The Maoist insurgents have been expanding their footprint across India’s heartland over the past several years, and their red line of rebellion now runs from Pashupati (in Nepal) to Tirupati (in south India). At its peak, the Maoist insurgency was visible in more than 200 districts across India, although a closer look showed that only 33 districts in central India were actually severely affected. But it was still serious enough for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to go on record, on more than one occasion, that Maoist insurgency was “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”. But only now has the home ministry decided to use sufficient force to give the Maoists a resounding hammering, with Home Secretary R.K. Singh asking for 30,000 men from the Army’s Rashtriya Rifle units and IAF’s helicopters.
This view has gathered momentum after the Maoists crossed the lines of acceptable conduct by planting improvised explosive devices inside the body of a CRPF jawan killed in Jharkhand’s Latehar district. Furthermore, with the Maoists having recently shot down an IAF helicopter in Chhattisgarh’s Sukhma district, the earlier reluctance to use the helicopters—even for non-aggressive operations—could be set aside. But the home secretary has run into opposition in Delhi, with Army chief General Bikram Singh reluctant to apply “quick-fix-solutions”, i.e, excessive force, for battles like the Naxal insurgency that could go on for another decade or more, if the Indian experience in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir is anything to go by.
While the home secretary is keen on using air power (like the US did in Vietnam and the Sri Lankan forces did against the LTTE) to regain the initiative that has been lost because of political and bureaucratic ineptitude and indecisiveness, what the Indian Army wants is a long-term plan. History has shown that an insurgency needs to be contained before it can be solved. For this, the security forces must have the upper hand, before applying the “carrot and stick policy” of offering sops to the anti-national elements, while making it clear that you have the force levels to punish them, if they don’t fall in line.
Historically, insurgencies have been contained and eliminated by a three-pronged strategy: (a) The use of necessary military force, with graduated levels of increase to counter the aggressiveness of insurgents; (b) While military operations are being enforced—though this could take some time, from a few months to a few years—the government must have ideas and initiatives ready, with plans for infrastructure upgrades that would address the basic grievances of the alienated people, who took to arms in the first place; (c) Finally, when the military operations are reduced to a minimum and the ground situation is under control, ‘talks’ must be initiated to address the political demands of the locals, with fixed timelines for political deliverables.
But above all, to successfully battle an insurgency, all major governmental agencies must be on the same wavelength. If the ministry of defence and the armed forces distance themselves from the challenges of this grave internal crisis, by claiming that this is not their battle (while the insurgencies in the northeast and Kashmir are), it is double standards. And here the Prime Minister would do well to exercise his authority, to get the nation’s forces to participate in collectively addressing a problem that he has labelled as “India’s gravest threat”.
Courtesy The Week, 5 April 2013. Maroof Raza is a commentator on strategic affairs. To know more about the author visit: www. maroofraza.com