UNION Home Minister P Chidambaram’s remarks about waging a war against Naxals have attracted a lot of criticism from several quarters.
Sections of security experts argue that no State can declare a war on its own citizens, for it would be counter-productive. Their concerns are valid in normal circumstances but not in crisis situations. Times come in the lives of States when they have no option but to wage a full-fledged war against insurgents to protect the very existence of the State. Naxals have gained enormous confidence by ‘liberating’ large chunks of areas from government control and running parallel administration, including kangaroo courts. As of now, 265 of 625 districts are seriously affected by Maoist violence. They have so entrenched themselves that it would take the government not months but years to restore its authority. If the State has to win this protracted war, it would have to evolve a strategy and have the guts to pursue it, whatever the cost in terms of lives on both sides. Dantewada ambush is the latest in the series that has raised disturbing questions about intelligence gathering and a coherent strategy to meet the rebels’ challenge. Media’s propensity to debunk the forces for its insufficient training and skill on the basis of incomplete and unverified information tends to demoralise those who are fighting insurgents in inhospitable terrain with poor infrastructure and pitiable living conditions. How many newspapers and news channels care to inform their readers/viewers that several members of the force that was ambushed, including its leader Deputy Commandant Satyavan Singh Yadav, quickly recovered from the surprised attack and engaged the enemy in gun fights killing eight Naxals? Instead of running down our brave hearts, we must learn to respect and honour them.
It is extremely disturbing that Army Chief General VK Singh should have publicly ruled out media speculation about deployment of Army in anti-insurgency operations. Equally uncalled for was the public statement by Air Chief Marshal PV Naik that he was not in favour of involving the Air Force in situations like the Naxal problem. Army Generals and Air Chiefs have the right, nay the duty, to put across their professional assessments on these vital issues but only at appropriate forums. It was an act of indiscretion on their part by which they invited a rap on their knuckles from the government. In a prompt response, the Cabinet Secretary made it absolutely clear that only the Ministry of Home Affairs would henceforth speak officially on anti-insurgency issues. Unfortunately, the civilian authorities are equally responsible for creating an environment in which our armed forces express their views on sensitive issues in public domain. This time round, these were issues of strategy and tactics. Last time, it was about the Pay Commission’s recommendations and its implementation. Civilian control our military is sacrosanct but it shouldn’t be reduced to uninspiring bureaucratic bossism. Our political leadership must provide adequate leadership and cover to the armed forces to avoid extremely embarrassing situations for the military brass and the country.
Those who argue that no country deploys its army against its own citizens are talking of normal times. In emergencies and crisis situations when the very existence of a State is at stake, States are left with no option but to use their might to crush the elements that challenge their authority. Nehru sent the Army to fight Naga insurgency in 1950s and even used the Air Force in 1960 to curb the rebellion in what is now known as Nagaland. Smt Indira Gandhi sent the Air Force to crush the Mizo rebels, who had captured the Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, in the gloomy year of 1975. Again in 1984, she sent the Army to flush out Bhindranwale and his armed terrorists from the Golden Temple. Having said that, one must point out that deployment of armed forces to fight insurgency is a decision that can’t be taken lightly. It may have serious ramifications as was the case in Smt Gandhi sending the Army into the Golden Temple. While no decision has been taken by the government on induction of armed forces in anti-Naxal operations, initial steps have been taken to prepare the Army to intervene if it becomes inevitable. There are reports that the Army Chief had a detailed discussion with the Union Home Secretary GK Pillai in the aftermath of the Dantewada ambush. One of the decisions taken is that Army should train the police and para- military forces before their induction in anti-insurgency operations. Another decision is that every unit of the police and para-military forces would identify its own men to be trained as intelligence scouts so that these units can get the real-time intelligence. The Army has been asked to set up two sub-area headquarters in the red zone to increase its presence and to sensitise the soldiers about ground realities.
BJP’s strong support to the government in whatever action the latter takes in tackling the menace has led to the emergence of a broad political consensus. It is now generally agreed that development can’t precede restoration of state’s authority and that there is an urgent need for better coordination between the affected states and the central government in intelligence gathering and operations.
Peaceniks’ demand for suspension of hostilities and talks with Naxals is rubbish. Most of these peaceniks are above ground supporters of the underground rebels. There can’t be talks unless the Naxals abjure violence and give up arms. They won’t accept this condition till they are made to realise that their aim to capture power by violence will remain a pipe dream. In the northeast and other parts of the country, insurgents agreed to talk after the State was able to talk from a position of strength. Talks will be meaningful only after the State has broken the back of the Naxals.
For that to achieve, the governments at the centre and in states will have to win back the loyalty of tribals, who have been denied their share of the fruits of development all these years. Allocation for more funds to the Naxal-affected areas wouldn’t necessarily mean there would be development in those areas. The experience in the northeast and J&K has shown injection of cash into troubled areas amounts to subsidising insurgency, as outlaws extort large chunks of funds made available for development. The government will have to evolve a grand strategy to deny the outlaws the oxygen that sustain them—support and sympathy of tribals—by winning back hearts and minds of the poorest of the poor in the tribal belts. Till then, no amount of force will be able to defeat the well-entrenched Maoists.