India–“Peals of Spring Thunder”: Oppressive System cannot control the struggle against oppression

The Naxalite Attacks at Sukma
by BINOY KAMPMARK, writing in CounterPunch

naxal_attackThey have been considered one of India’s most pressing threats, and the recent attack by the Naxalites that ambushed a convoy of the Congress Party went that much further.  The ambush took place over the weekend in Sukma on the Maharashtra, Andra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh border. Reports suggest that there were as many as 200 Maoist rebels who inflicted heavy losses – 28 killed and 24 others wounded – before fleeing.

The attacks have shaken the establishment.  Among the dead were four state party leaders including Mahendra Karma of Chhattisgarh, and five police officers.  For BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, “This new aggressive strategy of the Naxalities is a real threat to the Constitution and the rule of law. It is a challenge to sovereignty” (Times of India, May 26).  Former police chief of Punjab state KPS Gill is pessimistic about the new surge – the government of the day did not “have the political will and bureaucratic and police set-up to prevent such attacks” (Dhaka Tribune, May 26).

How the Naxalites have been treated has varied.  In 1967, when the movement first made its presence felt in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari, the Home Minister Y. B. Chavan treated the matter as a case of “lawlessness” in action.  The mistake was classic but fatal.  During the 1970s, the state authorities moved in on the movement hoping to crush it with repressive enthusiasm.  As usual with such measures, the quotient of extra-judicial killings and corrupt practices accompanied the operations.  Legislation was passed to enable various state authorities to take measures – the attempt, for example, by the N.T. Rama Rao government to free up arms licensing in Andra Pradesh in 1983 for individuals to protect themselves against the Naxals.

However brutal any reaction against the Naxal movement has been, the authorities have been incapable of getting away from the socio-economic problems its followers capitalise on.  The West Bengal State Secretariat, when conducting an enquiry into the uprising, found that, “Behind the peasant unrest in Naxalbari lies a deep social malady – malafide transfers, evictions and other anti-people actions of tea gardeners and jotedars.”  They gain political traction in areas of horrendous poverty – regions such as Warangal, Adilabad and Karimnagar.

The agrarian revolution of the Indian state may well have been pushed with enthusiasm, but economic disparities were not going away in the development drive.  Tribal populations were being displaced. Corporate and government malfeasance was rampant.  The Naxalites, for all their brutal measures, can count among their constituency tenant farmers and the dirt poor tribes peoples they claim to represent.

Today, they remain one of the last formidable Maoist movements, having a formidable presence in 20 of India’s 28 states.  The Indian Home Ministry claims there are thousands of fighters whose leaders refuse to negotiate with the government till paramilitary soldiers are withdrawn.  State authorities have been in the habit of arming local vigilantes.  The country also persists in employing that great imperial shackle – the sedition law.  Civil rights tend to be shredded.

Governments have pondered what model of “integration” to best employ, but these have not been successful. Corporate misappropriation and exploitation – be it from mining and energy firms – remains a stark problem in states such as Chhattisgarh.  In 2010, a defense analyst Raman Dixit would write in the Journal of Defence Studies that “social integration” would be the best move against the problem.  Exploitation of the poor and scheduled casts would have to be rectified.  The right over forest produce would have to be assured.

The rhetoric of the bullet is, however, a powerful one. Old formulas are hard to abandon. Painful realities are easy to ignore.  Prakash has urged for a “unified strategy” in dealing with Naxalism, one that blithely ignores the social context of the rebellion.  “It is not a development issue. It is about the Maoist belief to change power through violence” (Times of India, May 26).

But the power of the bullet will be futile in the face of a movement that will remain powerful as long as the social conditions exist to sustain it.  Naxalism’s success is a direct attribution to the failings of governance.  Far from being a cancer, a mutation that says little of the Indian political tapestry, it says everything about it – development that is uneven, inequities that persist with painful relevance.

The best work of revolutionaries is, of course, done by the establishment of the day.  It is they, more so than the Naxalites, who will change.  Till that happens, the Maoist group shall remain what China’s People’s Daily (Jul 5, 1967) once described as: “a peal of spring thunder”.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He currently lectures in politics and law at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:


Chhattisgarh attack: Why India is losing its war against Naxals

by May 28, 2013

Five decades ago, the special forces officer Roger Trinquier set about understanding why his nation losing to enemies it outgunned and outmanned. France, he wrote, was  “in studying a type of warfare that no longer exists and that we shall never fight again, while we pay only passing attention to the war we lost in Indochina and the one we are about to lose in Algeria.  The result of this shortcoming is that the army is not prepared to confront an adversary employing arms and methods the army itself ignores. It has, therefore, no chance of winning”.

Trinquier concluded: “our military machine reminds one of a pile-driver attempting to crush a fly”.

Like the French army Trinquier wrote of, India counter-Maoist campaign will not and cannot succeed.  The Indian state doesn’t have enough boots on the ground.  The lessons its fighting women and men receive are inadequate. The tools they’re being are issued are the wrong ones.

India’s way of counter-insurgency isn’t that different from Mughal emperors, who despatched great imperial columns to put down rebellious governors and or bandits preying on their trade routes. In 2003, a group of ministers which review internal security after the Kargil war, assigned the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) frontline responsibility for counter-insurgency operations—backing up police forces across the country.  The force, at the time of the war, had 167,367 personnel. It is now up to 222 battalions—over 222,000 armed personnel, and 300,000 including administrators and support staff.


The site of the attacked convoy. PTI

Yet, the results haven’t been luminous. Even as the CRPF’s numbers have ballooned, the government’s own data shows the number of Maoist insurgents eliminated has declined year-on-year since 2009, from 317 to 114. The number of insurgents and unarmed supporters has stayed steady, at 25,000 plus.

In 2010, an entire company of the 62 Battalion was annihilated in an ambush at Tarmetla. In the years since, the CRPF has become increasingly defensive — wary  both of taking casualties, or killing civilians in crossfire.

There’s a simple reasons for this. In 2003, the CRPF had seven recruit-training centres, each processing 600-700 women and men through nine-month courses. That number has increased, but using ad-hoc facilities. There’s no dedicated theatre-specific warfare schools and an intelligence service that exists only in name. The force doesn’t fly its own helicopters, necessary in Maoist-hit areas where it can’t use heavily-mined roads, or its own photo-reconnaissance capabilities.

If the CRPF was doing what it was supposed to do—just backing up police forces, who would generate intelligence and carry out cutting-edge operations—this wouldn’t matter quite as much. The thing is, those police forces themselves are in a mess.

Figures for 2011, the last year for which government data is available, show just how acute personnel deficits are in state hit by the Maoist insurgency.  Bihar had just 54,196 police personnel for a population of 82,998,509—65 for every 100,000 population, against a United Nations norm of 250:100,000 or better. West Bengal has 60,450 police for a population for its 91.34 million residents, 66:100,000.In Odisha, there are 29,481 for a population of 49.95 million, a ration of 70:100,000.  The state of Jharkhand—among the better-administered new states—does a little better, with 40,579 officers for 32.9 mn residents, but even that’s just 123:100,000.

Delhi, with 16.75 mn residents, had 66,686 on its rolls at end-2011—far more than Chhattisgarh, which had 27,597.

Having more police officers, of course, won’t solve the problem on its own. The sad truth, though, is more cops doesn’t mean more peace.  Nagaland, which now has a staggering 1,677 police for every 100,000 population, and Manipur with 669.6, and have some of the highest population to force ratios in India—but haven’t helped put down insurgencies.  Mizoram, which has no insurgency, has 1268.6, suggesting police hiring is in fact serving an employment-generation imperative.

In a June, 2010, speech, then-home minister P Chidambaram noted that in the states worst-hit by Maoist violence, “there are police stations where there are no more than eight men; and even these eight or less men do not hold any weapons for fear of the weapons being looted”.  He called on states to “enhance the capacity of training institutes in the States to at least double the present capacity, and to recruit at least double the number of policemen and women that are being recruited at present”.

He said it, and it hasn’t happened. Both New Delhi and state capitals need to be held to account for this.

There’s no shortage, though, of states which got counter-insurgency right — without tanks and gunships and armed drones and whatever else phalanxes of apoplectic retired generals have been calling for on television. Pile drivers, as Trinquier pointed out, can’t swat flies.

In the late-1990s, Andhra Pradesh’s politicians united behind a decisive counter-Maoist strategy. Former director-general of police HG Dora built a highly-rated intelligence service, boosted the numbers of police stations and upgraded training. It called in NS Bhati, a veteran of the legendary RAW covert force code-named Establishment22, to train crack special jungle warfare force, the Greyhounds. The state’s police are still the most feared by Maoists of all their adversaries.

Punjab’s KPS Gill famously routed an insurgency that seemed poised for triumph.  Prem Mahadeven has pointed out that the success was achieved by strategy, not machismo: among other things, Gill moved forces out of static duties into operations, and enhanced manpower “to attain a reaction time of 3-5 minutes in urban areas, and 15-20 minutes in rural areas”.

Tripura the authoritative South Asia Terrorism Portal records, brought “one of the most virulent insurgencies in the country to near-complete end”—an insurgency, like the one in Chhattisgarh, was alleged to be driven by irresolvable tribal-rights issues.

Andhra Pradesh was ruled by the Telegu Desam Party; Punjab by the Congress; Tripura by the Left. Counter-insurgency success isn’t about party politics: it’s about professional skill and political will.

Instead of will or skill, we’re getting buck-passing. The Union Government has ordered a National Investigations Agency probe—though what it’s supposed to ascertain is unclear, since the perpetrators are bragging about their act. The Ministry of Home Affairs has been saying that it warned of an attack—neglecting the minor detail that the 26 April Intelligence Bureau alert it refers mentioned only non-specific specific threat. The National Technical Reconnaissance Organisation and the Air Force are blaming each other for why drones aren’t located closer to the combat zone. Ajit Jogi wants President’s Rule; Rajnath Singh is complaining about the NIA.

Tragedy is of two kinds. There’s the kind that comes about because of consequences which cannot be foreseen; the consequence of fate.  Then, there’s what Socrates pithily described as going “willingly toward the bad”. Akrasia, he called it.

It doesn’t take a lot to see which script we’re acting to.

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