Dhruv C Katoch
Left Wing Extremism (LWE) has plagued the country since the last five decades. Today, it affects about 200 districts of the country of which 35 are seriously affected. The most seriously affected states are Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Partially affected states are Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and two districts of Maharashtra.
The threat from LWE has always been a serious security concern, but it assumed menacing proportions from 2004 onwards, when the two largest groups, the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) and People’s War (PW) merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)]. From 2004 to 2010, the number of fatalities per year in violence perpetrated by the Maoist cadres increased from 600 to over 1,000. However, over the last three years, there has been a noticeable drop in violence levels, the fatalities dropping to 602 in 2011, and remaining in the range of 400 fatalities in 2012 and 2013.
The drop in fatalities, however, does not indicate any decrease in threat levels. It simply marks a tactical hiatus imposed by the Maoists due to losses suffered by its leadership in the last two years. Post 2004, the success achieved by the Maoists up to 2010 led its leadership to extend the ‘people’s war’ throughout the country. This proved to be premature and over ambitious. As the Maoist leadership moved out of its traditional areas in a bid to expand operations, they were exposed to well-targeted intelligence-based operations by the police forces and suffered heavy losses. The plan to expand their operations has now been put on hold with the Maoists withdrawing to their areas of traditional strength in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ states. The Maoist cadre strength has, however, not been dented. On the contrary, reports indicate that the Maoist cadre strength has increased in the last few years, with the armed cadres now numbering close to 9,000 and the ‘janmilitia’ (people’s militia) about 40,000.
What we are witnessing now is a period of strategic stalemate, with the Maoist leadership regrouping to maintain a firm hold over its existing support base. The security forces have been successful in conducting operations based on specific intelligence, especially in targeting the Maoist leadership. However, ground operations by the Central Armed Police Forces have not been so effective. The major success achieved against the Maoists in an encounter was in Chatra, Jharkhand, where an outfit called the Triteeya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC), comprising former Maoists, killed 10 Maoists in May 2013. The police forces have had some success against the Maoists, but such success has been few and far between. The Maoists, on the other hand, achieved significant success against the state. A major action was the elimination of most of the Chhattisgarh Congress leadership in a Maoist attack in May 2013. They thus continue to pose a serious security threat to the integrity of the state.
The drop in fatalities must not be seen as a sign of decreasing violence levels. The drop is actually reflected in only two states, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. Fatalities in West Bengal dropped from around 400 in 2010 to nil in 2012 and 2013. In Chhattisgarh, the drop has been from about 300 fatalities in 2010 to about 100 each in 2012 and 2013. Successful political penetration into violence-prone areas and targeted operations by security forces have led to a decline in fatalities in these two states, but the situation in other states has not shown any appreciable improvement.
Resolution of conflict in the affected states would require multiple interventions and would have to include rights of the people, development and security. The prime intervention must be in implementing constitutional provisions as given in Article 244 of the Constitution and the Fifth Schedule. Other provisions such as the implementation of PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996) also need to be carried out.
A major problem in combating Maoist violence is the fact that such violence is treated as a law and order problem, which falls under the state list. On the contrary, as Maoists move freely across state boundaries, a coordinated national approach is required to tackle the armed cadres. There is a problem of ownership of operations which could be resolved if law and order is placed on the concurrent list. This would require an amendment to the Constitution.
To enhance security, greater focus must be placed on improving the capability of the state police rather than mindless raising the Central Armed Police Forces to combat Maoist violence. The local police have the language skills and knowledge of the terrain and are in tune with local cultural sensibilities. They can therefore respond better to challenges in their own areas. As of now, the general policing apparatus in these states remains largely dysfunctional and divorced from the challenge of the Maoist insurgency as the thrust appears to be on raising of Special Forces in the worst afflicted states – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar, on the lines of the Greyhounds force in Andhra Pradesh. Local police forces with an improved intelligence set up are more likely to create a secure environment and this must be encouraged.
Too much stress is also being given on technological acquisitions such as mine protected vehicle and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to combat the Maoists. No amount of technology can replace good training and leadership of the police forces, which continue to be well below the desired level. It is a sad reflection on the ability of the police to counter the Maoists when the casualties suffered by such forces are in excess of the casualties suffered by the Maoists.
The state’s counter terrorism (CT) ‘policies’ have been based principally on political posturing and not on objective and urgent considerations of strategy and response. As of now, broader police capabilities and the efficiency of the security system as a whole have not manifested any dramatic improvement and greater emphasis on these aspects must be a prime security intervention.
The development effort has a number of schemes, all of which have adequate financing. The need is for implementation and monitoring their effectiveness. Development has to be ground-based and not Delhi-led for which the District Commissioners must play a pivotal role. Each of them must look into a 10-year road map for development, which must be monitored at the state level. Only through a combination of Rights, Development and Security can the support base of the Maoists be eroded. Let us keep in mind that India’s vulnerabilities have not diminished. Combating the Maoist challenge must remain the prime task of both the Centre and the affected states if India, is to find its rightful place in the comity of nations.
(The write is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)