Eradicating Naxal Menace
Massacre of 75 CRPF men in Dantewada forest by Naxals has brought the focus on the enormity of the situation but this is not the first time that Naxals have come under such intense focus. In last few months there has been many attacks which show their preparedness, confidence and leadership—something which need to be tackled with innovative and well-studied strategy.
In last 40 years, Naxals have continuously changed their strategy. Their biggest strength is flexibility and adaptability, whereas our state and central forces have been following the same strategy by and large. Today Naxals apply a variety of strategy, attacking forces and villagers who oppose them by local cadre in Bihar to employing mobile unit in jungles of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. One common feature is to overwhelm the enemy with numbers.
What makes this strategy work, Naxal cadres are almost always invisible. For instance in Bihar and Bengal most of Naxals are identified by their covered face and a gun hanging on their shoulder, not by uniform. If they, throw the gun, uncover their face, they can never be identified. Whereas in forest areas they wear uniform. This is a deliberate strategy. In Bihar, the Naxals exist in some form or the other in every nook and corner, not donning uniform gives them stealth, which makes security forces’ job very difficult.
In forest of central India spanning from Orissa in east to Garhchiroli in Maharashtra in west to Bastar in north to northern Andhra in south, they wear uniform, where it is very difficult to track and trace Naxal groups in dense forests with highly sparse population, and this also makes a good picture of an organised force which can take on the state, which in process help them in recruiting cadre and holding state at ransom.
Recent media reports suggest that the annual income of the Naxals is around 1500 crore, which is earned through various means, including ransom, tax, illegal mining, protection fees from businessmen and industrialists speaking to the scribe on condition of anonymity a senior executive of leading foreign industrial giant, which had planned a very large steel plant, said: “Our plant was opposed on very flimsy ground of acquiring tribal land. The emotional attachment of villagers to their land was exploited by the Naxals and their front group to start agitation and government could not explain how beneficial the plant would have been to them. We need to see the larger picture. Why is every new investment in metal industry being opposed? India’s production of steel is around ten per cent of the China’s production which is 600 million tonnes per year and has added around 50 million tonnes in last August only. It produces most of its steel from ores imported from India and Ausralia. So we can see who is the direct beneficiary of these oppositions of the plants. Our own steel production target of 120 million tonnes by 2010 has been extended to 2012 as new plants couldn’t come up.
“To generate the kind of industrial and public infrastructure our country requires, we will have to exploit our mineral resources and will have to stop exporting ores to other nations. Ores are finite resources so why export? These large industries can generate enough employment for our young population.”
Each and every industry is generating revenue for Naxals. They do not discriminate between the rich and the poor when it comes to money. Every vehicle that passes through their area has to give road tax to them. There is no dearth of avenues for making money to Naxals.
It is strange that Naxals attack where the force concentration is very high like police camps. Question is how they could garner so much courage. The answer is very simple: in an interior village and forest area the only places which are well lit are these police camps and police pickets. They are like an island of light in ocean of darkness. Anyone standing about hundred yards away will not be visible whereas he can easily see everything in the camp.
Darkness provides an ideal circumstance to attack a camp—a sudden attack from all side killing all the guards with overwhelming firepower. The sudden chaos doesn’t allow a rapid reply and small groups go in and grab the weapons and the whole party runs away in all directions as they came. Now the problem is to chase the Naxals in such vast area when numerous dead and injured are crying for help, reinforcement is hours away. No wonder these camps are sitting ducks. What is strange is that there hasn’t been any step in last decade to change this strategy. This puts question over the ability of the leadership of state and paramilitary forces especially the CRPF.
Lt Gen DB Sheketkar, former additional DGMO and an expert in counter-insurgency with four decades of experience in the north-east and Kashmir, says: “Unfortunately because of vested interest and some other obvious reasons CRPF has not been able to develop young leadership, which is the key for success in unconventional war, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and anti-Naxal operations. The army has most leaders and young officers at the cutting edge and that accounts for success to great extent. It is not that senior leadership of CRPF is questionable, however if they really want to achieve success against Naxals they have no other option but to develop young leadership in state police, CRPF and other paramilitary forces. We shouldn’t shy away from the hard fact and the ground reality about weakness in young leadership.”
Another major problem that is being discussed elaborately is the way in which these anti-Naxal operations have been planned and conducted. The planning is being done at much higher level and the officers responsible for the planning some time don’t even know the ground realities. Gen Sheketkar points out: “For success in anti-Naxal operations the strategy and ground-level tactics must be flexible; there should be no scope for rigidity based on some past experience. The experience of a particular senior officer who worked in NE and even in Kashmir may not be of use in the changing environment against Naxalite operations because of totally different environment, operational situation and motivation to the Naxalites. It is not to suggest that the past experience is of no use. The deployment of force, the operational philosophy at the ground level must change as per the changing environment, and anti-Naxal operations need to be highly dynamic. However I feel sorry to say there is reluctance at all level of governing mechanism and the operational leadership to change. Say even a post established at a particular village may have to be shifted along with the Naxalite focus of operation, whereas you find that at the ground level there is reluctance to shift and change. That is what is resulting in successive failure.”
Recent incidences in Chhattisgarh have exposed the status of cooperation between the state police and paramilitary forces deployed in the Naxal areas. Cooperation between these two is something without which there can be no success, yet it doesn’t exist, thanks to the ego of the leadership and institutions involved. Gen Sheketkar reasoned further: “There is a harsh reality we need to know. To accept the deployment of paramilitary forces in a state because it is perceived to be the failure of state police, this results in reluctance in cooperation on latter’s part which is most essential for success in such operations. No state police leadership will accept it but this is a harsh truth. The forces coming from outside the state must endeavour to get the cooperation of the state police in conducting the operations and restoring normalcy rather than finding faults in the functioning of state police mechanism.”
Lack of Intelligence
Intelligence has a prime role to play in anti-Naxal operations. One of the biggest strength of Naxals is their intelligence network. They generally have precise information about the force movement, deployment, plans etc. This is possible only through a network of mole within the government. Naxals plan and execute their operations with utmost secrecy whereas state police and paramilitary forces don’t do so. State police will have to learn to make such decision with utmost secrecy.
Counter-espionage is something that must be started. Denying information to Naxal should be the first step. Elimination of their moles and supporters in their area of influence should be the next step. Precise intelligence will provide information about their source of weapons and money. Scuttling them
should be the next step, ensuring this system of intelligence must penetrate the Naxal ranks and supporters. Intelligence must lead the anti-Naxal operations. Jingoistic arrogance of heavy deployment will only worsen the situation.
Local intelligence in Indian police setup is done by the local police i.e. local police stations. But unfortunately, the police stations in Naxal areas have been long abandoned. This is costing heavily to the paramilitary forces stationed in these areas. To develop the local-level intelligence against Naxals CRPF has now decided to permanently deploy the battalions in the affected areas. Officers and personnel are being trained by intelligence agencies. These men will then go back to their units and will develop intelligence network.
“Intelligence failure is more at the tactical level which has to be collected by troops operating on the ground and cannot come from higher HQs. For this purpose establishing rapport with the local people is absolutely essential, for then they would volunteer information even at the risk of their own lives. Where such rapport is not existing, they will not provide any indicators, which is what is happening now where locals are not giving any information to units even though build-up of over 100 or so Naxals is taking place,” Brig Rahul Bhonsle, a noted expert on security, says on the lack of rapport between the outside forces and local people, the ultimate source of intelligence.
Preparedness of Paramilitary
With every incidence of massacre of paramilitary personnel the debate begins on the quality of training and preparedness of the force for the particular type of operation. There has been media reports suggesting that the battalions are deployed even without proper orientation about the tasks and the area of deployment. Time and again the quality of training being given has been questioned.
For instance, large part of the causalities occur through IED explosions during the search operations or during the force movement. Naxals have been using this tactic successfully for very long but the paramilitary forces don’t seem to find a way out.
Brig Bhonsle suggests on this: “The best antidote to an IED is effective route-opening operations and area domination. Route opening is not merely travelling along a road but also clearing the areas dominating the axis by physical occupation. Technology will only assist in route opening and is not a substitute for the same.”
It seems some of the most basic standard operational procedures are not being followed costing very valuable human life.
Indian army has offered to train paramilitary forces for the anti-Naxal operations. The army also offered to send its highly trained officers and JCOs to the CPOs for the training purpose into the units but this was turned down by CPOs.
Speaking on the training of CPOs Brig Bhonsle says: “Institutionalisation of training of forces employed in anti-Naxal operations is important. Training has to be carried out in two parts, individual and sub-units. The latter has to be carried out in squads, platoons or companies or groups in which they are likely to be employed for operations. At the end of training, a validation and certification has to be carried out indicating the standards achieved by each sub-unit and recommending employment in intense or nominal violent environment. This will reduce the high level of casualties being suffered so far.”
Lot has been written about the lack of governance in the Naxal-affected areas, the needs and requirements of the tribals and their lack of political voice. No one can doubt that it indeed is the reality. Dr N Manoharan Senior Fellow, CLAWS, opines, “Situation can be improved purely through improving the governance, which is presently bad. But before that the image of the security forces and the allied armed groups like Salwa Judum should be improved. Both should go hand-in-hand. The expectations of tribals and other people in the Naxal-affected areas are not that high; they are very basic. If they are met, apart from improving the credibility of the government, it would go a long way in cutting the fuel of the Maoists. If people are won, then Maoists would automatically wither away.
To achieve the objective what is required is a well-coordinated effort and a clear-cut policy by governments which is still nowhere to be seen. Dr Manoharan on this issue says: “There is nothing like a single ‘anti-Naxal policy’ that exists in India. The Home Minister has been talking about ‘four-pillar’ approach that includes military, development/governance, political and perception management. However, the Centre has its limitations in pursuing this policy as state governments of the Naxal-affected areas have to do the actual legwork.”
To finish off the Naxal menace, a long-drawn multi-faceted policy is required. Every government policy will have to impact the grass-roots and the growth should be inclusive. Government must regain its credibility in its interiors and should discredit the propagators of violence who have been exploiting the local issues by spreading the chaos and exploiting it to gain political and military power. A well-coordinated police action and well-planned public policy is needed to be formulated and executed with utmost honesty and sincerity to undo the wrongs of decades, then only can we defeat this Naxal menace.
By Rohit Srivastava