How many more deaths of policemen at the hands of the Maoists are required to serve as a wake call for New Delhi to adopt a new approach to dealing with the insurgent groups across Central India?
A year ago, the Chinese incursion on the LAC, and the death of 20 soldiers in the Galwan valley created a national outrage, leading to visits by even the Prime Minister to Ladakh, and among other things, it has led us to recalibrate the more Pakistan centric plans and doctrines of territorial defence, that seemed to have been etched in stone.
Will the death of 22 policemen with 30 injured and one missing member of a large force of CRPF, STF and DRG (District Reserve Guard) as well as Chhattisgarh’spolicemen, serve as a call to review what is the reason for the repeated success of the Maoists in the jungles of Central India. The writing is there on the wall if anyone cares to read it.
The latest ambush by the Maoist rebels on a large contingent of security personnel in Bastar, was yet another well planned and ruthlessly executed attack, in a long line of similar attacks in the Maoist infested regions of Central India. A search on the internet will show that hundreds of policemen from various cadres have been killed in attacks especially in the past two decades, by well-armed Maoist rebels in the region. Often, the pattern of their ambushes is similar to those of the past.
These were either on a large posse of security personnel making their way back to camp after a tiring few days of operations in the jungles and when their guard is down, or it is an attack on the police camp which can never quite be completely fortified. But there are ways to prevent such massacres. This requires a top-down approach and not a bottom-up approach, to address the challenges across the several States where the insurgency has existed for at least three decades, much like the way the Indian army has been deployed in India’s northeastern states.
Where did we lose the plot?
Dr. Manmohan Singh, when he was the Prime Minister had stated on record on more than one occasion that the Maoist insurgency “was the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country,” Delhi’s efforts then and now has been a piece-meal exercise. Even our current Prime Minister was among the few chief ministers – then as the CM of Gujarat – who had spoken about the need for a national approach to tackle the Maoist insurgent groups that had their footprint across India’s heartland, with the red line of rebellion running from Pashupati (in Nepal) to Tirupati (in South India).
So, where have we lost the plot? One problem is the federal nature of India and the resistance of State governments. It limits what the central government can do, to tackle the Maoist challenges comprehensively. One State’s insurgent cannot be a vote bank for another State! Sadly politics often takes precedence over the safety and security of citizens and in this case, the overstretched policemen operating in these areas.
The other equally big problem is with the police leadership in insurgencies. A decade ago, a DGP of the CRPF had told me that it was a major challenge for him to get even a dozen senior police officers in the CRPF (either deputed or of their own cadre) of the ranks of IGs and DIGs, to move out of the comfortable cities they were based in, and command their forces in the jungle terrain.
While almost all our police forces are led by IPS officers and many of whom are competent in city police work, battling insurgencies is not what they had joined the civil services (IPS) for. Moreover, they neither have the experience nor the inclination to battle insurgencies. They are thus reluctant to based in operational areas – not just make day-long trips or at most an overnight visit – to provide the troops effective leadership, unlike the army’s officers who have to command their troops from operational areas.
Role of effective leadership
One way out is to get the army to depute senior officers (from Colonels to Generals) with experience in counter-insurgency operations, to command CRPF personnel under the Home Ministry. If the army can provide officers for Establishment 22 or the NSG, which are under the PMO/ Home Ministry, then why can’t army officers be put on deputation for anti-Maoist operations?
They can be suitably incentivised. Moreover, with the army now being so top-heavy, the opening of new avenues will be an opportunity for officers, especially so, as many of whom are doing the job that one brigadier or major general did decades ago in the corps/command/army headquarters. Also, JCO/NCOs retiring at a relatively young age, with experience in CI operations can be sidestepped/offered this opportunity to serve in the Maoist infested zones.
There would be the usual objections—from army headquarters and the CRPF—about how this can create inter-service manpower and budgeting issues, but if there is a will, there will be a way. What will it take us to wake up to the threats posed on the lives and limbs of the policemen who are being sent into the jungles, again and again, to be slaughtered? A decade ago the then Home Secretary R.K.Singh, had expressed a desire to up the ante against Maoists by asking for 30,000 men from the army’s Rashtriya Rifle units and helicopters.
But with the Maoist having shot down an IAF helicopter in Chhattisgarh’s Sukhma district a decade ago, the reluctance to use the helicopters—even for non-aggressive operations like reconnaissance and movement of troops to reinforce operations—had gathered momentum in New Delhi. More importantly, the Home Secretary had run into opposition in Delhi, with the Indian army chief reluctant to apply “quick-fix-solutions,” by the use of excessive force. Indeed, any insurgency requires a long term solution whereby the locals have to be given hope with good governance and infrastructure. But that would take time.
If the army can provide officers for Establishment 22 or the NSG, which are under the PMO/ Home Ministry, then why can’t army officers be put on deputation for anti-Maoist operations?
In the immediate term, insurgencies must be contained and confronted. That is where trained and experienced military leadership can make all the difference, as insurgencies have their support amongst the locals who nurture grievances of marginalisation and the lack of jobs and infrastructure in their region. This is used by militants to get the support of the locals for battling the government.
Strategies that could work
But these uprisings can be contained and eliminated by a three-part strategy that involves:
(a) The use of necessary military force, with graduated levels of increase of force applied, to counter the aggressiveness of insurgents; (b) and while military operations are being enforced, although this could take from a few months to 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 military operations are reduced to a minimum and the ground situation is under control with the implementation of such initiatives, then ‘talks’ must be initiated to address the political demands of the locals, with fixed timelines for political deliverables.
Essentially, there are two ways to confront insurgencies. One is to manage it at a low key level as New Delhi has done for decades in India’s northeast. The other is to go hammer and tongs, as the Sri Lankan forces eventually did against the LTTE, to finish off any serious resistance by the Tamil militants.
Above all else, to successfully battle an insurgency, all major governmental agencies must be on the same wavelength. For India’s armed forces to distance themselves from the challenges of this grave internal challenge, by claiming that this is not their battle (while the insurgencies in the North Eastern and Kashmir, are) shows double standards.
And here the Prime Minister and more so the National Security Advisor would do well to exercise their authority, to get the nation’s forces to participate in and collectively address a problem that cannot have a knee-jerk approach, notwithstanding strong political warnings that translate to little on the ground.
–A version of this story earlier appeared on www.timesnownews.com