Who are the Naxalites?
The term ‘Naxal’ derives its name from the Naxalbari village in West Bengal. Their origin can be traced back to the division of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which lead to the formation of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).i The movement moved from West Bengal to less developed areas of Southern India, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh. For the past 10 years, it has grown mostly from displaced tribals and natives who were fighting against exploitation from big Indian corporations.ii
In the Eastern states of India like Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Chattisgarh, they are usually known as or referred to as Maoists while in Southern states like Andhra Pradesh, they have other names. They have been declared as terrorists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967. Leaders have been known to have hideouts in China.iii
The government for a very long time has been negatively impacted by the violence and the disruptions caused in the Naxal-affected areas. Though numerous policy decisions have been devised to rule out the Maoists and Naxalites, most of them seem to have failed. Yet, some states, the ones which are taken up as case studies in this article have been partly successful with their Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategy. In short, this article will scrutinize the government’s policy and approach towards the Naxalites.
The government has used various sustainable strategies towards the Maoist insurgency. The main building blocks for India’s anti-Maoist response was laid down by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government between 2004-2014.iv
The principal strategy used by the government is the ‘Law and Order Approach’. This can be established by the fact that around 532 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed in the affected states.v The MHA has set up a special ‘institutional mechanism’ for counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics. It consists of vi
- A high-level task force named the ‘Review Committee’ under the Cabinet Secretary for promoting coordinated efforts for development and security measures.
- An Inter-Ministerial Group under the Ministry of Home Affairs headed by Secretary, Naxal Management Division – to review the implementation of development programmes in the Naxalite-affected areas.
- A Task Force on inter-State coordination headed by Special Secretary, Internal Security.
- A coordination Centre headed by Union Home Secretary.
Broadly, there are 4 key elements in the Union government’s approach to dealing with the Maoists/Naxalites. These are Security, Public Perception Management, Development, and rehabilitation.
But let’s dive deeper into the policy guidelines used by the government and analyze them under different sub-headings.
- Intelligence and Networking- The government has set up Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) at the Central level and State Multi-Agency Centre (SMAC) at the state level. These centres have proved to be highly effective in Maoist hotbeds like Jagdalpur and Gaya. Other noteworthy stops include strengthening of State-Intelligence Bureaus(SIBs) in the LWE affected areas. vii
- Deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces– The creation of Central Armed Police Forces(CAPF) to carry out counterinsurgency strategies has been a significant factor to improve the condition. More than 70,000 CAPFs have been deployed in the Naxal-affected states. In addition, the Centre has helped states to raise 14 Specialized Commando Battalion (CoBRA) that are equipped and trained in guerrilla and jungle warfare techniques and deployed to the worst-affected districts.viii
- SAMADHAN- The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched ‘SAMADHAN’ in May 2017. The acronym stands for the following: S – Smart Leadership, A – Aggressive Strategy, M – Motivation and Training, A – Actionable Intelligence, D -Dashboard Based KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and KRAs (Key Result Areas), H- Harnessing Technology, A – Action plan for each theatre and N- No access to Financing.ix This policy aims to hit at critical junctures in the Maoist links.
- Infrastructure Schemes- This scheme provides funds for better mobility, weaponry, vehicles and other critical infrastructure. Under the scheme, some 250 fortified police stations were opened in the LWE affected states. In December 2016, the Union government approved road-connectivity projects in 44 of the worst affected districts allocating a sum of INR 14025 crores.x
- Ban on the CPI(Maoist) and the UAPA Act, 2009- The Central Government in 2009 put a countrywide ban on the CPI(Maoist). Apart from this, the government enacted the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2009xi to put a check on the activities of the Naxalites and providing police and paramilitary forces autonomy and increased powers.
These were few of the indicators which define the government’s approach in the naxal-affected states. Due to the varied demography and nature of the Maoist and Naxals, ‘One tactic fits all’ would turn out to be a disaster. This is the reason why the government is moving ahead with not just the ‘Law and Order Approach’ but also the ‘Development and Rehabilitation Approach’ which has proved to be equally effective.
The ‘Developmental Approach’ can be best illustrated through the works of an expert committee (headed by D. Bandyopadhyay, the architect of “Operation Barga”) which carried out an extensive study on the socio-economic developments in the Naxal-affected regions and how to address those deficits. xii After assessing the suggestions of the Expert Committee, a large number of resources were transferred to areas affected by the Maoist insurgency and Left Wing Extremism. The Flagship Integrated Action Plan (IAP) was launched by the UPA government with a financial package of over INR 6000 crore per annum. One of the most significant steps taken by the Centre to address the longstanding grievances of Adivasis are enacting few landmark legislation recognizing the rights of Adivasis to access forests for self-governance.xiii
Another notable developmental scheme to enhance connectivity in the Maoist inaccessible areas is the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF). With a cost of INR 7330 crore, this novel scheme provides financial and administrative support to expand mobile services at 4072 tower locations identified by MHA in 96 districts in 10 states.
To understand the government’s approach more closely, I will be analyzing 5 case studies where the Counter Insurgency strategies have been successful in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas.
In the late 1980s, the 40,000-sq-km Bastar region that is made up of the Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker districts—became the nerve centre of Maoist militancy in India. Nearly 25,000 sq km of Bastar (including Abujmarxiv, the Maoist citadel of the so-called Red-Corridor).xv The separatists in Chhattisgarh has executed some of the most deadly attacks, such as the Chintalnar Massacre of 76 CRPF soldiers in 2010, and killing the party head for Chattisgarh Nanda Kumar Patel in 2013.xvi
The counterinsurgency strategy used by the state involved the nurturing and creation of a vigilante group, popularly called Salwa Judum (or Purification Hunt). xvii The government supported the local militias called Special Police Officers (SPOs) comprising of former rebels and youth. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the Salwa Judum group was illegal as it resulted in the mass displacement of the Adivasis (or tribal communities).xviii
The state government also adopted a surrender and rehabilitation policy mix and passed the Chhattisgarh Special Public Securities Act, 2006, which expanded the ambit of unlawful activities including the verbal and oral communications.xx The best policy adopted by the state is the opening up of 11 key road connectivity projects finished in 2018, connecting the Sukma, Bijapur and Jagdalpur districts.xxi
In addition, the state government has improved its combat capability and the coordination between the Intelligence and paramilitary support. This has resulted in a considerable decrease of the Maoist threats and attacks.
At one point in the late 2000s, the Maoist influence stretched over 23 districts of the 30 districts in Odisha. Koraput, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Keojhar have proved to be Maoist hotbeds and have paralyzed governance and normal day to day activities in these regions.
The first step taken by the Odisha government was in September 2004, when Patnaik initiated talks with the leaders of the People’s War Group (PWG) allowing a rally in the capital. xxii The Nayagarh incident in 2008xxiii proved to be the turning point for changing the policy decisions of the Odisha government.
After the incident, the government started to rigorously train the police officers, fortified the police stations, and recruited the tribal youth as Special Police Officers (SPOs). 17 battalions of Central forces were stationed in the key Naxal-affected areas. xxiv The Odisha government heavily relied on the Developmental approach with various efforts made to conduct food rationing, constructing roads, and other entitlement programmes.xxv The results achieved by the Odisha government is commendable and various mineral-rich regions which were affected by the Maoist insurgency have been improved.
By the 2000s, the Maoist insurgency has spread to over 20 districts in the State. Areas like Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia witnessed intense Maoist activities. After the Lalgarh incident, the Maoist fueled various rebel movements in Nandigram and Singur, which subsequently lead to the defeat of the Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party in the 2011 polls.xxvi
The government under the Mamata Banerjee changed the whole approach towards the Maoists and Naxals, devising a three-pronged counter insurgency strategy. First, the government overhauled the security in these regions by setting up and elite-police team to catch hold of the rebel leaders. Secondly, they offered a surrender and rehabilitation package to the rebels, promising them jobs and other entrepreneurial opportunities to people who would surrender. The third and foremost measure adopted by the government was in the form of various confidence-building measures in the Maoist hotbeds like Bankura, West Midnapore etc.xxvii
Intelligence and other police operations were scaled up as the government started using local youth to serve as informers and other Special Police Officers (SPOs). Importantly, the government’s Jangalmahal outreach xxviii strengthened the state presence in the Naxal-affected areas. From a peak of 425 Maoist-related violent incidents in 2010 (which killed 328 civilians and 36 security forces), the number came down to zero by the end of 2018. xxix This shows the success of the West Bengal government in handling the Maoist affected areas.
Jharkhand has closely competed with the Chhattisgarh government, in terms of casualties and the attacks on the critical infrastructure like schools, hospitals, police stations etc.xxx One of the most crucial operations undertaken by the Jharkhand government was the plan to recapture the forested region of Saranda. xxxi The central government immediately framed the Saranda Development Plan in 2012. xxxii The state has so far mounted 40 security camps to free 13 focus areas from Maoist influence.xxxiii The government is investing heavily in the infrastructure like schools, panchayat buildings, government offices etc. The year 2018 resulted in the lowest number of Maoist related violence. Out of 53 deaths, 10 were security forces and 26 were insurgents. It was in 2017 when the Maoists saw the highest number of deaths in their ranks: that year, 25 of them were killed in encounters with security forces (who lost two of their own.)xxxiv The present strategies adopted by the government are commendable but still there are several active hotspots across the state’s vast terrain.
The Left Wing Extremism movement in Bihar started in the early 1970s. The government in Bihar took various steps to improve governance and initiated a number of socio-economic and development strategies.xxxv The real wakeup call came in 2005 when the Naxalites released 364 of their comrades from the Jehanabad jail. This made the government change its strategies, placing more emphasis on good governance.
On the security measures, the government created a 400-member Special Task Force and a Special Auxiliary Force for counter-insurgency. Various counter-insurgency training schools were also set up to combat operations in the Naxal-affected areas. It also increased its rehabilitation and surrender policies by implementing speedier trials in the Maoist affected regions.
These five states have been considerably successful in implementing an effective Counter-Insurgency strategy and reducing casualties in the Maoist and Naxal affected areas. Any central strategy build along the lines of the above strategies has increased the chances of being successful.
The denouement of the Counter-Insurgency Strategy
Coordinated and counter-offensive strategies have drastically reduced the Maoist sponsored violence, have resulted in the elimination of various important leaders of the movement and reduced their influence to few districts in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and Odisha. xxxvi This is evident from the fact that recently, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) removed a record 44 districts from Naxal affected list, while the ‘worst affected category’ was reduced from 35 to 30. In fact, various reports suggest that Naxal organizations are getting thinner at the top, seriously raising doubts about its future existence as an armed movement.
They have captured more than 7,000 active cadres in the last three years, while an equal number of Maoists have surrendered before authorities in various states. In 2016 alone, security forces arrested as many as 1844 CPI-Maoist cadres, while more than 1,442 members of the group chose to surrender before the state authorities.xxxvii
Further, the intelligence-led operations and the shrinking base of the Maoists have impacted the finances of the Naxalites. The most lethal blow came from the recent demonetization done by the Indian government. xxxviii Thus, the Maoist and Naxal organizations face a tough challenge in front of them with better Counterinsurgency strategies being devised and hitting them at critical junctures like finances, arms and weapons etc.
iii Rajat Kujur, “Naxal Movement in India: A Profile,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, September 2008.
iv For details, see Azan Javaid, Red Terror: The new strategy puts a leash on Maoist, The Hindustan Times, 16 April 2018. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/red-terror-new-strategy-puts-a-leash-on-maoists/story-a8eaFvV9qGeKdqPPmelFpL.html.
v See MHA Annual Report, 2017. https://mha.gov.in/documents/annualreports.
vi http://mha.nic.in/unique page.asp?Id_Pk=540, and Annual Report, 2010-2011, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi.
viii Ibid p. 22,23.
x http://18.104.22.168/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/ Committee%20on%20Home%20Affairs/201.pdf.
xi See details here: https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/UAPA1967_0.pdf.
xii Detailed report: http://planningcommission.nic.in/ reports/publications/rep_dce.pdf>.
xiii For a detailed study on this aspect, see Niranjan Sahoo, Dealing with Maoist Threats, Development and Governance Conundrum, ICSSR Journal, vol.2, 2013. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download? doi=10.1.1.819.2752&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
xiv See The Economic Times story on Abuja. https://economictimes.india times.com/news/politics-and-nation/this- region-in-india-doesnt-existon-map-has-no-govt-administration/articleshow/63248101.cms? from=mdr.
xv For latest trends on red corridor, see Rahul Tripathi, The Indian Express, 2018. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/ naxalism-maoist-attacks-home-minstry-modi-govt-national-policyand-action-plan-5140028/.
xvii Government sources claim that people in 200 villages in Dantewada who were upset with the Maoist strike call on collecting Tendu leaves and opposition to development works like road construction and grain levies, began mobilizing against the Maoists, going on processions and holding meetings and so forth. The movement was masterminded by Mahendra Karma, an ex-Congress leader to take on growing diktats of red rebels. The local volunteers were given military and weapons training by the security forces as part of an official plan to create a civil vigilante structure parallel to that of Naxalites, file:///C:/Users/Yug/Documents/ORF_Occasional_Paper_198_Maoist-State_Response.pdf.
xix See details from the Ministry of Home Affairs. https://mha.gov.in/ division_of_mha/left-wing-extremism-division.
xx This bill provides definition of unlawful activities, declaring an organization unlawful, formation of an advisory board wherever the state government feels the need for its establishment, procedure of the formation of the advisory board, action of the advisory board, penalties viz; punishments even for not committing a crime, the power to notify a place being used for unlawful activities and taking occupation of such place thereof and revision/bar against intervention by the judiciary.
Xxiii Nihar Nayak, Naxalite Mayhem in Nayagarh, IDSA brief, 2008, https://idsa.in/idsastrategiccomments/NaxaliteMayheminNayagarh_ NNayak_280208.
xxiv SATP, 2016, https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/ timelines/2016/orissa.htm.
xxv see SATP Orissa Update, 2009. https://www.satp.org/terrorism-assessment/indiamaoistinsurgency-odisha-2009.
xxvi The India Today, 15 April 2011, https://www.indiatoday.in/assemblyelections-2011/west-bengal/story/anti-land-acquisition-stirs-innandigram-singur-help-mamata-banerjee-win-133732-2011-05-14.
xxvii Snigdhendu Bhattacharya’s report, The Hindustan Times, May 10, 2017, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/what-mamata-banerjeedid-right-to-wipe-out-maoist-violence-in-west-bengal/storytq1GX8PGGHBKVoxjGzvVKJ.html.
xxviii Bibhu Prasad Routray, Governance Promise and its anti-thesis: A case study of Jungalmahal, IPCS, https://www.eurasiareview.com/ 28062018-governance-promises-and-its-antithesis-a-case-study-ofjunglemahal-analysis/.
xxix SATP data, 2019, https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/ maoist/data_sheets/Fatality_West_Bengal.htm.
xxx (See SATP Report, 2010. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/ countries/india/maoist/Assessment/2010/Jharkhand.html).
xxxi For more see Jacob Shapiro et al, ESOC Paper, Princeton University, 2017, https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/jns/files/svia_2017_i ndia_state_coin_histories.pdf.
xxxii Jairam Ramesh’s comments on Saranda plan, 2013. https://takshashila.org.in/pragmatic-free-lunch-as-coin-strategy/.
xxxiii The Indian Express, January 10, 2018, https://indianexpress.com/ article/india/naxalism-shall-be-eradicated-from-jharkhand-by-2018dgp-5019506/.
xxxiv SATP report, 2018. https://www.satp.org/terrorism-assessment/indiamaoistinsurgency-jharkhand.
xxxvi see The Times of India report, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ red-corridorshrinks-to-58-districts/articleshow/62626621.cms.
xxxvii MHA Annual Report 2016-2017.
xxxviii Report from The Economic Times, 13 July 2018, https://economic times.indiatimes.com/news/defence/demonetisation-effect-funds-tapturns-dry-for-terror-and-maoist-groups/articleshow/55448082.cms? from=mdr.
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