The BAD War
War is bad. Isn’t it a platitude to reaffirm and reassert this aphorism? However, the war that we are focusing on in the world’s largest democracy is not a war having simple connotations.
It is a war emanating from within. It is a war which engulfs about a third of the landmass. It is a war which makes the marginalised tribal groups squeal.
It is a war which perturbs the mind of the ordinary citizenry in the sprawling conurbations. It is a war with divided opinions. It is a war by virtue of which the country’s Home Minister proposes to put down his papers. And it is a war where even the Armed forces are not overtly willing to take part.
Nonetheless, it is a war. And it is being fought in the ‘fat strip’ of land hanging from the Indo-Nepal border down to Nizam’s Hyderabad; oh no, Sania Mirza’s Hyderabad. The capital of the insurgency is concentrated in the dense forests of Dandakaranya in the Central Indian province of Chhattisgarh. Adding spice to the meaty war, Chhattisgarh is ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the major opposition to the ruling coalition in New Delhi led by the Indian National Congress (INC). Thus, BJP and INC may bicker on every trivial issue umpteen numbers of times at every nook and corner of the sub-continent; but on this very aspect are exhibiting strong resilience and camaraderie.
Now, who are the protagonists in this war? Activists and sympathisers say the tribals are spearheading the movement whereas the ruling elite castigate a group of ‘hoodlums’ termed as the Maoists to be behind this mayhem. The sleeping power structures of India have been forced to wake up and take into cognizance the increasing ‘threat scenario’ lurking around the socio-political dimensions of the nation. After all, 200 districts out of 600 are feeling the soaring temperatures of improvised explosive devices (IED), pressure bombs and light machine guns (LMG); sometimes sophistication galore through the Insas and AK-47 rifles.
Skirmishes between security forces, basically police and the paramilitary on one side and the tribal-ultra combo on the other have consumed countably finite lives since 2004; when the resurrection of the Maoist activity in India took place.
But, surpassing limitations and belying imaginations, the Leftist ultras have dented the pride and esteem of the security forces on a number of occasions.
Nevertheless, the latest blow inflicted on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the wee hours of Tuesday 06 April, has surely given the biggest ever conceivable jolt to the authorities since 1967, when the ephemeral and chimerical ‘revolution’ actually started off. A bunch of urban intellectuals centered in Kolkata manned the movement; effortlessly embraced their tribal brethren in the hinterlands and dreamt of overthrowing the vestiges of the colonial form of ‘parliamentary democracy’.
Political equations have evolved since then. Dynamics, both intra-party doctrinal conflicts amongst the splinter groups of the Maoists as well as their ‘territorial spread’ and ‘hold’ on the psyche of the tribal population, have also undergone robust structural changes. Rapid economic growth in the cities has to a large extent widened the gulf betwixt the rich and the poor in India. Hence, poverty thrives in the majority of the areas which makes these places more vulnerable to insurgency; non-violence being a largely outmoded option, long buried in the coffins of Satyagraha of pre-independent India.
Now, the talk of the town at the present juncture is obviously not the justification of the insurgency or evaluation of the exactitude of the government’s anti-insurgency policy; rather the present imbroglio that has cropped up after the mass
assassination of the CRPF personnel on 6th April needs to be strategically measured.
Security analysts and former army personnel have left no stone unturned in chastising the lack of preparedness of the CRPF jawans, in criticising their top brass for improper assessment of the ground situation and in clobbering the infrastructural architecture of the region; for instance, a CRPF jawan has to tread an arduous 3 km to access water; potability being a remote possibility.
The “atomic salary” not being commensurate with the demands of the job, mass murder of this unprecedented scale is bound to de-scale the morale of the paramilitary.
Few pertinent questions still need to be answered. By whom, is not a matter of strangeness at all.
First, what was or is the role of the state police in combating the terror unleashed by the Leftist ultras? Since law and order is a state subject as per the Constitution, the affected states have to take up the cudgels and not ‘pass the buck onto the Union government’.
Amusingly, on the day of carnage which left around 75 CRPF personnel in the graveyard, there was hardly a sizeable contingent of state police along with them. As a matter of fact, only one state police personnel was butchered. The 62nd battalion of the CRPF, half of which was assassinated, had gone for a ‘combined operation’ of area domination in the core Maoist belt. Does this indicate that the state police are not efficient enough to be included in such ‘combined’ operations or is the CRPF taking up too much responsibility?
Furthermore, the CRPF came back along the same route which evidently made them fall into the trap set by the Maoists who are extremely adept in that forested topography. The ambush was carried out to the finest precision. There were only seven survivors to tell the macabre tale. The CRPF jawans were so terrorised that the first estimate of the numerical strength of the ultras which they presumed was close to 1000.
This is something which warrants surprise and rightly so. The basic tenets of guerrilla warfare do not recommend so many troops when they are fighting in a favourable terrain. Definitely, the forests and hills are their favourable domains and moreover, the village of Chintalnar-Tarmetia, where the paramilitary was actually ambushed at around 7am in the morning is part of the core area of the Maoists.
In fact, the legendary revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara opines: “the aggressiveness of the guerrilla band can be greater in such a terrain on account of the difficulties that the enemy faces in bringing in reinforcements. They can get closer to the enemy, fight much more directly, more frontally and for a longer time with very few guerrillas”.
The experienced Guevara’s tactical reading has to be spot on. Later reports do indicate that about 200 to 300 guerrillas had surrounded the security forces. Also, the reinforcements to the paramilitary arrived quite late. By then the ultras had clinically finished their key job and even completed their ancillary work of looting the ammunition of the opponents.
Underdevelopment or overexploitation, a serious tribal insurgency or a petty ideological upheaval, counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism; jargons have overflowed the jar containing solution and analyses.
Well, how will the government react now? If spontaneity had prevailed, then the authorities would have stepped up the combing operations, brought in more troops into the region and even used the aid of the Armed forces for logistical purposes. But these did not happen due to multifarious reasons. Firstly, the morale of the security forces has been severely dented and if we go by recent media reports then one is led to believe that the CRPF is not really enthusiastic in carrying forward with the present operations against the ultras.
Secondly, the option of using the Armed forces received a jolt when India’s Army General uttered caustic rhetoric regarding deploying them ‘against their own people’. With a similar undertone, Air Chief Marshall too swayed away from being a part of annihilating ‘our own people’. And thirdly, though the ‘wise heads’ of New Delhi have tripped on many occasions in dealing with internal insurgency, by no stretch of
imagination are they fools. Presently, they are playing a ‘wait and watch’ game and most probably would strike back when the militants would be off-guard. But for that to happen, Indian security forces need to have a strong foundation in Jungle Warfare Tactics; from the bottom to the top echelons of the elite forces. And for all practical purposes, that would require a considerable amount of time.
Prima facie Army is potent weaponry, but its deployment is not a feasible option as that would by all means aggravate the wound.
In this scenario, how shall the militants respond?
The militants have made their stand pretty clear. They have vowed that if the government does not release their top leaders and not halt the ongoing operations, they would continue to harass and heckle the security forces at different points in space and time. If it is Chattisgarh now, it can be West Bengal or even Maharashtra later. It is no clandestine affair that guerrilla tactics thrive on ‘unpredictability’ and the Indian Maoists would tend to hold that line in near future.
Undoubtedly, the fall in security situation does not augur well for development of tourism and foreign as well as domestic investment. As sources of foreign exchange are rejuvenating factors of the economy, these need to be bolstered. Thus the containment of this lethal insurrection is a sine qua non for the maintenance of Indian economy. Interestingly, even indigenous corporate houses have come up with solutions to tackle this imbroglio. For instance, Tata Steel has called for social infrastructure development in the Maoist areas. Already, ITC has served the peasant community by introducing agri-marketing through Information Technology.
Whether it is a jawan or a tribal-transformed Maoist, whoever falls, it’s ultimately an Indian which succumbs. Isn’t it the onus of all the Indians to put an end to the ongoing anarchy before the ‘bad war’ reaches its ne plus ultra?
Till then, the war shall go on, somewhat sporadically, in the arboreous heartlands of the sub-continent, with masses falling like hairpins.
Before winding up, the writer would prefer to humbly suggest the following:
Kindly bring the ultras to the negotiating table. Yes, that portends the danger of letting them regroup and invigorate. Officials experienced with dealing the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh would bludgeon this argument. Nevertheless, talking seems to be a fair option. But it won’t be unwise to talk to the ultras from a ‘position of strength’.
But how to define ‘a position of strength’? May be a major counter-offensive by the police and paramilitary in some other stronghold of the Maoists would confer that position on the authorities. Then again, the cycle of revenge may go on in an unending fashion.
It is noteworthy that ‘talking’ to the Leftists shall grant ‘time’ to the government too; something which is necessary so as to devise a coherent policy framework.
The policy-makers may contemplate the release of some of the Maoist leaders and use it as a reconciliatory measure; especially those leaders, who are not directly involved with military insurrection.
The ‘Andhra Model’ of tackling the Maoists by unleashing ‘terror versus terror’ may be kept in the reserve, lest the talks fail. The elite ‘Greyhound’ anti-insurgency forces built by Andhra Pradesh in the 1990s paid rich dividends in terms of obliterating the Maoists from that province. By all probability, personnel from that force can ‘coach’ the state police.
But the ‘den’ of the ultras should not be attacked. Rather, the peripheral outgrowths in other provinces should be pruned off first.
The guerrillas plan to ‘circle out’ and capture the Indian cities. The authorities should ‘circle in’ and capture their redoubts.
Human intelligence network of the police has to be improved. To achieve that, if needed even ‘bribing’ the local population to alienate them from the ‘hardcore elements’ can be tried. But a grisly methodology like the ‘Salwa Judum’ (using tribals against the Maoists by supplying arms to them) has to be resisted.
Now for all these to fructify, the training procedure of the security forces has to be revamped. The political will has to be discovered. Unity of command needs to be coordinated. A mammoth job indeed.
By Uddipan Mukherjee