How effective is the Central and state forces’ joint operation against the Maoists?
The whole approach is wrong. Joint operation is not the only answer to this problem. It is a socio-economic issue for which a military solution is unacceptable. I was amazed when a senior IAS officer recently said that the Air Force should be used to exterminate them. How can you kill your own people? An operation should be conducted to set right the wrongs of 1,000 years. A case in point is Andhra Pradesh (AP), which controlled the Maoist problem by effective policing. When they cracked down, the Maoists fled to Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra. In reality, AP didn’t solve the problem. They only put a lid on it. It is again raising its head in that state.
But the Maoists are on a killing spree. How else to deal with this?
The paramilitary force can be deployed only to contain the problem and prevent it from spreading. During insurgency, the security forces reclaim land from the stranglehold of insurgents and then concentrate on area domination. The force must behave well with villagers, help them say, by sending a doctor once a week to treat locals. That will win the confidence of the people, who will, in turn, come out to help the security forces. People joined the Maoists because they were the first ones to come to tribals who have been deprived and exploited for ages and offer them some hope. Why can’t the government go to the people and address their grievances?
So what should be the strategy to deal with the Maoist problem?
The government wants to solve the problem but doesn’t want to touch the net of corruption. So, joint operations are resorted to. I am told the spin-offs from sale of tendu leaves in Chhattisgarh and AP reaches right up to Delhi.
Give tribals their due and conduct joint operations to prevent the spread of the problem - both should go hand in hand. The thrust should be on eliminating the root cause of the Maoist problem. Enforce land sealing, enact laws that ensure tribals get maximum benefit from forest produce and mining, cut out intermediaries and stamp out corruption. That is the only cure for the problem. If the government can do that, those who joined the Maoists will drop arms and surrender. After all, Maoists are exploiting their grievances and using them to achieve their ultimate goal - capture State power.
What then is the root cause of the problem?
It’s not just bad governance but exploitation by upper castes who are big landowners in most states. Caste is a very important cause that has allowed the Maoists to strike roots and spread. In most places in India, four-fifths of the people work for just one-fifth of the population. In AP, for instance, upper caste landlords have been exploiting the masses for ages. Especially in Telangana and Srikakulam, this is most evident. There is a practice in these areas where a man had to offer his bride to the landlord first. There are numerous ballads that lament, “There is no hope for our women.”
Does the joint operation suffer from lack of intelligence inputs?
The success of any insurgency operation depends on good intelligence inputs. How will you get actionable intelligence from the ground if you treat the people there like dirt? Building a good rapport with the local people in the affected areas is key to developing an intelligence network.
Is there a lack of coordination between the state police and paramilitary forces?
The capability of the state government is limited. The central forces shouldn’t depend on the states so much. I feel the BSF would have been better at counter-insurgency operations. The CRPF is not accustomed to handling insurgency. It is primarily a law and order force. Good leadership is required. Officers should lead from the front. They should set an example for the force to follow.
Given the increasing demands of internal security, there is a serious shortage of IPS officers, especially at cutting-edge level of SPs and DIGs. To meet the shortage, the Union home ministry is thinking about the lateral entry of officers from the central paramilitary forces into the IPS. Is that a good idea?
It is absolutely a wonky idea. It’s absurd. Every service has an ethos. A person from a central paramilitary force (CPF) is half-soldier. He is trained to attack, to shoot and kill. An IPS officer, on the other hand, is taught the laws of the land and how to enforce the laws. He/she is taught to be moderate. Also, investigation is an important component of policing but not in CPFs. So, it will be difficult for a CPF officer to fit into the police. The police-public interface is extensive. The police interact with people, talk to them to resolve a crisis. Firing is absolutely the last resort and even then, it is mostly not done to kill. A paramilitary guy in the police (would be) like putting somebody who can’t swim in a pond. Moreover, age is a factor. In police, it’s always younger the better.