Left-wing Extremism: A Tentative Pathway to a Solution
06 Oct, 2021 · 5789
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray argues that while there is official understanding of what challenges remain, these issue areas have yet to be addressed
Bibhu Prasad RoutrayVisiting Fellow
“I request all Hon'ble Chief Ministers to focus on what we term as good governance. The Hon'ble Home Minister has also laid emphasis on this aspect of the management and containment strategy. This would include effective implementation of development programmes, periodic monitoring and ensuring that there are no leakages.” These were the words of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, at the Chief Minister’s Meet on Naxalism on 13 April 2006.
Fast forward to 2021.
On 26 September 2021, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking at the meeting of chief ministers and senior officials of the ten states affected by Left-wing Extremism (LWE) violence, said, “The root cause of dissatisfaction is that development has not reached there in last six decades since independence and now to deal with it, it is very essential to ensure accessibility to fast-paced development so that common and innocent people do not join them.” Fifteen years since Dr Singh’s speech, it seems that New Delhi is still grappling with the basic challenges that sustain the violent internal security challenge.
There is, however, a contextual difference. Singh was speaking when the LWE influence was expanding, with confirmed extremist presence in 160 districts of the country. In subsequent years, LWE was to gather further momentum, affecting 230 districts of the country’s 20 states. Of these, about 90 were seriously affected. Shah, on the other hand, was speaking at LWE’s weakest point. According to the MHA, the number of districts covered by the Security Related Expenditure Scheme is now only 70 (as in July 2021), compared to 126 in 2018. Similarly, the number of ‘most affected districts’ by LWE violence has declined to 25 in July 2021 from 35 before April 2018. Eight of these ten districts are now categorised as ‘districts of concern’ amid apprehensions that extremists may be able to reclaim them, if adequate steps are not taken.
Notwithstanding its current operational weakness, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) continues to stick to its belief in armed struggle and manages to carry out intermittent attacks on security forces. In early April, 22 security personnel were killed in an ambush by the CPI-Maoist group, in the Tarrem area of the Bijapur-Sukma district border in southern Chhattisgarh. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, this year (till 25 September 2021), 42 civilians and 48 security personnel have been killed in LWE-related incidents. If this trend continues for the remainder of 2021, the number of security personnel killed will surpass the 2019 figure of 49. Arguably, the ability to inflict casualties, mostly in surprise attacks, is allowing the CPI-Maoist group to retain relevance among its cadres and supporters.
Home Minister Amit Shah, in his speech on 26 September 2021, also spoke about the need to choke Naxal funding to crack down on the LWE’s front organisations, and the need for multiple states to conduct joint operations, especially in inter-state border areas. He cautioned that without eliminating the threat, it would not be possible to “spread democracy to the bottom nor will we be able to develop the underdeveloped areas.” At best, this is an admission that the weakened CPI-Maoist group still constitutes a huge hurdle in the implementation of the government’s development initiatives.
The project of curbing the remaining violence potential of the CPI-Maoist group continues to be affected by two major lacunae. Firstly, the trust deficit that persists between the security forces and the civilian population in LWE-affected areas, and secondly, the operational deficiencies among the security forces. In Chhattisgarh, which witnesses the bulk of the CPI-Maoist group’s activities, this acute trust deficit was on full display during the month-long protests in Sukma district. In May and June 2021, thousands of villagers from more than 30 far-flung hamlets converged in Silger to protest against the setting up of a security force camp. They dispersed only after a civil society group met with the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, but they vowed to return if their demands to remove the camp were not met. The camp in question still stands.
A recent news editorial quoting from an internal performance review of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India’s lead counter-insurgency force, pointed at what remains an enduring problem with the operations carried out by the forces in LWE-affected areas. According to this editorial, the internal review found that in the past two years, CRPF operations have suffered from a significant dip in quality owing to the non-involvement of senior officers at the level of commandant and second-in-command. This single factor may have resulted not only in the deaths of security personnel in ambushes laid by extremists, but also in the killings of civilians, as the forces in question are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and extremists, as evidenced by the findings of an inquiry committee. Yet another report, which possibly explains the ‘absentee senior leadership in combat operations’ phenomenon, explains how the acute shortage of manpower has forced the CRPF to induct relatively aged personnel, well past their prime, as assistant and deputy commandants and commandants in all deployment theatres, including the LWE-affected areas. This compromise on physical attributes, leading to a unit of young soldiers being led by aged men, is bound to affect the unit’s performance.
The war on a grossly weakened LWE has clearly entered a different phase. To claim the remaining pockets occupied by extremists, the focus must stay on the deficiencies of the state as well as that of the centre. Understandably, there is sufficient awareness in official circles about these shortfalls and inadequacies. The main challenge, therefore, is to address them. Till then, the customary rhetorical emphasis on development initiatives and security force operations is not going to bear fruit.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director, mantraya.org.
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