Red Affairs

Combating Naxal Violence: Transient and Permanent Success

17 Mar, 2014    ·   4341

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray comments on the importance of a strategy that ensures the gradual shrinking of areas that witness Maoist attacks

Bibhu Prasad Routray
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Visiting Fellow

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.