Friday, April 16, 2021

Kamal Davar | Ramping security or building trust, how best to tame India’s Maoists?

The Asian Age. | Kamal Davar


With alacrity, the Centre will have to re-energise its security strategies to combat the Naxals

The Indian Army must train police and paramilitary commandos in special operations and leadership skills at the combat levels. (Representational Photo: PTI)

The Indian Army must train police and paramilitary commandos in special operations and leadership skills at the combat levels. (Representational Photo: PTI)

The audacious ambush by Naxals in the Bijapur badlands of the Chhattisgarh state, killing 22 Special Forces policemen and injuring 30 others on April 3, 2021, brought forth the discomforting reality of India’s inadequate preparedness in dealing with its most serious internal security affliction, namely, the Naxal-Maoist challenge. That these avoidable casualties are attributed to an operation which was mounted by our own forces to nab the charismatic young Naxal leader, Madvi Hidma, in the Tekulguda region of Bastar — a hotbed of Naxal activities since decades — makes this tragic incident all the more embarrassing for those who conceived and mounted it.

 The video released by the Naxals, of the release ceremony of police commando, Rakeshwar Singh Minhas, captured by them in this botched-up police operation with a large turnout of cheering local villagers should warn the Indian state to streamline its strategy to combat Left Wing Extremism (LWE) — the generic and official name for the Naxal-Maoist insurgency.

Though some in the security establishment have felt that over the years the Maoist-Naxal threat has reduced considerably with the “Red Corridor” shrinking gradually, the official statistics of India’s ministry of home affairs do not convey the same improvement in the internal security operations to counter LWE. MHA figures reveal that only 46 districts are now seriously affected by LWE while 90 districts over 11 states are covered under the special security-related expenditure scheme of the government. The official MHA website also conveys that between 2004 and 2019, 8,197 civilians have been killed by the Naxals, mostly tribals, after brutal tortures as they were branded as “police informers”. In addition, between 2018 and November 2020, 460 Naxals were eliminated whilst 161 security forces personnel lost their lives in the same period.

During the past 15 years or so, the deadly dimensions of Naxal-related violence have manifested many times, surprising our security forces dealing with the Naxal insurgency, primarily in states like Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkand and Bihar. It cannot be ever forgotten how in one of the largest Naxal attacks on security forces personnel, Maoists had killed 75 CRPF personnel in Dantewada district on April 6, 2010. Similarly, on May 25, 2013, 25 senior Congress leaders including former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla were massacred in Darbha Valley in Chhatisgarh. The Naxals have successfully snatched weapons from security personnel after killing them, continue employing high-intensity IEDs at will in various innovative ambushes and even managed to hijack a train! The list of Naxal successes is, unfortunately, rather exhaustive.
It will be prudent for India’s security establishment to factor in the reality that the burgeoning Maoist-Naxal threat has a distinct external dimension with the wily Chinese supplying arms and ammunition to the Naxals through the “Red Corridor” via our North-East and the Nepal border. These insurgents derive their inspiration from the late Chinese Communist supremo, Mao Zedong, who had once declared that “revolutionary warfare is never confined within the bounds of military action because the purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and replace them with a completely new structure”. It is not surprising thus that the Naxal movement, which emerged from the cauldron of agrarian unrest in an unknown West Bengal village of Naxalbari has, over the years, acquired a separatist and a grave violent orientation.  
Though, unquestionably, governments at the Centre and the concerned states have brought in some improvements in the fight to counter LWE, yet the recurrence of deadly incidents, occurring off and on, should propel the Centre to conceive and implement a National Strategy. Basic factors, including shameful economic and social disparities that exist in our nation, may give rise to rural and urban unrest but remain largely unaddressed in most of the states. Some well-meaning people have argued that a major root cause of growing Naxalism has been the willful reluctance of the states and the Centre to not promulgate the Ninth and Fifth Schedules of the Constitution which enforces relevant land laws and which will benefit the tribals and the poor inhabiting the forests. However, to merely attribute the spread of LWE to poverty and lack of development will be a rather simplistic formulation.   
As the Centre and state governments reach out to the poor and hapless to alleviate their sufferings, Naxal leadership must be contacted to give up their armed struggles, embrace the amnesty announced by the governments and join the national mainstream. In the past, unfortunately, it has been experienced that the LWE leadership has not only refused the administration’s peace and rehabilitation efforts, but also deliberately targeted developmental activities of the government in the remote areas. Schools, hospitals, post offices and even the labour force engaged in some construction works have been violently attacked.

With alacrity, the Centre will have to re-energise its security strategies to combat the Naxals. Better training, modern light equipment and weaponry for the police and the central forces earmarked for these operations have to ensured. Above all, ground-level intelligence structure using locals needs to be re-invigorated. High-tech gadgetry including sophisticated communication and monitoring equipment, helicopters and drones need to be extensively fielded. The Indian Army must train police and paramilitary commandos in special operations and leadership skills at the combat levels. Finally, synergy between the Centre and states machinery to effectively combat the highly motivated Naxals is paramount

Jharkhand Cops Killing: NIA Names 18 Maoists In 2nd Charge Sheet


New Delhi:  The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday said that it has filed second supplementary charge sheet against 18 accused, most of them members of the banned CPI-Maoist in the case of killing of five police personnel in Jharkhand in June 2019.

An NIA spokesperson here said that the agency has named Sunil Tudu, Budhram Mardi aka Budhuram Mardi, Shriram Manjhi, Naresh Lohar aka Ramu Lohar, Alamgir Ansari, Lakhan Sardar, Joshep Purty aka Tipu, Annem Hassa Purti aka Anem Hassa Purty, Tabarak Ansari, Mangal Topno aka Lalu Sardar, Soyna Singh Sardar, Jitrai Munda, Boyda Pahan, Rakesh Munda, Naina, Maharaj Pramanik, Amit Munda and Anal Da, all residents of Jharkhand, under several sections of the IPC, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act.

The case pertains to deadly attack on the police patrolling party by Maoists at Kukru Haat in Saraikela-Kharswan district on June 14, 2019. The rebels also looted arms and ammunition of the killed policemen.

A case was registered by Jharkhand Police and it had filed a charge sheet against 11 accused. The NIA took over the probe December on 9, 2020.

The NIA official said that investigation has revealed that Anal Da, the Central Committee Member and Secretary of Bihar Jharkhand Special Area Committee CPI-Maoist, in collusion with other leaders, had conspired and planned the attack.

“The recce of the place of incident was carried for around a month and final planning for execution was done at Arhanja forest on June 13. Maoists had planned minute details and had carried out extensive rehearsals for the attack,” the official said.

“Investigation also established that the plan was executed under the leadership of Maharaj Pramanik, Zonal Commander of Bundu Chandil Sub Zone, who had also enlisted the help of over ground workers and sympathisers of CPI-Maoist,” the official said.

The attack was carried out in order to loot the arms and ammunition, further strengthen their organisation and also as a retaliation for the killing of one of their cadres, Pradeep Swasi, by the security forces in that area, he added.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Left Wing Extremism: Neutralizing India’s internal threats

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raised Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), to combat the Naxals but time and again the force has suffered at the hands of these Naxals.


The most lethal fighting unit of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), Battalion No. 1 headed by Madvi Hidma; has its base in Bastar Division. (Representational image: IE)

By Brig Akhelesh Bhargava (Retd)

Among the many threats that our country witnesses, internal threat by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is one that has been simmering for long. Over the decades, our Paramilitary Forces (PMF) have been given a free hand to equip themselves with improved weapons and support technology, as required to combat the Naxals in Central India. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raised Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), to combat the Naxals but time and again the force has suffered at the hands of these Naxals.

The most lethal fighting unit of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), Battalion No. 1 headed by Madvi Hidma; has its base in Bastar Division. The Gondi speaking tribes residing in the dense forest of Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kanker and Kondagaon are known to be exploited by the Naxals. The Naxals are adapt in living off the land and have become a messiah to these tribes in the absence of governance and development. Further the terrain is ideal for hit and run and Naxals have adapted to the tactics; surprising the forces at will. CRPF, the lead agency for anti-Naxal operations, has suffered many setbacks at the hands of the Maoists.

On the night of April 2, around 1900 plus security personnel left their camps in Tarrem, (Bijapur district of Bastar Division), for an operation. The multi-force group included men from the state police’s Special Task Force (STF), the District Reserve Guard (DRG), the Bastar Battalion and the CRPF’s CoBRAs. The operation was planned against Maoist commander, Madvi Hidma, mastermind of several ambushes. The planning for operation was apparently done by IG Operations Nalin Prabhat, IPS. He was DIG during the April 2010 massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada.

The operation has been analysed by many and an after-action report will also be submitted. Four new camps (equivalent of company operating base or COB) were established by the forces, months preceding the operation. The forces were expected to carry out area domination by patrolling on different routes and getting to know their respective area of responsibility (AOR). Middle rung officers were supposed to accompany the platoon and company size forces for such activity. A log of such activity should be available if it was done at all. The media could reach the sight, before the forces could retrieve their martyrs. How come, they could not find any Maoist casualty, though the DG CRPF claim that a large number of Maoist were also killed. If the force strength was so big, a counter attack should have been launched albeit if the leadership was present on ground. For such an operation, few Quick Reaction Teams (QRT) should have been deployed, foreseeing such an eventuality (taking a cue from the past) to get behind the Maoist and encounter them from the rear. Apparently, there were none. The withdrawal from operations site should have been bound to bound in small parties; keeping ones back covered. The men were perhaps in great hurry to get back to safe confines of their camp – clearly reflecting that the senior leadership was not in control and had left the personnel to their fate.The availability of drones, jammers, snooping devices, satellite imagery, et all; is available in the country. When an operation of this size was being planned, was the employment of these gadgets to provide real time picture to junior leadership on ground considered? Looks like this was overlooked too!

The release ceremony of the captured CRPF commando in front of the huge gathering of villagers and the photo-ops; is a great demoraliser. Hope it is avenged soon. For that to happen, the CRPF hierarchy and the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers have to carry out some introspection. Some suggestions that should be incorporated are listed below:

Administrative Aspects: CRPF should move complete battalion to operational location instead of just the operating companies. The battalion headquarters are hundreds of miles away from ground realities. The Battalion Commander (60 to 70 % IPS) is disconnected from the troops on ground. He should lead from the front rather than from the precincts of his office. The administrative requirements of the troops deployed in intense operational environment are a plenty including proper relief planning. In the Bilaspur Division Gondi language is spoken. By now CRPF should have a sizeable number of Gondi speaking troops to act as interpreters. Basic understanding of the language should be compulsory for all officers posted in the region.

Operational :The top hierarchy while planning operation at such large scale should stay in AOR for considerable time, walk on foot to see the ground realities and not rely on intelligence which is weeks old. A grid of company sized camps be established in Naxal prone areas to give a honey-comb effect. Just a few camps which are far spread, won’t reap much help. Company officers should stay within camps and not in rest houses. They should have tenures of minimum two years in operational area and know their men in detail. The camps should be located within the AOR and troops should carry out area domination in a random manner.

Tactics: When troops move for an operation, they should never stay close to villages as they are generally infested with over ground workers (OGW) and they act as ears and eyes for Naxals. Small teams are better than single large one and they should operate from multiple direction. Thorough use of navigational aids, good inter team communication with provision for continuous surveillance and intelligence inputs should be ensured. Route out and route in should be different as to mislead the Naxals. Post operations the troops are fatigued, sleepy and restless and therefore calls for extra caution. Higher ground has a definite advantage in a fire fight and therefore it is a must that troops should choose routes along high ground or atleast have their spotters at vantage points. When a large force is being deployed, surprise is compromised due to noise factor. Diversionary operations would keep the Naxals guessing regarding the real intentions of the forces. A few QRTs at key location must be earmarked to act as reinforcement as well as get behind the Naxals and hit them from another direction.

Post Ambush: It is known that the primary task of Naxals is to inflict maximum casualties on the forces and secondary task is to capture maximum arms and ammunition and live to fight another day. However, past records show that the CRPF personnel never make an attempt to counter-strike the Naxals in the act of ‘looting weapons’.

Technology: With the availability of high-resolution drone and helicopter mounted cameras in the country, adequate real time surveillance should be provided before such a massive operation. For specific periods, resources such as battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs), satellite imagery, and jammer detachments should be made available and utilised innovatively.

Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) (Madhya Bharat): Based on the ‘son of the soil’ concept, Madhya Bharat IRB Battalion should be raised to assist CRPF. These battalions must recruit men from the Naxal infested areas. The men should be trained to operate in deeper jungles of Bilaspur Division and similar places.

Accountability: The failure of operations will surely be studied by the chain of command. It is important to pin point responsibility to avoid many more fiascos that may happen in the future. In the instant case, leaving the martyrs behind and reporting them as missing, is a ‘recipe for promoting poor leadership’ and needs to be ‘nipped in the bud’.

What happened in Tarrem, Bijapur should not be repeated again. It is time that the plan to avenge the act in a quick time frame should be put in place, for the ‘CoBRAs’ to salvage their image and sting.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.

Tackling Left Wing Extremism: 12 deadliest Maoist attacks in the last decade

NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 6: United Hindu Front activist protesting against Naxalites attack on CRPF in Chhattisgarh at jantar Mantar on April 6, 2021 in New Delhi, India. At least 21 security personnel were killed, 31 injured and one jawan was missing after the armed forces twice came under attack by Maoists using country-made grenades, rocket launchers and machine guns near Jonaguda village in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 6: United Hindu Front activist protesting against Naxalites attack on CRPF in Chhattisgarh at jantar Mantar on April 6, 2021 in New Delhi, India. At least 21 security personnel were killed, 31 injured and one jawan was missing after the armed forces twice came under attack by Maoists using country-made grenades, rocket launchers and machine guns near Jonaguda village in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A day after Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, commando from the Central Reserve Police Force’s CoBRA unit was released by Maoists who had kidnapped him during the April 3rd attack in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, an ASHA trainer and two Anganwadi workers were abducted in the latest among a series of attacks perpetrated by the Naxals.

The incident follows one of the bloodiest Maoist attacks earlier this month which left 22 members of the Indian force dead – the heaviest toll inflicted by the Maoist outfit since 2017. As per reports, the attack was masterminded by Madvi Hidma, the shadowy commander of the Maoists Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army Battalion 1.

This is also the second Naxal attack in less than a month in the area. Sukma, in Chhattisgarh, a part of the Naxal hotbed, has seen a number of Maoist attacks in the past.

The last decade has seen numerous Left-Wing Extremis attacks which have injured and killed many security personnel, civilians and Maoists as well. As per data from the Union Government, there were at least 2,168 incidents of LWE violence between 2018 and 2020 in the country, alone. Around 162 security personnel and 463 civilians have been killed in LWE violence, along with 473 Naxal deaths. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been the two most affected states in the country. 

We take a look at some of the deadliest Maoist attacks over the last decade:

2010 Maoist attacks:

The year 2010 was one of the worst in terms of the number of LWE incidents and lives lost. 

On February 15, 2010, Maoists attacked and killed 24 personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in Silda, West Midnapore district of West Bengal, in one of the deadliest Maoist massacres in the state.

On April 6, 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel, which included 74 members of the CRPF and two policemen, in the Mukrana forest of Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada region. This was also one of the biggest losses of life for security forces since launching the large-scale offensive against the rebel outfit. In the ambush, eight Maoists were also killed.

The attack took place during a joint operation between 80 officers of the CRPF and the local police in an area domination exercise in the Bastar region of Chhatisgarh. As per reports, Maoists attacked the CRPF convoy, opening indiscriminate firing and triggering IED blasts.

On May 8, 2010, Naxals blew up a bullet-proof vehicle in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh, killing eight CRPF jawans.

On May 17, 2010, a bus hit a landmine around 50 kms away from Dantewada. The explosion killed between 31 to 44 people, including Special Police Officers (SPOs) and civilians.

On June 29, 2010, Naxals ambushed and killed atleast 26 CRPF personnel in the Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh.

2013 Naxal attack in Darbha Valley: On May 25, 2013, days before the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, Maoists ambushed and attacked a convoy carrying several Chattisgarh Congress leaders, including state secretary Nand Kumar Patel, former Union minister VC Shukla and former state minister Mahendra Karma. 

Atleast 17 people were killed in the ambush, wiping out nearly the entire Congress leadership in the state. The attack was conducted in retaliation to an offensive that the UPA government in power had launched against Naxals. At least 10 security personnel officers, all personal security officers of the leaders, were also killed during the ambush.

ALLAHABAD, INDIA - 2014/12/03: Family members and villagers mourn over the death of  CRPF soldier Mukesh Kumar who was killed in the Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh, at his residence Bajara village near Allahabad. About 15 CRPF people killed in a Maoist attack in Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. (Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ALLAHABAD, INDIA - 2014/12/03: Family members and villagers mourn over the death of CRPF soldier Mukesh Kumar who was killed in the Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh, at his residence Bajara village near Allahabad. About 15 CRPF people killed in a Maoist attack in Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. (Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

2014Sukma: On March 11, 2014, a joint team of CRPF personnel and police consisting of around 50 personnel in total, had been moving from Tongpal Village to Jeeram Ghati when around 100 Maoists opened fire at them.

The Maoists ambushed and killed 15 CRPF personnel, including two officers, in the same area where the 2010 attacks, which killed 76 people, took place. 

2017, Sukma: In another deadly attack in the Sukma region, hundreds of Maoists surrounded and killed at least 26 CRPF personnel on April 24, 2017. The 99-member CRPF had been patrolling the region to provide security for a road construction project when Maoists ambushed and opened fire at them.

With a total of 49 deaths occurring due to Maoist attacks, April 2017 also became the deadliest month for security forces in Chhattisgarh in seven years.

2018, Sukma: At least nine CRPF personnel were killed and six others injured as Maoists blew up a patrolling vehicle using an IED. The team was travelling in an anti-landmine vehicle when the attack, which came almost 11 days after security personnel killed 10 alleged Naxals, in Chattisgarh’s Bijapur region, took place. 

2019, Gadichiroli: 15 security personnel and a civilian were killed in an IED explosion on May 1, 2019, hours after Maoists set fire to around 30 vehicles in the Gdichiroli district of Maharashtra. The construction vehicles that were torched, were part of a trap laid by the Maoists to bring the police on the road.

2020, Sukma: On March 21, 2020, Maoists ambushed and killed 17 security personnel, including 12 from the District Reserve Guard (DRG) in the Minpa area of Sukma district. The incident happened during a major joint offensive of around 600 personnel, with separate teams belonging to the DRG Special Task Force (STF) and Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA)- an elite unit of CRPF, against People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) — the military wing of CPI (Maoist).

Narayanpur attack, 2021: On March 23, this year, Naxals blew up a bus containing personnel of the DRG who were returning in the bus to Narayanpur town, in Chattisgarh, after a counter-insurgency operation. The incident killed five police personnel and injured 13 others.

The US State Department’s ‘Country Report on Terrorism 2018’ had termed the banned CPI (Maoist) outfit as the “sixth deadliest terror groups in the world," placing the group after terror outfits such as the Taliban, ISIS, Al- Shabaab, Boko Haram and the Communist Party of Philippines

How India’s Maoist counter-insurgency is being undone by a flawed security strategy

The ambush of a joint CRPF and state police team in Chhattisgarh shows the training and tactics have to be better than the ragtag Maoists. Jammu and Kashmir is a good example.

CRPF personnel carry the coffin of a jawan who was killed in the attack by Maoists, in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh, on 4 April 2021 | PTI
CRPF personnel carry the coffin of a jawan who was killed in the attack by Maoists, in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh, on 4 April 2021 | PTI

The Maoist ambush of a joint counter-insurgency task force of the CRPF and the Chhattisgarh Police on 3 April resulted in 22 personnel being killed and 31 wounded apart from the loss of a large quantity of arms and ammunition. The column of 450 personnel was part of a larger search-and-destroy operation launched by 1,700-2,000 personnel organised in counter-insurgency task forces. Inputs from the Special Intelligence Branch indicated the presence of notorious Maoist leader Madvi Hidma and his Battalion Number 1 of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army.

The disproportionate casualties suffered in the ambush once again brought the national focus back on the Maoist insurgency — the 21st-century avatar of the Communism-inspired insurgencies that have been waged in various parts of India beginning with Telangana (1946-51). The ambush also highlighted what is wrong with the Indian government’s political and military strategy.

A waning but resilient insurgency

Communism-inspired insurgencies have displayed phenomenal resilience and still appeal to the poorest of the poor who have been deprived of the benefits of welfare in a democratic system. There have been four phases of such insurgencies in India. Telangana insurgency, organised by the Communist Party of India (CPI),began in 1946 as a peasant struggle against the zamindars and was brought under control by 1951. The CPI gave up armed struggle and embraced electoral politics soon thereafter.

In the second phase, the radicals from the CPI broke away in 1964 to form CPI (Marxist). When the CPI-M also embraced electoral politics, the more radical elements – the Maoist faction – began the violent Naxalbari movement in 1967 in West Bengal and it soon spread to a number of states from Kerala to Punjab. The same faction formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) on 22 April 1969 and rejected electoral politics. The Naxalbari movement was brought under control by determined efforts of central and state governments.

The Marxist-Leninist-inspired movement remained subdued during 1972-1991. The CPI (M-L) was repeatedly fragmented on ideological grounds, strategies and personality clashes. The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which later became Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), was formed in 1975 in Bengal and spread to Bihar/Jharkhand. In 1980, the CPI (M-L) People’s War, commonly called People’s War Group (PWG), was formed in Andhra Pradesh and also spread to other states. Various other splinter groups gradually merged with these two predominant groups, which led the third phase of violence in the Red Corridor from 1992 to 2004.

The People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) was also formed in this phase in 2000. In Mao’s classic phases of revolutionary struggle, this was the “strategic defensive” phase.

On 21 September 2004, the PWG merged with the MCCI to form the CPI (Maoist). The PLGA is its military wing. In the fourth phase, a well-organised coordinated insurgency was waged throughout the entire length of the Red Corridor. The insurgency evolved into the “strategic stalemate” phase and peaked in 2010.

Since then, it has been steadily on the wane towards the lower end of the “strategic stalemate”. The Red Corridor is inhabited by the most deprived predominantly tribal people of India whose apathy is difficult to fathom even by the rest of the ‘have nots’ in India. As the Central Army Commander, when the bulk of the Red Corridor was under my jurisdiction, I visited some of the villages on the fringes of the forests in Jharkhand after 26 years. I used to go for shikar (hunting) in these villages in 1972. It appeared as if time stood still there. The state never endeavoured to extend its development mandate into the forests in the best of times let alone after the insurgency began.

Left-wing extremism (LWE) enjoys the absolute support of the people and is seen to be fighting a people’s war. Its administration and justice system is perceived to be better than the absent State. The movement was never secessionist in nature. The people are primarily concerned with “jal, jungle and jameen”, which they feel are being usurped by the State through its dams, denial of forest rights and invitation to corporates for mining.

A course correction by the State is required both in terms of political strategy to win the hearts and minds of the people, and in operational strategy to eliminate the armed extremists.

Also read: Chhattisgarh Maoists suffering from betrayal, fewer leaders and weapons, and too many roads

A perfect political strategy

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has very clearly spelt out its strategy based on the time-tested model of winning the hearts and minds of people while simultaneously fighting the armed insurgents. “The Government’s approach is to deal with Left Wing Extremism in a holistic manner, in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities, improvement in governance and public perception.”

In consultation with the states, the seriously affected 90 districts in 11 states have been taken up for special attention with regard to planning, implementation and monitoring various interventions.

“Maintenance of law and order” is the domain of the state governments with the central government closely monitoring, supplementing and coordinating their efforts. The measures undertaken by the central government include providing the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), sanction of India Reserve (IR) battalions, setting up of Counter Insurgency and Anti-Terrorism (CIAT) schools, modernisation and upgradation of the state police and their intelligence apparatus, reimbursement of security-related expenditure, providing helicopters and UAVs for anti-LWE operations, assistance in training of state police through the Ministry of Defence and police organisations, sharing of intelligence, and facilitating inter-state coordination. The underlying philosophy is to enhance the capacity of the state governments to tackle the Maoist menace in a concerted manner.

I can say without any reservation that the above strategy is perfect to a fault. What then is the problem? It is the poor execution by an inefficient and corrupt political and administrative system. Lack of an efficient physical security system and poor road communications makes large areas inaccessible. Development is contingent on security.

Little has been done in the form of grassroots political empowerment even in areas reasonably secure. In the absence of the State, people have no option but to embrace the administration run by the Maoists. The creation of an autonomous political empowerment system must be considered for the tribal areas. We have the example of the Nagas who have unique political rights.

Despite the insurgency not being secessionist in nature, very few efforts have been made to engage and hold talks with the Maoists. The shadow of power is omnipresent in armed struggles. We have the example of the parent organisations of the Maoists before us. We have engaged with the secessionist Nagas, Mizos and even the Hurriyat. I find no reason as to why the central or the state governments must not engage with the Maoists. Apprehensions of being seen as weak must not brush away political sagacity.

Also read: India’s Maoist strategy needs a reset. But will Modi govt change its muscular approach?

A flawed security strategy

It is often said that in Jammu and Kashmir, the efforts of a well-executed security/military strategy have been neutralised by a flawed political strategy. In the Red Corridor, a perfect political strategy cannot be implemented due to a flawed security strategy. The writ of the State simply does not run in large tracts of the forest areas.

In J&K, 62 Rashtriya Rifles Battalions established a grid of Company Operating Bases to ensure the writ of the State and for counter-terrorism operations. Without a counter-insurgency grid with not more than 30-minute response time, the writ of the State will never run in the Red Corridor.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was nominated as the lead counter-insurgency agency in India. However, it has not psychologically and physically measured up to the challenge. The less said about the state police forces the better. Despite the cacophony of nationalism, which is intrinsically linked to national security, we culturally run away from an ethical assessment to initiate reforms. Lack of enforcement of accountability, both by the government and by the security organisations, further compounds the problem. Casualties are linked to “supreme sacrifice” with utter disregard for suicidal tactical lapses due to poor training. No heads roll, and bigger the failure, more are the decorations.

All media reports, accounts of survivors and even Maoist videos on YouTube have highlighted the flawed training and tactics, which manifested the latest massacre in Chhattisgarh:

  • No special COBRA patrols or UAVs were utilised to confirm information or rule out a lure/trap before the task forces were launched. COBRA patrols should have located the Maoist force and shadowed it passing back continuous information.
  • The large size of the force comprising 1,700-2,000 personnel gave away the surprise.
  • Task forces moved without immediate security patrols to the front, flanks and rear. It is illogical for a large task force of 450 personnel to come into the killing zone all together.
  • Inability to operate in small teams or even company-size task forces. Mass being used to compensate for class.
  • No counter-action in form of a flank attack from the ambushed force or by reserves/other task forces, which were within striking distance of the area. Tendency to break contact and flee.
  • Troops dehydrated and exhausted after 8-10 km movement showing poor physical conditioning.
  • Movement of task forces road/track bound and predictable.
  • Dead bodies of those killed in action and wounded personnel abandoned reflecting poor state of morale, motivation and team cohesion. Some fleeing troops also abandoned their weapons.
  • Instead of an inquiry to fix accountability, the hierarchy lauded the operations as near-perfect, forestalling reforms.

The CRPF and the state police forces have to put their house in order. Their training and tactics have to be better than the ragtag Maoists. More than that, their leadership requires a complete overhaul. It is not mass but class that matters in counter insurgency. A counter-insurgency grid of company operating bases must cover the affected areas of the Red Corridor. Unless these reforms are undertaken, a perfect political strategy will come to a naught due to a flawed security strategy.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Battle against Maoists is an ideological one

Maoists, like all insurgents, brainwash leaders and cadres. Understanding this doctrinal challenge should be essential any strategy against them

Security force personnel patrol after an attack by Maoist fighters in Bijapur in Chhattisgarh (Reuters)

In the last decade, a Union Home Minister offered the olive branch of talks to the Maoists if they shun violence. He also unsuccessfully attempted to deploy the army in Maoist-insurgency areas. Another Home Minister believed that the Maoists were losing the battle and were “on the run”. He advocated aggressive counterinsurgency measures to end the menace. Yet the violence and killings did not end. A third minister is now talking about the government’s resolve to take the fight to its “logical end”. But the challenge is to develop clarity about how this logical end can be reached.

When the Maoists killed 25 senior leaders of the Congress, including V C Shukla, Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel, in Chhattisgarh’s Darbha Valley in May 2013, it was billed as the worst attack in history. There could not have been a greater provocation for tenacious action from the government. But soon, it was out of memory, until the Maoists struck once again with equal ferocity four years later. This time it was the CRPF — who Maoists derisively call “broiler chicken” — that became the target. In April 2017, the Maoists attacked and killed 25 CRPF personnel in Sukma district. Wreaths were placed, sacrifices mourned, aggressive response promised — and soon, that incident too became history.

Last March, they killed 17 personnel of the Chhattisgarh police in Elmagunda forest in Sukma district. They struck in the same region a few days ago, killing at least 22 jawans of the CAPFs and state police. In the interim, they were indulging in regular incidents, killing several security forces personnel.

Like the previous incidents, the recent one too shall pass unless the government turns its attention to the matter in a more structured and comprehensive way. The thing to understand is that Maoism is not just another form of militancy — it is rooted in political doctrine. Contemporary Maoists are indoctrinated in classical Maoism, presented by Mao Zedong in his 1937 book Lùn Yóuji Zhàn — “On Guerrilla Warfare”. Guerrilla warfare, according to Mao, has not just a military objective but a political one, too: To gradually liberate regions from government control and establish people’s governments in those “liberated zones”.

Whether it is Maoism, Islamic radicalism or terrorism in Kashmir, the three major internal security challenges are all supported by specific doctrines, which are used to brainwash leaders and cadres. This doctrinal challenge requires a doctrinal response. In the absence of such an approach, governments resort to romantic heroism, which may give temporary results but the challenges remain and recur.

The repeated failures of our security forces on the Maoist front do not indicate a lack of government power. They demonstrate the urgent need for a greater understanding of the challenge. The Maoist strategy depends on seven important elements

Arousing and organising people;

 achieving internal political unity; 

establishing bases; 

equipping forces; 

building national strength; 

destroying the enemy’s national strength

 and regaining lost territories.

 The people, army and territory are the three main ingredients of the Maoist guerrilla warfare strategy. In many cases, these three constitute a nation. Maoists in liberated zones, like the Dandakaranya forests along the borders of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra, consider themselves independent nations.

Tackling such a challenge requires meticulous planning on all three fronts. People are the biggest weapon for the Maoists. Mao insisted that the revolution should begin from areas that are the most remote from governments. Poor peasants should be indoctrinated and incorporated. The recent visuals of the release of abducted CRPF jawan Rakeshwar Singh Minhas, in which hundreds of locals can be seen, demonstrate the popular support that Maoists enjoy. Singular military operations, whether successful or disastrous, have the potential to push people into the Maoist stranglehold. Therefore, a hybrid approach is needed, involving civic organisations that can reach out and influence the misguided people, together with developmental and counterinsurgency activity by the government.

Demilitarising Maoists should be an objective — this has succeeded in Nepal, Bihar and elsewhere in the past. But it requires deeper engagement with the people in Maoist areas. So far, this engagement was limited to pro-Maoist intellectuals, who are themselves a problem. It is time the government encouraged Gandhians and the RSS to come forward. With its vast experience in tribal activism, the RSS leadership can play an important role in this engagement. It involves risks at one level, but it also engenders confidence in those sections of the Maoists who are looking for a solution.

The repeated failures of security forces in counterinsurgency operations should be blamed on their leadership. The Maoist leadership is well-trained. Leaders should be unyielding in their policies — resolute, loyal, sincere and robust. These men must be well-educated in revolutionary technique, self-confident, able to establish severe discipline, and to cope with counterpropaganda. Guerrilla strategy must be based primarily on “alertness, mobility and attack”, Mao wrote. In recent incidents, leader-less forces were facing the Maoists. It was appalling to see the security forces running helter-skelter, leaving behind their dead. There was no leadership present to regroup the forces for a counterattack and the recovery of personnel and weapons.

Territory is the third issue. Area domination is an accepted counterinsurgency strategy. The Maoist leadership can be targeted not by ill-planned daredevilry but by well-planned area domination. States like Andhra Pradesh have succeeded in decimating Maoism through area domination. Area domination does not mean setting up CAPF camps in Maoist areas. Operations must be followed up with rigorous administrative, developmental and civic activism.

There will be many other tactical challenges, like intelligence gathering, training forces, technology etc. But the central challenge is to develop an internal security doctrine involving administration, development agencies, security forces and civil society organisations.

This column first appeared in the print edition on April 13, 2021 under the title ‘Meet the doctirnal challenge’. The writer is member, board of governors, India Foundation

Lessons for security forces from a successful counter-ambush against Maoists |India Today Insight

How security forces broke a lethal Maoist ambush in the jungles of Chhattisgarh in April 2019 and saved lives

Four BSF personnel were killed and two others injured in an encounter with Naxals in Chhattisgarh's Kanker district in 2019 (Representational image)

Two years ago, Maoists ambushed 25 BSF (Border Security Force) troopers in the jungles of Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district, killing four of them. The ambush could have been far worse but for the fact that the security forces carried out a determined counter-ambush—that is foiling an attack and forcing the Maoists to retreat. What happened in the ‘Mahla encounter’ is critical to understanding the weapons profile, equipment and training required to defeat the most lethal tactic in the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA)’s arsenal—the ambush.

An ambush allows over a hundred trained guerillas concealed in the jungle, arrayed in a ‘U’ formation around the security forces. The U is then looped like a net with withering fire being brought down onto those trapped in the kill zone and the guerillas gradually closing in to finish off the trapped troopers.

ALSO READ | Why eliminating PLGA ‘Battalion no. 1’ holds the key in Chhattisgarh’s fight against Maoists

On April 4, 2019, men from the Alpha company (around 125 troopers) of the BSF’s 114th Battalion were deployed on an area domination and road protection party in north Bastar. The security forces were alert to attempts to disrupt the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The party of 25 troopers, led by inspector Gopal Rong, had divided itself into three groups and were moving in a ‘Y’ formation, approximately 200 metres away from the road. Two groups were on the right and left flanks and the third ground was on the road in the rear. They were just a kilometre away from their Company Operating Base (COB) in the dense jungles of Abhujhmad. The COB had been established in 2018 to disrupt the activities of the Maoists and had already beaten back four attacks over the past year.

ALSO READ | The Bijapur bloodbath

As the 25-man party began moving ahead that morning, their left flank came under heavy fire from the Maoists. They had walked into an inverted ‘U’ ambush in a box of 700x700 metres. It was an elaborate trap. Their guerillas were dressed in ‘ghillie suits’ (a netting of leaves and rags usually worn by snipers) to merge into the forest. They triggered Radio-controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (RCIEDs) and lobbed shells from improvised mortars, fired ‘arrow bombs’ and tossed Molotov cocktails, which set the dry leaves on the forest floor ablaze.

Three BSF troopers from the left flank and one from the right flank were killed in the initial round of firing. But what happened next is instructive. One BSF trooper, constable Kajal Saikh, took position behind a tree and opened fire with his INSAS light machine gun. Over the next hour, he fired over 400 rounds at the Maoists, changing a dozen magazines to keep them at bay. His action bought the security forces enough time to bring in reinforcements from their COB. Thirty two troopers rushed to the rescue and fired on the Maoists, lobbing 25 high explosive rounds from their 51 mm mortars. A Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) was rushed to the spot with additional ammunition and took back the casualties. The Maoists retreated, taking their dead with them.

Top security officials who analysed the encounter recorded the ferocious fightback by the BSF despite being heavily outnumbered, the timely arrival of reinforcements and the heavy volume of fire from the troopers—a total of 1,299 INSAS rounds including those from the LMG—as being key to breaking the ambush. The soldiers also fired 772 AK-47 rounds, 49 9mm rounds and 10 UBGL rounds at the Maoists. But the saviour of the day undoubtedly was the LMG gunner Saikh who had kept his wits about him.

ALSO READ | Chhattisgarh’s Maoist fighting force

“Significantly, the Maoists were not able to come near the bodies of our soldiers, not to speak of snatching their weapons,” says a senior officer who investigated the firefight. Key of course was the weapon itself. The INSAS LMG has the same rate of fire as the INSAS rifle—around 650 rounds per minute—but its barrel is made of denser steel, which means it can fire thousands of rounds without overheating. An overheated LMG barrel can also be quickly changed with a spare barrel in a few minutes, making it even more reliable as a fire support weapon. The availability of heavy firepower is, of course, only one of the reasons that makes the April 2019 Mahla counter-ambush an example which merits closer study.

Over the past decade, the Maoists have killed over 100 police and paramilitary personnel and escaped with large hauls of arms, ammunition and communication equipment using very similar tactics. The death toll usually is a function of several factors—where the ambush was laid, whether on open country without cover, what the responses of the security forces in the ambush were and the quality of leadership on the ground.

The most recent ambush was the April 3 incident in southern Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, where Maoists killed 22 security personnel. The worst was the April 6, 2010 ambush where 75 CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) troopers were massacred. A common thread running through several of these firefights is the fact that reinforcements did not arrive in time or the forces in the vicinity did not manoeuvre around the Maoists to break the ambush. As security forces continue operating in the Maoist heartland, where the largest number of such ambushes has been laid, they can ill afford to ignore the lessons from the Mahla encounter.

Hardcore Maoist Kolha Yadav, allegedly involved in Chilkari massacre, held in Bihar: Jharkhand Police

Naxals, Maoists
Updated Apr 13, 2021 | 06:40 IST

Babulal Marandi's son Anup was among the villagers gunned down by a group of Maoists while they were watching a cultural programme at Chilkhari village in Giridih district.

Naxals, Maoists
Photo Credit:&nbspPTI
(Representational photo)

Giridih: Hardcore Maoist Kolha Yadav, who was allegedly involved in the Chilkari massacre of 2007 in which 20 people including the son of Jharkhand's first chief minister Babulal Marandi were killed, was arrested in Bihar on Monday, a police officer said.

Personnel of Bhelwaghati police station of Giridih district captured Yadav from Jamui in Bihar, Superintendent of Police Amit Renu said.

Marandi's son Anup was among the villagers gunned down by a group of Maoists while they were watching a cultural programme at Chilkhari village in Giridih district. Renu said that at least 18 Naxal related cases were registered against Yadav in Bihar and Jharkhand

Insurgencies are distinct from wars. India needs new strategy to battle Maoists

Conventional wars pivot around geographical resources. An insurgency, on the other hand, is a competition between the insurgent and the government or support of the local population
By Raghu Raman
PUBLISHED ON APR 12, 2021 02:49 PM IST

Security personnel at the site of Maoist attack at Sukma-Bijapur border on April 4. (File photo)

Colonel Harry Summers, a Vietnam veteran and author, once recounted a conversation he had with his North Vietnamese Army counterpart a week before the fall of Saigon.

He said, “You know, you never beat us Americans on the battlefield.” “That may be so”, the NVA colonel replied. “but it is also irrelevant”.

Conventional wars pivot around geographical resources. Be it capture of a ground of tactical importance, or victory at a theatre level, conventional war aims to destroy the enemy’s troops & resources and dominate areas previously controlled by the enemy. That is the pattern of conventional wars.

An insurgency, on the other hand, is a competition between the insurgent and the government or support of the local population. Superior kinetic energy and operational intelligence enabled Americans to win almost every battle in Vietnam but that very force and ruthlessness alienated the population, losing their support. That is why the NVA won the war, even though it lost most battles in purely military terms.

What makes an insurgency different

The centre of gravity in an insurgency is always the local population because an insurgency is essentially a political movement. It is a violent process by which at least a section of the population seeks to achieve “just cause”, which they feel the State denies them through the normal political process. As the proportion of dissatisfied section increases, they indoctrinate or coerce the remainder to their cause. A “just cause” therefore is the principal requirement of any insurgency.

The second is inherent weaknesses of the State. Its inability to address the cause of the population, ignoring the ramifications, not only failing to nip the insurgency at the nascent stage, but also aggravating it by using only force are necessary conditions for an insurgency to mature to a level where the latter seeks pitched battles with State forces.

Also Read | Maoist challenge: Why large armies lose small wars

Paradoxically, an insurgency environment is the opposite of a conventional war which most security forces are trained for. Conventional conflicts are shorter, more intense and have decisive instances where one side can bring overwhelming force to deliver the knockout blow. Insurgencies foment for decades, waxing and waning but never entirely disappearing until the last stage is successfully achieved by either the insurgent, when they attain their objectives, as in the case of Nepal, to a partial extent or the movement is exterminated by the State, as in the case of some insurgencies in the Northeast.

Conventional war is relatively unidimensional, where armed forces seek to destroy the enemy, political leaders facilitate the environment during the war and negotiate terms at the end of it. Counter-insurgency, however, is smorgasbord of kinetic operations, developmental programmes, propaganda, political jousting and even some stakeholders who benefit from status quo and thus work at counter purposes, all acting out simultaneously.

The battle between order and disorder

But the most important difference is that an insurgency unlike conventional war, is a battle between order and disorder.

The rules of conventional war are equally applicable to both sides. However, in an insurgency, the contestants fight by rules that are not applicable to the other. As David Galula, the French scholar warrior puts it, in a fight between a fly and a lion, the fly cannot deliver a knockout blow and the lion cannot fly. It’s the same war in terms of time and space, but different warfares for the two contestants.

While at the tactical level, the State can copy the insurgents as the Russians did in Afghanistan by inducting the Spetznaz (Special Forces who moved in small teams living off the land, much like the Taliban) or the employment of greyhounds in Andhra, at the strategic level, the State, by definition, cannot use instruments of intimidation or disorder.

The insurgent’s objective is to create disorder and challenge the State’s writ. He can do so easily using intimidation, bombing, assassinations or public executions. It’s much easier to create disorder than order. This handicaps the State, because its mandate is to maintain order which is more laborious and time consuming. If insurgents calls for a bandh, all they have to do is carry out a few exemplar executions. If the State wants the population to defy the bandh, it has to provision far more resources, political clout, assurances of safety and incentives.

Also Read | Days after Bijapur ambush, Maoists set CRPF commando free

That is the Achilles’ heel of the State because unlike the insurgents who can make good on their threat in a matter of hours, the State has to rely on promises of a better future. When faced with the choice of life and State propaganda, the constituent population will choose the former.

The challenges of counter-insurgency

The doctrine of counter-insurgency warfare is mature. Building on the work of thinkers like David Galula, Sir Robert Thompson and of course own experiences, Indian security forces know what to do. The devil, of course, lies in the fact that this is not a war that can be won using only force, or within a short time or without collateral damage.

The classical counter-insurgency model — some variant of which is followed by all countries — has eight broad phases. It begins with destruction or expulsion of the insurgent’s armed forces, deployment of static security units in sanitised areas to prevent the re-entry of insurgents, control of the local population to identify sympathisers and ideological leaders, destruction of the insurgent’s political organisation, holding local elections, testing and empowering the local leaders, organising a formal political party and finally winning over or suppressing the remnants of the guerrilla.

In these eight steps, only the first two (and to some extent the last) are addressable by security forces. The remaining six require intense administrative and political participation. The first two steps are the hammer and the remaining phases act as an anvil. Increasing the size of the hammer achieves little if the anvil is weak. The advocates of giving security a “free hand” miss this point. No matter how many more boots are placed on ground, winning the territory from the insurgents and winning the population within the territory, are two different strategies which require completely different skill sets.

The first phase requires lightly armed infantry-based troops who will attack insurgent strongholds and wrest back control of territory. Phase two requires paramilitary which will set up pickets in the freed territory to prevent them from returning. They also provide the vanguard of intelligence gathering, control of the population and other rehabilitation efforts.

However, the tipping point can only be achieved when the constituent population is convinced about enduring victory of the State over the insurgents and making good on the promises made by the former. This requires politicians, administrators, policymakers, activists and the security forces to work in congruence, which is a challenge for many reasons.

Also Read | HT Editorial: Maoists cross a red line, again

Take the Maoist problem, for instance. A myriad of state and central forces are deployed in a swathe of area that falls under several different administrative borders. Unless there is synchronicity of command, operations in one theatre will merely push the insurgents into another theatre, an example being security forces’ action in Andhra which drove Maoist cadres to less dangerous states or underground, but did not exterminate them.

Secondly, the constituent population is unsurprisingly suspicious of government assurances and more scared of the insurgents. This is exacerbated by frequent changes in the last mile connectors of the government machinery. Building intelligence networks, identifying potential leaders, inspiring confidence to participate in a political process, rebuilding of infrastructure and communication etc., all require continuity of policy, command and implementors. That is rarely the case. Policies are switched, priorities and leaders changed and resources diverted from one operation to the other, frequently.

The third challenge is that many constituents of the counter-insurgency operations work at seeming cross purposes. The security forces may arrest an insurgent sympathiser at great risk only to find the politicians intervene on his behalf or judiciary release him within hours. But that is necessary if the government is seen to be lenient and fair. An iron treatment only plays into the hands of the insurgent’s narrative.

Similarly, any excess of force by security personnel has to be punished exemplarily to instil confidence in the State’s jurisprudence without which there is no possibility of population’s support. However, security forces will see this as a curb on their efficiency and fight it tooth and nail.

Focus on winning tactical battles obfuscates the desired end of war. Revenge reprisals, heavy militarisation, population control measures such as identity cards and curfews can never pummel the population into supporting the government. At best, the people will go through the motions, and at worst, opportunity seekers who wish to ingratiate themselves with the State, will get power, thus further maligning the State’s reputation of unfair play.

Getting to the core cause

The only possible and desirable end to an insurgency is to negotiate the elements of its core cause. A best-case scenario is to reduce the military power of the insurgents while simultaneously elevating the political moderates, thus assuring the population that their representation is better done by the latter than the former. To achieve this, the State has to execute a delicate, well timed and synchronised strategy.

First, it has to limit the security forces’ operations to the minimum and focused on the hardcore elements of the insurgents. Unfortunately, getting to the core requires pressure on a scared or participative population which in turn further alienates them. Once an area is freed of insurgents, the situation should transfer to civilian administration at the earliest. However, in most cases, the civilian rebuilding tasks are handed over to the security forces, thus increasing their engagement and dichotomy. A villager doesn’t forgive a soldier who interrogated his son, just because he helped build a school in the village.

Also Read | ‘Jawans are not cannon fodder’: Rahul Gandhi days after Chhattisgarh attack

Secondly, transition from the security phase to the building phase requires very different skill sets. In a war-like situation, a soldier is trained to retaliate with all his firepower if he is fired upon. In an insurgency, the very opposite is needed. To paraphrase Galula, an internet connection may be more useful than a machine gun, a soldier trained as a paediatrician more important than a weapons expert, cement more wanted than barbed wire and a soft-spoken multi-lingual empathetic officer far more effective than a badass one from the Special Forces.

Thirdly, this transition necessitates immaculate timing. Played too soon, the insurgency comes back with a vigour and playing too late, alienates the population and prolongs their trauma. Also, the build phase must be implemented with a sense of urgency, because the credibility of the state depends on it. This is where three major flaws of the state machinery — credibility, inefficiency and corruption —create massive faultlines.

Politicians and administration have a poor reputation of keeping promises even among their own voters. For their own reasons, political leaders often make promises which they are not able to keep, at least in totality or within the timeline promised. When coupled with the inefficiency and corruption quotient of any administrative organisation, the government invariably comes short on its promises, thus reiterating the insurgent’s narrative. The gap between propaganda and reality is the operating ground of the insurgent.

Unlike terrorism, insurgency is an easier beast to contain, even if it might be more difficult to defeat. Terror can be carried out by a small group of people like 9/11 or 26/11 who might be rogue elements within their own organisations. Insurgency on the other hand, has an ideological and military centre of gravity, an area under contest which the insurgent eventually intends to hold as a bargaining chip, safe haven or a launchpad for expansion.

A five-pronged strategy

Which is where the State can create some advantages using this five-pronged strategy.

Firstly, the State needs to accept and educate the citizenry that the Maoist insurgency cannot be solved with swift military options. It has taken decades to mature and will take time to be resolved completely. This timeline enables the state to design long-term reforms rather than short term scorecards.

Secondly, there is no skirting the “just cause”, which is the pivot of the insurgent movement. Thrusting down fiats will never eradicate the cause. Agreeing to the acceptable elements of the just cause is the only way to remove the locus standi of the insurgent. Unless that is done, the seeds of dissent will continue to foment and the State will pay a price in perpetuity. That is usually the most insurmountable challenge especially in an environment of extreme inequity in developing countries like India. Inequity is the root of all revolutionary movements. There has to be genuine dissent to compel people including women to take up arms, live a life of extreme discomfort, and risk to life. Denying that is delusional, self-serving and in the end, self-defeating.

Thirdly, while the security forces have to be subjugated to the political administration (after all, insurgency is a political problem, not a military one), the political leader must be astute and educated about counter-insurgency at a strategic, not just at the operational military level. If the briefings are dominated by security operations without the accompanying social, political and infrastructure progress, then the first two phases are being prolonged – which is a victory for the insurgent.

Also Read | Maoist attack: How Sikh jawan took off turban to help wounded colleague

Then, there is the problem of focus and continuity. While states have set up Maoist focussed security structures and commands, the political and administrative attention remains defused. While major instances like the recent one, seize the chief minister and prime minister’s mindshare and apparatuses, they are temporal in nature. A political crisis in state or Centre will push back this mindshare in an instant. There is need for a credible, strategically educated and empowered political leader who focusses on this issue relentlessly, on a long-term basis. Without this unified and broad-spectrum, long term command, tactical military successes will masquerade for victory.

Fourthly, while there is no organisation without its share of inefficiency and corruption, in an insurgency, its implications are fatal for the state. The state’s forces and its administrative elements are fighting a moral battle against the insurgents. The insurgent’s high command ruthlessly enforces austerity and rules such as tobacco and alcohol abstinence, to reinforce this moral high ground as much as for disciplining the cadres.

Every act of corruption on the part of the state’s representatives erodes the state’s moral ground and strengthens the insurgent’s cause. Corruption can range from excessive use of force, diversion of funds, partisan decisions or misreporting ground reality. Each of these and several more examples must be equated to high treason, because they undermine the state and derail its strategic intent. This is why the participation of neutral observers is essential. Without it, the political high command has no visibility of the reality which will be invariably camouflaged by the functionaries for extended periods.

Similarly, operational inefficiency must be removed ruthlessly. Unless the State implements a zero-tolerance attitude to material, moral and ethical corruption and punishes professional inefficiency – the constituent population will not support it.

The last step will undoubtedly ruffle feathers among the State’s elements -- but it is a mandatory requirement and in the long run, boosts the morale of counter-insurgents as well.

Also Read | Drone shows tractor trolleys used to carry up to 20 dead Maoists: Officials

Lastly, but most importantly, is the issue of reframing the mindset of the elements fighting insurgency. It is ironic that a battalion deputed for a United Nations mission in Congo will scurry around learning French and the social and cultural history of that country, but officers and men who are destined to spend at least half their career is Kashmir or Maoist areas will not bother to do the same for those regions. Military academies teach foreign languages to the cadets to prepare them for the one odd opportunity that some officers might get to serve abroad but don’t train them in the languages of the state that they will be baptized in professionally.

There is no formal training for critical counter-insurgency skills such as deep knowledge of the local culture, languages, ethnic histories, social dynamics, negotiation skills and appreciating compulsions of the constituent population. As a result, the state’s elements deployed in insurgency areas view it as a “tour of duty” that must be endured, not a process they need to carry to a planned end. They view the constituent population in black and white. Those supporting them and everyone else. The latter unfortunately happens to be the majority, so the state’s forces begin the war by losing the most crucial battle, that of the population’s tacit support or neutrality. Galula prescribes an ideal counter-insurgency force as lightly armoured equipped with a surplus of interpreters, civil affair specialists, and engineers. I would add, psychologists, social scientists, NGO’s and corporate CSR efforts to that composite force.

Our training establishments, ranging from the military to bureaucracy need to accord importance to the kind of warfare that our next generation of soldiers and administrators will encounter. Despite having two nuclear powered and heavily armed nations as our adversaries, we have been engaged in small wars for the last four decades. Yet our instructional syllabuses bask in the yesteryears narratives of theatre level battles and wargames. Not a single institution conducts training wargames of counter-insurgency in totality. Sure, the military and paramilitary establishments have training capsules on counter insurgency operations (COINS) but they are limited to tactical exercises like cordon and search and roadblock drills. Where is the training of winning over the population, of negotiation, of joint-manship between the security forces and the bureaucracy? Who indeed can even act as Red Land or genuinely represent the population in that notional wargame?

It is an irony that respective premier institutes which train the military and administrative officers of our country are located 25 kms to each other as the crow flies and yet they meet for meaningful collaborative training after 25 years of service in the National Defence College.

The biggest hurdle to the battle against counter-insurgency is the lack of imaginative strategic thinking. And that is why a few hundred flies can run circles around the lion for decades.

In 1917, Thomas Edward, a young maverick British officer was tasked to conduct an irregular campaign against the Turks in Arabia. Thomas went on to create a guerrilla operation that became the stuff of legends, and was so lethal that he felt sorry for his victims recording their plight in his memoirs titled the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

He wrote, that the guerrillas were like vapour, appearing at will, and congealing in front of the enemy, striking them and disappearing like a ghost. He sympathised with the Turks, remarking that “war on rebellion is messy business, like eating soup with a knife”. Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, couldn’t have described the war on Maoists any better.

Raghu Raman was the founding CEO of Natgrid

The views expressed are personal