Sunday, June 20th, 2021 14:37:54

Did We Forget Dantewada

Updated: June 18, 2011 11:39 am

Numbers, like size, do matter. They matter more when the clime is “infected” with the hullabaloo of the death of America’s enemy number one. Numbers need to be highlighted more when covert operations like Geronimo overshadow any other happening, especially in the Third World, concerning the alienated masses and some subaltern constabulary.

            And we reach the situation when comparison of numbers must be carried out to hit the fading memory of not only the electorates, who are busy thronging the polling booths in about five provinces of the six-decade-old nation-state, but also the authoritative structures of the country, who are adept in maintaining the status quo, whether in the foreign policy segment or in the domestic circuit.

            If we could stir people’s minds and the media debates in April last year—as 75 Central Para Military Forces (CPMF) men and one Chhattisgarh policeman were slain by the Maoists—then why could we not grab eyeballs of the urban-bred intellectuals and consternation of the mainstream media when 11 CPMF (again) men were ambushed by the Maoists with the aid of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)? Would it create some effect if the number moves to 65? Well, 54 personnel were injured.

            Perhaps, we are too engrossed with the quixotic presumptions of carrying out a Geronimo-type operation to nab the ever-elusive Dawood Ibrahims and Hafeez Saeeds. Or may be we are extracting a vicarious pleasure of the elimination of Osama bin Laden. We are yet to reach the post-American world, not yet. For us, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and various other nomenclatures associated with it are of primary importance; though interestingly, we are neither a direct participant to it nor project the ability to take part in the world platform on a solid footing.

            For us, the Americans appear to be insuperable, projecting a hegemony which transcends the political realm and diffuses into the cultural, legal, educational and behavioural fields. However, though that is indeed the case, we fail to inculcate from Uncle Sam the basic tenets of counterinsurgency (COIN). We boldly proclaim the fact of dealing with decades-old insurgencies in difficult terrains, cutting across a gamut of ideological and religious spectrum and still fail to come up with any well-formulated strategy to counter the ongoing Left-wing insurgency.

The Event on May 3

A particular reference must be made of the recent May 3 annihilation of 11 security personnel on Dhardharia hills, under the jurisdiction of the Senha police station of Lohardaga District in Jharkhand. Another 54 jawans were injured. It was a trap set up by the Left-wing ultras through ‘wrong intelligence’ provided to the office-in-charge PC Devgam of the Senha police station. Either the informer was a double agent or he was misled by his primary sources (aka villagers). Nevertheless, that has to be exhumed after enquiry, which would require substantial amount of time. And before the truth is revealed and the post-mortem is finalised, another Dhardharia-like event may recur.

            A release issued by the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Military Commission (BJNCG-SAMC) of the CPI (Maoist) on May 6, termed the IED-led attack in the Dhardharia Hills as “the operation green hunt break”. It was aimed at taking revenge for police actions against the ultras and the arrest of some of the key members of the group.

The Maoist communiqué released on May 6, indicated towards the April 28, arrest of top leaders—Varanasi Subarmanyam, Vijay Kumar Arya and Pulendu Shekhar Mukherjee. They had been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Sections 121 and 212 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), in cases registered against them at Barsoi police station in Katihar district, Bihar.

            Now, Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar at the turn of the new millennium so as to provide succour to the exasperated tribal mass; but the Constitution-mandated boundaries hardly can defy the burgeoning Maoist/Naxalite movement, which germinated in the late 1960s in erstwhile Central Bihar; when the country was slowly being swayed away by a plethora of Maoist literature—sprouting from the precincts of Presidency College in Kolkata and the aura of Karl Marx’s praxis (theory plus practice) was being put into real-time effect by the nihilist doctrinaire of Charu Mazumdar.

            In such an ideological backdrop, as Bela Bhatia notes in her thesis on the Naxalite movement in Bihar: “During the formative phase of 1967-77, local struggles initially sprung up in the Mushahari region of Muzaffarpur District in north Bihar, in parts of Bhojpur and Patna Districts in central Bihar, and in Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Singhbhum, and Dhanbad Districts of south Bihar (now Jharkhand). These struggles were modelled after the Naxalbari uprising of West Bengal.”

            She continues: “Many of these actions were sporadic, and were not part of a sustained movement. In Bhojpur, however, the Naxalite movement took root, starting from village Ekwari where Jagdish Mahato, a local teacher who had forged links with Naxalite leaders from West Bengal, led a protracted struggle against exploitative landlords.”

Maoist Insurgency in Bihar-Jharkhand: Root Causes

Now, what was the raison d’etre for the outburst by the Dailts of Bihar in the late 1960s? Bhatia focuses on a few of them. First and foremost was lack of just wages to the village labourers—a perennial problem. Next contentious issue was the ownership of the village pond. It was unjustifiably usurped by the landlord(s) and since it was a source of fish, thus protein, the issue added to the hues of the Dalit-villagers. Other significant factors were the lack of proper housing and presence of criminal gangs and freebooters, at times in collusion with the landlord(s). Last, but the most important, was the restoration of izzat (dignity or honour) of the Dalit men and women amongst the village folk, through the gun supplied by the Maoists.

            Has there been any abatement in the violence in the Bihar-Jharkhand region with the erection of parliamentary structures over the last four decades? Has there been any emancipation of the common-folks, after seeing a new tribal-based province and two backward caste-chief minsiters on the trot? Have the basic problems which helped earn a Jagdish Mahato and Rameshwar Ahir of Bhojpur (killed in 1972 and 1975 respectively) the epithets of Marx and Engels, been alleviated?

            Bela Bhatia asserts that at the village level in Bihar, people had joined the Naxalite movement because of their instinctive approach against injustice. They hardly, according to Bhatia’s analysis, could be branded as ‘informed revolutionaries’. Those ideologically motivated folks, quite expectedly, were the leaders at the block level and upwards. For the hoi polloi of Bihar’s grassroots, an exposition to complex Marxist-Leninist-Maoist literature provided little amelioration. What, however, they demanded of the Naxalite were the basic rights. Once the movement could satiate the masses with a part of their demand, and once Yadavs got entrenched in the political scene in Bihar, and with the formation of Jharkhand, Naxalite leaders had to seek other avenues to save their existence and ideology.

            After all, a protracted guerrilla warfare to usher in a New Democratic Revolution (NDR) so as to supplant the incumbent bourgeoisie governmental structure needs years and loads of patience; which are difficult to come by from the subaltern Dalits or adivasis for a sustained period of time. Hence, time and again, the Maoist leaders need to pump in ‘political consciousness’ in the cadres through wanton acts of terror—be it against the official constabulary or upper caste/class elements or lumpen elements within the movement or even petty ‘informers’.

            The May 3 act in the Dhardharia Hills of Jharkhand was one such. It was simple and pure—Dantewada-Chintalner redux of April 2010. Last year, after the Dantewada incident, under the pressure of criticisms within and without, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had constituted a one-man Rammohan Committee to enquire into the operational lapses.

Dantewada Redux

Whatever scathing indictment the retired Border Security Force (BSF) chief had come up with in his report, remains unavailable to the hapless Indian citizens—even in the era of the Right to Information Act (2005). Exercising this right, activist Ashwini Shrivastava had sought information on the Ramamohan Committee report from the MHA. The ministry, however, refused to part with a copy of the report citing the ever-standard rationale: “A copy of the report filed by the committee cannot be provided under Section 8 (a) of the Right to Information Act, 2005”.

            According to that section, “information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence,” cannot be given. So, the Rammohan Committee’s report languishes in the termite-ridden wooden cupboards of the official furniture, and a cohesive strategy, if not a Grand Strategy for COIN remains a distant dream for the Indian state.

            The Annual Report (2009-10) of the MHA has devoted about 10 pages in discussing the Left-wing extremism (LWE). Astoundingly, the overview opens with the self-admission: “Left-wing extremists (LWEs) operate in the vacuum created by functional inadequacies of field-level governance structures … and take advantage of prevalent dissatisfaction [emphasis added] … and injustice among the under privileged. …”

            Quite anomalously, the document in the very next line asserts that LWEs want “to show the governance structures at field levels as being ineffective.” This is in stark contradiction to the admission that there are “functional inadequacies of field-level governance”. However, at least on paper, the said document espouses the resolve to “curb the movement at any cost”. At the same time, it “gives a call to the Maoists to abjure violence and come for talks”. This aspect, incidentally, was echoed in public by Union Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee on April 25, 2011, at an election rally in the Purulia District of West Bengal. Interestingly, Mukherjee said that all [emphasis added] the demands of the Maoists “can be met through dialogues”. (PTI, April 25, 2011)

Government’s Approach

The olfactory nerves may sense some election odour in the statement of Mukherjee, but it is beyond doubt that the Union and the states clearly lack a vision and a strategy to counter LWE in the country. The Union Home Minister has repeatedly said (as corroborated by the document in consideration) that a dual, methodology is needed to curb LWE, i.e.:

■          Police and security oriented approach; and

■          Focused attention for development and governance.

(p. 18, section 2.7.5 of MHA Annual Report 2009-10)

            No doubt, that on paper, as is the norm in India, several integrated bodies based on a hierarchical model have been constructed in this regard. For instance, a standing committee of chief ministers (CMs) under the chairmanship of the Union Home Minister for policy making as far as tackling LWE is concerned. Second, a high-level task force under the Cabinet Secretary has been formed “for promoting coordinated efforts”. Another is a Coordination Centre chaired by the Union Home Secretary to review the efforts (appraisal?) of the concerned state governments; represented by their respective chief secretaries and directors general of police.

            To add, there exists a Special Secretary (Internal Security) for operational measures. Furthermore, an Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) headed by Additional Secretary (Naxal Management) looks into the implementation of development schemes in the LWE-affected areas. Moreover, 33 districts in eight states have been taken up for special attention on planning and implementation of development schemes. Unquestionably, these theoretical approaches along with the effort to implement schemes of the genre of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Sarbha Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and others in LWE-affected regions deserve adulation from all quarters. Nevertheless, the ground reality does not show a healthy pointer.

            Since 2004, that is after the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and People’s War Group (PWG), the intensity and scale of LWE in India has magnified; as evident from the table (which shows the data from 2004 onwards). The data clearly tells us that 2009 and 2010 have been specifically troublesome inasmuch as Maoist insurgency is concerned. Though Andhra Pradesh (AP) has shown clear-cut signs of abatement in Maoist violence, from three-digit casualties to two-digits; some states have picked up— especially Odisha and West Bengal (WB)—with a conspicuous rise in 2009 and 2010. Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Uttar Pradesh (UP) do not seem to have been much affected by the conflagration yet, whereas situation in Maharashtra may still be controlled. The situation in Bihar and Jharkhand does not show any marked signs of improvement.

            In fact, the WB and Odisha governments have specifically faltered in devising a holistic plan to counter LWE and have at many instances showed a ‘soft face’ to the ultras at times of crisis. Noteworthy in this regard were the abduction-case of the District Magistrate at Malkangiri in February this year, while the Marxist government of WB has continually faltered in tackling successive issues of a Nandigram, Lalgarh and Netai. Even the Chhattisgarh and Bihar governments have at times come up with a weak resolve when jawans have been abducted by the Maoists. In this internal security landscape, when we are not in any position to effectively thwart a low-intensity conflict, it sounds preposterous for us to focus on covert operations in a neighbouring land.

            Constitutionally speaking, the subject’s public order and police fall under the State List (Entries 1 and 2) and, hence, become the duty of the provinces to take care of law and order. However, the same treatise also enjoins the Union to ‘aid’ the states in maintaining internal security through disbursals of CPMF or other means (Entry 2A in Union List). And that is what is happening at present. Then, what really is/are the reason(s) behind Dantewada-Chintalner of 2010 or Dhardharia-2011?

May we recommend?

As the Rammohan Committee had suggested, a better coordination at the highest levels between the state police and paramilitary is required. The top cops cannot shun their obligations and leave it to the constabulary to work out the arduous route. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) need to be followed with discipline. On June 11, 2010, the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, organised a seminar on “Meeting the Naxal Challenge”. There, Shri Rammohan recommended the use of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) as deft in combating LWE. He said: “ITBP is a perfect example of one such force which guards the border and fights behind enemy lines, an illustration of guerilla warfare.”

            He further opined that “the tribals could, perhaps, be given the right over the minerals which are found in the land they lived in for millienia”. Protecting the rights of adivasis; according to Rammohan, holds the key to success against the Naxals.

            In the same event, Brig Ponwar (retd), who is presently supervising a COIN school at Kanker in Chhattisgarh; advocated of a “Politico-Military-Socio-Economic-Psychological Counter Naxalism Campaign” to address the Naxal Military arm first; though on the same plane acknowledging the fact that “Naxalism is not a mere police or military problem.”

            To state more numbers; in 2010, 629 casualties have been reported in the Red Corridor as against 158 in Jammu and Kashmir and 157 in the North-Eastern states. Naxal violence has spread across 321 districts of the country, most violent being the Bastar Sub Division an area of 39,000 sq km—equivalent to Mizoram, Tripura and half of Manipur.

            Om Shankar Jha, in a comprehensive research paper at Institute of Defence Research and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi; concludes that “The police training system, infrastructure, resources, manpower and logistics support are far below the desired level.”

            Nevertheless, arguments may go on whether to use the ITBP or the CPMF or a ‘toned’ Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhound-model to face the Maoist challenge, or for that matter to bring in the behemoth—Army. The ground reality lies in the fact that the authorities need to implement a coherent and consistent strategy to first militarily subdue the insurgency and then go for the development-mode, albeit without allowing much time gap between the two events—as the latter is the crucial factor of negating any further growth of insurrection.

            Talking with the insurgents from a ‘position of strength’ may be a desired option (as has been advocated in this forum earlier too). This is what Daniel Byman has to say regarding the option of talks with the rebels: “Talking with insurgents is often a necessary first step towards defeating them or reaching an acceptable compromise.” Moreover, talks may, as Byman hypothesizes, divide the insurgents on the ideological plane and, hence, be successful in creating fissures in the group. This, indubitably, shall be beneficial to curb the integrated post-2004 Maoist movement, as had been verified in the 1970s when splinter groups and innumerable factions led to the undoing of the rudimentary Naxalite movement.

            Surgical strikes against the top leaders or their steady incarceration will seriously deplete the organisation of its ‘brain’, but is there any guarantee that this would be a permanent solution? This may, however, be a ‘position of strength’ conferred on the authorities.

            If the authorities feel that they want to talk, then let them devise a trajectory to do so. They must keep in mind that pure negotiations with the ultras would not suffice. At the same time, it has to be remembered that tribal groups or Dalits want empowerment and autonomy. If that is provided with celerity, then the Maoist ideologues would hardly possess the water to swim with élan.

            And till such moves are made on the part of the government, the dispossessed would continue to shriek in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Jangalmahal, or even in Agra and Noida. In the process, ideologues would stealthily sneak in and provide the necessary mental and moral wherewithal to the underprivileged to break the existing social order. The anarchy in the social realm shall radiate to the political and the firmament over rural India shall continue to carry an eerie sensation, most reminiscent of a medieval gothic plot.

By Uddipan Mukherjee from Kolkata

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