Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tackling Maoists: the andhra paradigm

By Col JK Achuthan

“The armed Threat from within is more dangerous than any external Threats.” -Leon Trotsky


INTRODUCTION

Today the greatest danger to India’s independence and flourishing democracy is the danger posed by the ever widening zones of Maoist influence. The Maoists want to turn back the clock of history by a hundred years and engulf India in flames, thereby ceding great advantages to our predatory adversaries who are playing a waiting game like the hungry wolves of the highlands. The Maoists are even prepared to split India in order to seize power over whatever parts they can effectively control. This danger will get magnified if ever the Indian Army gets involved in the political game to drag it into anti Maoist operations. We cannot let the same error committed by the KMT regime in China during the last century be repeated in India. Since ‘law and order’ is normally a State subject, many of the States having large proportion of poor and tribal population have been turning a blind eye, and the politicians-contractors-elites have been desperately trying to work out temporary arrangements to buy peace.

Maoists and the Armed Forces

Today the Maoists dominated areas already cover the vast coal, iron ore, and alumina rich mining areas, as well as many vital hydroelectric and irrigation dam project areas of the country, thereby directly threatening swift national development and vital investments. As the Maoists can freely move from one State to another through the adjacent forested areas, they are able to concentrate their cadres and strike with dreadful effect even on very large targets like Jails, District HQs, large raw material factories, hijack trains, or disrupt national rail and road corridors with impunity. These acts cause a further telling demoralizing effect on the affected State’s Police Force, while the other neighbouring States watch and think themselves to be lucky this time. The Central Government has been busy keeping statistics and occasionally taking political mileage in opposition ruled States, while its Home Ministry’s Paramilitary Forces remains divided as several separate entities without any central unified controlling, coordinating and internal security operations directing HQ. Had this situation existed in say Iran, all the PMFs would have been merged into the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and would have emerged as an elite force dreaded by their opponents even more than their country’s Army. In this quagmire of political rivalries, bureaucratic inaction, police empires, and lack of support for imaginative, effective policing coupled with simultaneous government supported developmental schemes, the shining example of Andhra Pradesh stands out within the Indian Union - in tackling the Maoists’ violence head on and winning the war hands down. The Andhra Pradesh Police have borrowed the motto of the famous Selous Scouts (of Rhodesia), “The Bush War has to be Fought in the Bushes” and lived up to it.

Background to the Maoist Movement in India

The first armed Communist movement in India took place in the Telengana region of present day Andhra Pradesh during the early fifties. It was brutally put down after great loss of life and unleashing of oppression against the poor peasants. The movement’s leaders included several idealists, though they too committed heinous and unpardonable crimes. The Telengana region even today has produced the most dedicated and committed Maoist cadres and leaders in India.

During the late sixties and early seventies the Naxalite movement started and spread in many parts of India, most notably in West Bengal and Kerala. But within a matter of five to six years, this dangerous and anarchist ideology was effectively tackled by the State Police forces and many of those who had taken up arms were eliminated. Generally peace prevailed from the mid seventies onwards. Leftist ideologues continued their activities using democratic means and formed many regional splinter groups. However their mass influence and acceptance was minimal. From the mid nineties many armed radical Communist Dalams became active in the common underdeveloped and adjacent forested areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Chathisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. However it was the leaders from Andhra Pradesh who took the lead to unify these groups, formulate their common dogma and policies, start centralized armed training of core cadres, ensure an efficient arms and explosives procurement network, coordinate the intelligence gathering by over ground workers and sympathizers, and develop operational capabilities based on hitting weak targets with overwhelming local superiority followed by quick dispersal. They worked amongst the poor and dispossessed and acted frequently against the exploiters thus gaining a strong local following and acceptability.

Maoist Threat and Politics

Their morale also got a tremendous boost when the Nepali Maoist movement became very strong and entrenched against the oppressive and corrupt Royal rule there. Thus a great swathe of Maoist dominated influence came into being by the first decade of this century. Funds flowed into their coffers from the mining interests, contractors, and from illegal octroi collections. The States abdicated their authority over vast regions, as long as the semblance of normalcy could be maintained and the electoral interests of the dominant political party could be taken care of. However this facade had to crack one day, as the doctrine of power dictates that the superior entity has to keep on expanding in order to ensure its very survival, until a balance of power and human failings combine to dictate the limits. We have presently reached this stage in our country. The Maoists, respective State Governments, and the Central Government have all become aware of each other’s strengths, but are not yet ready to raise the stakes any further and go all out for the required push which is essential to achieve total victory.

The Situation in Andhra Pradesh during the Nineties and Early Part of this Decade

The newly formed Telugu Desam had stormed to power in 1989 creating a world record for the shortest period after registration as a political party, for an entity to win an election. Many populist schemes were undertaken by NT Rama Rao during his first stint as CM, and he enjoyed vast mass support. During his next term in office after winning power again in the 1994 elections, many deviations and laxity of administration set in, besides family squabbles, which culminated in his being unseated and the reins of power going to N Chandrababu Naidu in 1995 who was an astute politician and a strong administrator. Simultaneously the Maoist organisations became strong all over Andhra Pradesh. Many youths flocked to this movement both as over-ground workers as well as in the ranks of the underground armed cadres. A parallel administration was created in many Mandals (Taluks). But Chandrababu Naidu also rose to the occasion and tackled the bull by the horns. Being not part of the Central Government, he did not expect much help from the Centre nor did he wish to be overly dependant. After several brainstorming sessions with his close advisers and noted security experts, he decided upon a two pronged approach of re-establishing the writ of the civil administration and ensuring that developmental works are pursued, and secondly strengthening and revitalizing the Police Force whatever be the costs. The Andhra Pradesh Police Force underwent a total transformation in its work culture and level of accountability and within a year’s time started showing results against the Maoists. They gained the upper hand against the entrenched Maoists who then either laid low or migrated to neighbouring States, or got eliminated.

Terrorist Tentacles In India

This activist policy was continued by his successor YS Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress who won the elections in 2004. YSR’s entire focus was on the upliftment of the rural population. He spent the colossal sum of Rs 50,000 crores in setting up new irrigation schemes and improving the existing ones over a period of five years. Slowly the peasants became Kulaks and benefited from State sponsored subsidies like free power, land allotments, heavily subsidized housing schemes, scholarships, free emergency ambulance service, very low cost Group Health Insurance Scheme (Arogyasri) - where the costs of treatment in any private hospital for any serious ailment was fully reimbursed to the poor. The oxygen of the Maoists got turned off, as here was a Government which was totally focused on rural development and upliftment of the poor classes, even though urban development and industrial sectors were gravely neglected compared to the previous Telugu Desam government. But at no time was security ever neglected. The Central funding components could be tapped to the fullest extent for various schemes, and this helped the State to usher in even larger budgets. Andhra Pradesh today has the largest state budget in India, even bigger than that of Bangladesh.

AP Government’s Successful Methods Against the Maoists and Its Police Tactics

The State Police’s Intelligence Wing has been separated from the Police HQs and made an independent establishment reporting directly to the CM’s Office. It does not have any rigid territorial restrictions and can follow up any leads. The intelligence setup has been provided with competent officers, ample funds, and necessary technical backup. Next, most of the Armed Reserve Police Battalions have been converted into Commando Units and they come under the Greyhounds Grouping having a separate IG. All new Police inductees have to spend their first four years of service in these Greyhound Units before getting their transfer to the District Police Establishments. Meritorious service with the Greyhound Units has been made a mandatory requirement to get accelerated promotions, including for filling up of Grade I Officer Posts selection vacancies in the State Cadre.

The naked truth of Naxalism

All Greyhound personnel serving in Maoist affected areas were given 50 per cent additional Commando Pay as incentive. The Greyhounds Training School was revamped and new Training Courses and Methodologies introduced, which are conducted with strict devotion and supervision. Suitable training facilities have been built up at each Greyhounds Unit location for imparting refresher training. The concept of keeping one Administrative and Security Duties Company and one Training Company at all times in the Battalion HQ has been strictly implemented. Most importantly the remaining six companies were deployed as three Joint Operational Bases (JOBs) consisting of two companies each. Experience proved that single company deployment was not giving optimum operational results nor providing the necessary nucleus for the civil administration to function safely and effectively in the Maoist affected regions.

These JOBs in the heart of Maoist affected areas were located within mutually supporting distances. It was normal for a complete Greyhounds Battalion to be deployed within 1-2 gravely Maoist affected Mandal (Taluk) areas, as then they could operate without fear of IEDs, ambushes etc. Each such Greyhound JOB also had two Home Guard Platoons who were recruited from amongst the locals. Over a period of time, they acted as guides, interpreters etc, besides performing most of the routine garrison functions, thus freeing the Greyhounds for ‘area domination’ and ’seek encounter’ patrolling operations. Each Greyhound JOB could send out upto four platoon strength patrols out, at any given time. Hostel facilities were created within the JOB for the Government officials of various rural development departments as well as for contractors and their staff to stay and work in total safety. Each Greyhound JOB always had a Dy SP/Asst SP ranked Class I Gazetted Officer as In Charge. This created a sea change in the environment and ensured accountability for maintaining sustained operations. Within a few months itself, the Maoists started feeling asphyxiated as their domination ended.

Carrot and Stick!

Another important functional aspect was that the Greyhounds did not report to or work under the District Police set up. The Greyhound Units reported to the Special DIG HQ In Charge for that Maoist affected Region, overlapping- several adjacent districts. Their operations were supplemented by adequate Technical Intelligence Teams working under this Special DIG HQ, which could intercept any wireless transmission made by the Maoists and do the Direction Finding Fix. With the advent of cellular phones, they also specialized in tracking down Maoist locations using fixes made from two or more cell phone Towers. This enhanced the accuracy of directed response, and reduced the time lag for the Greyhound patrol teams to make active contact with the Maoist Dalams. The credit for developing the Greyhounds’ organization, selection, training and successful tactics primarily goes to their then IG Dr Durga Prasad, who could out-think and outwit the well entrenched Maoists and also keep progressively adapting.

The sustained campaign carried out by the Andhra Pradesh State Police during 2005 to clear the Nallamalla Hills region in the heart of Andhra Pradesh encompassing the adjacent forested areas of Kurnool, Prakasam, and Kadapa districts is a classic success story in counter insurgency operations in India, worth being emulated by even the Indian Army in J&K. The Maoist Dalams were well embedded in this region for over 15 years and nobody from the Government dared to go into these areas. Four Greyhound Units working under a single Special DIG HQ established 13 JOBs covering the mountainous and forested terrain of approximately 5000 sq km. This works out to an area coverage of approximately 400 sq km per JOB at the peak of operations. The Maoists reacted very violently with great stealth, IED blasts, assassination of locals, and planned ambushes. But within a matter of six months, the weekly attrition rates started taking their toll and their cadres got demoralized, as they had to keep running in the jungles constantly without getting shelter and sufficient help from the habitated areas. The Greyhounds went on improving in their tactics and morale. Their losses were few and were immediately replaced in both men and equipment. After a year’s time there were no more Maoists left in this area and they were forced to give up this legendary bastion. Thereafter the Greyhounds strength there was reduced to one half of the original deployment. After the period of active operations was over, the Greyhounds deployment in the JOBs was never brought down to below Company strength for very sound operational and functional reasons, and the Maoists have so far not ventured to come back into this erstwhile ‘liberated’ zone. The relieved Greyhound Units have been redeployed onto the other Maoist affected interstate border areas, where they have repeated their operational successes and driven the Maoists out of AP. The neighbouring States then started requesting the Greyhounds to operate across the border.

The Big Picture

The lesson learnt is that there is no armed insurgency in India which cannot be put down within two years, if the right proportion of forces differential is created and sustained locally for at least a period of six months. After wiping out the insurgents in a particular area, 50 per cent of the Security Forces can be redeployed to another area to create the right Forces differential there. The French treatise ‘Pacification Operations in Algeria’ written in 1963 by Col David Galuta clearly summarized counterinsurgency as “80 per cent protection of the civil population by cutting down ‘unrisky access’ to them by the insurgents, and the balance 20 per cent of the effort to be directed in maintaining a steady and sustained attrition rate - on weekly and monthly basis.” At no cost should the first cleared target region be left totally denuded of Security Forces deployment, otherwise within a matter of a few months, insurgency conditions will be back to previous levels, and the hard won gains would have soon got frittered away.

The Economics and Good Governance Aspects of the Anti Maoist Offensive in AP

What Chandrababu Naidu perfected as the new Police methodology to tackle and root out the armed Maoist groupings, this has been exceeded in far greater measure and significance by his successor, the Late YS Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) in his epochal shifting of the direction of State spending towards the Rural Sector, creation of additional irrigation potential (Jalayagnam Scheme), and several Poverty Alleviation Programmes never before seen in India since Independence. The total allocations for Rural Sector activities are double that of for all the Urban Sector - Infrastructure Development, and Industrial Promotion activities combined. This approach had not only brought rich political dividends, but also has knocked the winds out of all Maoist and Naxalite ‘ground level organizers’ even in the most remote hamlets. The popular saying goes that though the roads in Andhra Pradesh may still be full of potholes, and the urban areas perhaps the dirtiest, but in the rural areas there is not a single member of a poor household who has not benefited from at least three of the following freebies - viz seven hours of assured and free electricity for agricultural activity, free low cost house, 25 kg of heavily subsidized rice for each household, Very Low Cost (and all encompassing) Health Insurance Scheme (Arogyasri), Reimbursement of Higher Education Fees for low income families, and anyone type of Social Welfare Pension for the Aged or Destitute. YSR never gave the least opportunity or space to his political detractors to exploit any popular resentment, and he was always found touring and checking the progress of development activities in all the districts of this vast State.

Conclusion

Tackling the long-standing and burning issue of armed Maoist violence and unquestioned domination of the vital raw materials producing regions of the country has become an urgent national issue which can no longer be procrastinated or wished away. The Maoists have cleverly played upon the sentiments and decades of developmental neglect experienced by the poor people in remote regions, to build up a strong base of sympathizers, dedicated over-ground workers, and most significantly - armed Dalams consisting of battle hardened cadres who have already tasted success and have no fear of the Security Forces. They can now converge into Battalion or Brigade sized groupings at their time and place of choosing. With each passing day the Police Forces of the affected States grow more limp and hold the Maoists in greater dread. The Maoists are clearly winning the battle of the mind and they only have to wait to increase in strength. At this rate the Maoist problem will soon start pulling down the country’s favourable GDP growth rate by at least one to two per cent. It is true that Law and Order is a State subject, but the Centre cannot wash its hand away, especially in areas where there is no law and order left and the affected States are asking for help. Anti-Maoist operations cannot be treated like the hurried and non-organic additional deployment of Paramilitary Forces during election time. It is no point assigning some additional number of PMF Companies collected from different Units from many parts of the country, to be placed at the disposal of the district administration for short periods. The district police set up have neither the competence nor the required focus and skills to carry out full fledged anti-insurgency operations at their level. What is essentially required is to work out the ‘CI Grid deployment’ based on JOBs, and the State Police/Central PMF Special DIG HQs should be made in charge of operations, as had been done in Andhra Pradesh. To ensure accountability, coordination, and willing cooperation of all the available Forces, there is the dire need to set up a single empowered DG level HQ of the Central PMF to coordinate with the respective State Police HQs. There should be a method worked out so that the deployment of the Central Home Ministry Forces should not last more than a period of two years, during which time the State Police Forces must get sufficiently built up and trained on the Greyhounds pattern, to relieve them permanently. This implies that the deployment pattern of the Central PMFs has to change every year, so that the correct Forces differential can be created in the specified areas. The PMFs have the obvious disadvantage of not knowing the local language and customs, therefore adequate local State Police or Home Guards should be attached to them. The Maoist menace can surely be defeated by adopting a pan-India activist and sustained developmental approach, piecemeal and sporadic campaigns will surely fail miserably.


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