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Naxalist Ambush and Lessons

Context

  • 25 CRPF Jawans were killed by Naxalists in frontal attack at Sukma.
  • This is one of the gravest tragedies for our security systems in the recent times.
  • Naxalism was dubbed as the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country” by then PM Manmohan Singh in 2006.
  • Prime MinisterNarendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2014, giving Nepal’s example, called upon the misguided youth of the country to shun terrorism and Naxalism and opt for peace and brotherhood instead.

 

History

  • The termNaxal derives from the name of the village Naxalbari in West Bengal, where the movement had its origin.
  • Naxalites are consideredfar-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology. Their origin can be traced to the split in 1967 of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist).
  • Initially the movement had its centre in West Bengal. In later years, it spread into less developed areas of rural southern and eastern India, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana through the activities of underground groups like the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
  • According to Maoists, the Indian Constitution “ratified colonial policy and made the state custodian of tribal homelands”, turning tribal populations into squatters on their own land and denied them their traditional rights to forest produce.
  • These Naxalite conflicts began in the late 1960s with the prolonged failure of the Indian government to implement constitutional reforms to provide for limited tribal autonomy with respect to natural resources on their lands, e.g. pharmaceutical and mining, as well as pass ‘land ceiling laws’, limiting the land to be possessed by landlords and distribution of excess land to landless farmers and labourers. The constitution envisaged certain provisions under 5th and 6th
  • In February 2009, the Indian Central government announced a new nationwide initiative, to be called the “Integrated Action Plan” (IAP) for broad, co-ordinated operations aimed at dealing with the Naxalite problem in all affected states (namelyKarnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal). Importantly, this plan included funding for grass-roots economic development projects in Naxalite-affected areas, as well as increased special police funding for better containment and reduction of Naxalite influence in these areas
  • In 2009, Naxalites were active across approximately 180 districts in ten states of India.In August 2010, after the first full year of implementation of the national IAP program, Karnataka was removed from the list of Naxalite-affected states.In July 2011, the number of Naxalite-affected areas was reduced to 83 districts in nine states (including 20 additional districts).
  • Mao Zedongprovided ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Indian peasants and lower class tribals overthrow the government and upper classes by force, because of which Naxalism is also called Maoism.
  • A large number of urban elites were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Charu Majumdar’s writings, particularly the ‘Historic Eight Documents’ which formed the basis of Naxalite ideology.

 Problem at policy level

  • The disaster at Sukma represents multiple failures at different levels.
  • It is inexplicable that the post of Director General of the CRPF should have been kept vacant for more than 50 days. A disciplined force always looks up to its leader for guidance and direction, and his absence creates a sense of uncertainty in the ranks. Keeping India’s lead counter-insurgency force of more than three lakh personnel headless was, to say the least, avoidable.
  • There is no clarity yet about the strategic approach to the Maoist problem, even though the Indian state has been battling it for the last 50 years. Shivraj Patil, Union home minister in the UPA government, in a statement on April 24, 2005, described the Maoists as “our brothers and sisters”. The Maoists took full advantage of this approach to augment their strength and build their firepower.
  • In 2006, a 14-point policy was announced which inter alia talked of addressing the problem simultaneously “on political, security and development fronts”. The policy, however, never got implemented on the ground.
  • The next Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, summarised government policy in three graphic words in 2009: “Clear, hold and develop.” It was a cryptic enunciation, but was executed by a massive deployment of the Central forces in the affected regions. His approach was, however, not shared by everyone within the government. As a result, the security forces felt hamstrung in their operations.
  • During his visit to Dantewada on May 9, 2015, the prime minister again called upon the Maoists to shun violence and said, “only plough on shoulders can bring development, not guns”. These were unexceptionable statements, but there should have been a strategic formulation by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • In the absence of any clear-cut guidelines or directions from the Central government, every state government has been dealing with the problem as per its own assessment of the situation. There is no coherent strategy or plan.

 

Tactical mistakes

  • Chhattisgarh has witnessed the highest level of Maoist violence in the country. It has not extended the kind of support it should have to the Central armed police forces, which, more often than not, are left to fend for themselves.
  • That 300 Maoists attacked CRPF speaks strongly about the intelligence vacuum with local administration and intelligence agencies.
  • The huddle of so many soldiers in a counter-insurgency operation also does not bode well with how they were reacting to the situation.
  • Forces sent for counter-insurgency must have first-class leaders, first-class weapons and first-class training. The CRPF in Sukma appeared to be lacking in the required level of training and leadership. What is particularly galling is that it was in Sukma a few days ago that 12 members of another CRPF road-opening party were killed in an IED explosion.

Present spate

  • There has been a significant drop in the volume of Maoist violence. A decade ago, Chhattisgarh reported 350 killings, among them 182 security forces personnel, 73 Maoists and 95 civilians. In 2016, the figure had dropped to 207 fatalities, which included only 36 security forces personnel, 133 Maoists and 38 civilians.
  • At the all-India level, the geographical area under Maoist influence has shrunk drastically. In 2010, when the movement was at its peak, 223 districts in 20 states across the country were affected by Maoist violence. Today, the figure has come down to 106 districts in 13 states. Several members of the CPI (Maoist) central committee and politburo have been neutralised. The Maoists are in tactical retreat.
  • This is, however, not to deny that they retain the capacity to launch lethal strikes. Besides, they have, in the past, shown enormous capacity to reorganise and reinvent. Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

 

Schemes by Indian government

  • The Additional Central Assistance (ACA) for the LWE affected districts, being implemented by the NITI Aayog and the Road Requirement Plan (RRP-I), being implemented by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, are the two major developmental schemes, which focus specifically on the LWE affected districts.
  • ROSHNI is a special initiative under, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (Formerly Ajeevika Skills), launched in June 2013 for training and placement of rural poor youth from 27 LWE affected districts in 09 States (Andhra Pradesh-01, Bihar-02, Chhattisgarh-08, Jharkhand-06, Madhya Pradesh-01, Maharashtra-01, Odisha-06, Uttar Pradesh-01 and West Bengal-01).
  • The scheme “Skill Development in 34 Districts affected by Left Wing Extremism” under implementation from 2011-12 is to establish 01 ITI and 02 Skill Development Centres each in 34 LWE affected districts of 09 States (Telangana-01, Bihar-06, Chhattisgarh-07, Jharkhand-10, Madhya Pradesh-01, Maharashtra-02, Odisha-05, Uttar Pradesh-01 and West Bengal-01) and to run demand driven vocational training courses comprising Long Term training and Short Term training and Instructor Training courses.
  • Ministry of Communication & IT is implementing the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) supported Scheme of Mobile Services in LWE affected areas in the 10 LWE affected States. The project was approved by the Government on 20.08.2014 to provide Mobile Services.

 

Lessons to be learnt

  • A fundamental flaw in the anti-Maoist operations today is that the state police forces in most states — undivided Andhra Pradesh was a singular exception — are heavily dependent on the Central government.
  • The mindset seems to be that Maoism is the government of India’s problem and, therefore, the Central forces should bear the brunt of extremist violence. The great lesson to be learnt from Punjab is that until the state police makes a frontal attack on the terrorists/Maoists, the battle would never be won.
  • State governments must realise that it is their battle: They have to lead and the Central forces are to play only a supportive role. Once this transformation in mindset takes place, the tide will definitely turn.
  • Undivided Andhra Pardesh in Telangana region in early 2000s made huge investments in district policing and a formidable intelligence network which allowed elite anti-Naxal Greyhounds to conduct precise intelligence led operations. However as the Maoists have created across states a corridor, they dispersed to the neighbouring states and therefore without coordination between different states’ Police, it failed apparently.
  • The security forces’ efforts will, of course, have to be supplemented by appropriate socio-economic measures to address the legitimate grievances of the tribals and draw them into the mainstream.
  • The “Andhra model” which was a three pronged strategy can be employed–
  • Building Road infrastructure
  • Curbing armed squads
  • Rehabilitating surrendered naxals.

Practice Questions

  1. What are the deficiencies in tackling Naxal problem in India? Explain.
  2. Discuss various government schemes formulated to tackle Naxalism at the level of development.

 

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