Friday, April 24, 2009

Guerrillas for guerrillas

. Bakshi
April 22, 2009
First Published: 22:16 IST(22/4/2009)
Last Updated: 22:24 IST(22/4/2009)



The 2008 Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir were peaceful and witnessed a record voter turnout. In contrast, the first day of the Lok Sabha polls on April 16, 2009, saw an upsurge of Naxal violence; 14 attacks claimed 16 lives. On Wednesday, ahead of the second phase of polls, Maoists seized a train with nearly 700 passengers in Jharkhand’s Latehar district and triggered blasts in the state and Bihar. The bulk of these attacks have been in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. However, what is a cause for concern is the scale of these coordinated assaults across the Red Corridor, which also includes Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. This insurgency has overtaken both J&K and the Northeast in terms of the threat it poses to the internal security of India.

Demography is often overlooked in our security analysis. Sixty-two per cent of India’s population is in the working- age group and the bulk of them resides in villages. This rural-urban divide fuels Left-wing extremism. Naxalism started as an agrarian rebellion by the Santhals of Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967. But thanks to the lack of political will to undertake reforms in the agrarian sector, all attempts by the State have failed to curb this insurgency.

The Naxal insurgency resurfaced in the 1980s with the rise of the Peoples’ War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). In 2004, the two merged to form the CPI (Maoists). Thereafter, the spatial growth of Left-wing extremism has been dramatic. Large-scale displacement of tribals by hydro-electric projects and extensive mining in jungle areas have led to the third phase of Left-wing extremism. From just nine states and 53 districts in 2001, Naxalism today affects some 203 to 252 districts in 18 states.

The core of the insurgency is Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with significant activity levels in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh (AP), Maharashtra and Orissa. What is becoming a cause for alarm is the adverse casualty ratio between the Police/Central Police Organisations and the Naxals. Between 1999 and 2006, the ratio was 1:1.4 to 1:2. But in 2007-08, this ratio has tilted in favour of the insurgents.

Tribals make natural guerrillas. Only 12 per cent of India’s tribal population lives in the Northeast. They revolted in 1956 and tied down two to six divisions of the Indian Army and three times that number of police and paramilitary forces. Eighty-five per cent of the Indian tribal population lives in central and peninsular India. It is this section that is now in varying stages of rebellion.

Unlike the earlier insurgencies in the Northeast and the terrorist movements in Punjab and J&K, this is not a rim-land insurgency but a heartland rebellion. The Army obviously is not keen to intervene because it will draw its men far away from the borders. The key issue is: can we (or should we) militarise our police forces to quell this insurgency? The world over, armies are employed to tackle insurgencies. Militarising the police forces would take eight to ten years with the existing training infrastructure. Would it be cost-effective or possible to raise tactical skills of state police forces to even a basic military level?

The AP’s Greyhound model — an elite, specialised police force — is the solution. Can the AP model be replicated in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand? The outlook is pessimistic as the state of road infrastructure in these two states is not as good as in AP. The better road communication network in AP enabled the police to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been focusing more on raising the general level of training of the entire police force rather than creating an elite force.

In these states, counter-insurgency training and operations are treated as punishment postings and the morale of the policemen is poor.

If this fight deteriorates further, the government will have to consider a genuine para-militarisation of the conflict, i.e. intervention by the Rashtriya Rifles or the Assam Rifles. Or, we might consider a repeat of Operation Steeple Chase (Army assistance provided to anti-Naxal operations in Bengal in 1971) and the focus should Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

G.D. Bakshi is a retired Major General of the Indian Army.

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