the Northeast have ever expressed any desire to let the Maoists operate in what they consider to be their exclusive playing field. The CPI-Maoist has indeed attracted some youths from the region. But those journeys from the Northeast to Maoist camps in the Indian mainland in some ways resemble those undertaken by Muslim youths from all nooks and corners of the world to join the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The objectives of those cadres are certainly not to wage a guerrilla war inside the Northeast but to enforce the ranks of the CPI-Maoist, conforming to their personal ideological affiliation.
This, however, has not stopped Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi from repeatedly demanding the ‘Maoist-affected’ status for Assam's nine districts, which would entitle the affected districts to Rupees 30 crore additional developmental funds every year. Notwithstanding New Delhi's rejection of the demand, Gogoi continues to label civil rights groups and anti-dam movements as Maoist-backed and calls for deployment of additional security forces. If acceded, Assam, which has not reported a single civilian and security force fatality in Maoist violence, would rank along with some of the worst extremist affected states of the country.
Surrender of Gudsa Usendi: Ominous beginning for the Naxals?
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Beginning of 2014 could not have been any worse for the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). The outfit lost one of its trusted lieutenants. On 13 January, spokesperson of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, GVK Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, who not only was in charge of issuing press statements on behalf of the outfit, but was also responsible for some of the its military successes in Chhattisgarh, surrendered to the Andhra Pradesh police. He complained of ill health and disillusionment with the outfit's excessive reliance on violence. He would receive the Rupees 20 lakh which was the bounty on his head. Usendi's surrender was followed by few other surrenders of low and middle ranking cadres in Chhattisgarh.
The CPI-Maoist came out with an audio statement trivializing the impact of Usendi's surrender. Calling him a 'traitor', a 'morally flawed' individual; criticising his ways with the women cadres and the fact that Usendi chose to abandon his wife and surrender with another woman cadre, the statement noted that such surrenders, which is 'not a new phenomenon for the revolutionary movement' would have no impact on the revolution that the Maoists are waging.
At one level, the statement appears to be a natural reaction of the outfit, which has suffered from a series of splits and surrenders, and has also lost a number of senior leaders to arrests and killings in the past years. While deaths and arrests are unavoidable parts of its military campaign, the outfit is most perturbed by the possible impact of the public denouncement of its ideology by its erstwhile lieutenants. By criticising the surrendering cadres and idolising the ones who got killed in encounters with the security forces, the Maoists want to keep their flock together.
Recent history of left-wing extremism in India bears testimony to the damaging impact of neutralisation of key leaders on the outfit's overall activity. Kishenji's killing in November 2011 led to the marginalisation of the Maoists in West Bengal. Sabyasachi Panda's in August 2012 rebellion in Odisha was a serious setback for the outfit's plan of expansion in that state. The September 2009 arrest of Kobad Ghandy and the July 2010 killing of Cherikuri Rajkumar alias Azad constituted blows to the outfit's policy making apparatus as well as to its expansion strategy in southern India. Usendi's sudden departure from the scene would certainly affect the outfit. That the outfit would find a leader to replace him and would eventually overcome his loss is, however, a different debate.
At the other level, the satisfaction expressed in the official circles, post Usendi's surrender that the CPI-Moist would eventually crumble because of its excessive reliance on violence and disenchantment of its cadres from the party's ideology, may be misplaced. That Usendi's surrender and fair treatment accorded to him by the state would lead to a stream of surrenders of top cadres is far fetched. That Maoist violence would die a natural death without any substantial effort from the state is an unreal expectation.
Ground reality in the Maoist conflict theatres may be different. While the level of violence orchestrated in 2010, so far the worst year of Maoist violence, resulting in the deaths of over 900 civilians and security forces would possibly remain unmatched, an upswing in violence, albeit marginal, was recorded in 2013 over the previous year. 270 civilians and security forces were killed in 2013 in various states compared to 250 deaths in 2012. In spite of the killing of 151 Maoist cadres in 2013, the outfit's level of violence did not show much signs of abatement. States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha remained affected by significant amount of extremist mobilisation as well as violence.
Although deployment of about 150 companies of security forces minimised violence during the state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, there was little to suggest that the state is in the process of developing its wherewithal to replicate the Andhra Pradesh success on its soil. Bihar's unique approach towards the problem has merely translated into its diminishing ability to neutralise the Maoists, where as the extremists continue to kill, abduct and snatch weapons. While Maoist inroads into the northeast remains mostly an exaggerated claim by the Assam government, the CPI-Maoist appears to have made concerted efforts for expansion into the southern states.
In 2013, small victories were scored by the security forces against the Maoists. But the year also witnessed setbacks in the form of the Darbha attack in Chhattisgarh in which 27 people including some senior politicians were killed and the killing of an Superintendent of Police in Jharkhand. Moreover, the security forces in Chhattsgarh were also involved in at least two encounters in which civilians rather than extremists were killed, highlighting the persistence of intelligence collection problems. It is the continuing ability to inflict damages on the state, which would keep the CPI-Maoist relevant in the eyes of its sympathisers.
Usendi's surrender is an ominous beginning for the CPI-Maoist, but certainly not the end game.
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