The ‘Gandhians with Guns’ as they may be referred by the people like Arundhiti Roy, however the fact is that they are armed rebels working against the interestsof the union of India and its democratic fundamentals. There may be a many flaws in our system and various policies of the successive governments at the centre and the states can be the reason for overall discontentment amongst the tribal population in India’s heartland, nevertheless an armed rebellion cannot be tolerated as an answer.
Since the year 2009, going by the media reports, more than 834 policemen have been killed by these Maoists apart from 703 civilian casualties. The recent attack on the Congress Party’s parivartan yatra in Darbha valley of Chittisgarh stands as a grim reminder and underlines the challenge to the State in wresting its control over the red corridor. The counter Naxal operations, unleashed after the deadliest attack on 06 April 2010, by the Maoists on CRPF patrol near Chintainar village in Dantewada district of Chittisgarh that left 75 jawans killed and 55 wounded, is yet to manifest in any worthwhile victories.
The Maoist insurgents have their area of influence spread across eight states, plaguing over 60 districts covering approximately 33 percent of the total geographical area of India.
Without getting into miscellaneous aspects of Maoist insurgency its causes or the much articulated counter measures, which appear to be mere semantics, I would rather focus upon military action being carried out by the Central Para Military forces in this region. The Maoist insurgents have their area of influence spread across eight states, plaguing over 60 districts covering approximately 33 percent of the total geographical area of India. These insurgents are very well organised, highly motivated and indoctrinated. To their advantage is the terrain with thick forest cover and virtually non-existent infrastructure, supported by an aggrieved tribal population a resultant of corrupt and week civil administration.
The disadvantages of poor equipment and obsolete weaponry are dwarfed by other advantages accrued in their favour. On the contrary our Para military forces are far superior in weapons, equipment and training, however they suffer from low morale, poor leadership, week organisation, non-existent centralised operational command and ineffective civil administration, further aggravated by detrimental and divisive local politics. The pseudo human right activists, intellectuals and professionals bearing Maoist leanings, further contribute towards an ever expanding sphere of the Red sympathisers through a well drafted and meticulously executed propaganda. This has resulted in constantly weaning away the poor and the innocent tribal population from the national main stream ideology, thus presenting a larger challenge. The Para Military Forces and largely the CRPF is playing a major role in this fight against the Naxalites and the sacrifices made by their officers and men need to be lauded in all the aspects.
The Indian experience in counter insurgency is almost as old as our independence, starting from the Naga insurgency that surfaced in late fifties to the militancy in Punjab of the eighties and the on-going proxy war in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The expertise acquired by the Indian security apparatus in combating insurgency has encouraged our friendly foreign countries to get their armed forces personnel trained in Indian counter insurgency training schools. Our army has participated in a number of exercises and training schedules along with the Americans, French, British and the Maldives armed forces personnel. India over the years has established its credentials internationally in combating terrorism and insurgency. If this is true, then where is the effort lacking and why we have not been able to contain the Maoist menace in the red corridor? It is also true that no military action alone can eradicate insurgency, but it can certainly bring down the level of violence as it has been demonstrated in the North and the North East, enabling democratic institutions and the civil administration to firm in. The government machinery can there after carry out developmental activities which are essential to bring the misguided youth back into our main stream, denying the insurgents much needed support base.
I as an Infantry battalion commander got a first-hand experience in not only training a CRPF battalion before its deployment in Naxal effected region but also got an insight into their psychological makeup and functioning, both operational and administrative.
The Chintainar ambush on the CRPF patrolling party not only highlighted the severity of the situation, but worked as a catalyst in our fight against these Maoists. Amidst growing rhetoric in media and mounting pressure on the government to deploy army in Red Corridor, the political masters listened to the military leadership and decided against deploying the army, which would have been counterproductive towards overall defence preparedness of the nation. Instead it was decided to deploy additional CRPF battalions in countering the Red menace, over a period of time. The Army was however entrusted upon training the paramilitary personnel before being sent in harm’s way.
I as an Infantry battalion commander got a first-hand experience in not only training a CRPF battalion before its deployment in Naxal effected region but also got an insight into their psychological makeup and functioning, both operational and administrative. My observations are enumerated below:
- There existed a feeling of being a second rate cadre amongst the CRPF officers owing to the fact that the top senior level posts in their organisation were reserved for the IPS cadre officers who lacked real ground level knowledge.
- A wide spread feeling that they are trained and equipped to support the State police in carrying out law and order duties, hence they are not suitable for high intensity Counter Insurgency operations.
- The sanctity of the battalion was never respected and the deployment was generally carried out in company groups rather than the battalion as a whole. This had an adverse effect on the overall operational efficacy.
- The commanding officer in a CRPF battalion was reduced to an administrative coordinator only ensuring logistics and other administration aspects. The operational control was always with the district and the state administration which dictated the deployment of these troops.
- The administrative convenience was always an overriding factor in deployment rather than any worthwhile tactical considerations.
- The general mind set and training was more oriented towards policing activities like crowd control, lathi charge, tear gassing the mob etc.
- Cross country movements on foot were feared and all efforts were made to keep confined to the roads and tracks that also vehicle based.
- The age profile of the NCOs and senior constables was anywhere from 50 – 60 years, adversely affecting the agility and mobility of the body of troops that they commanded.
- There existed no bonding and camaraderie amongst the men and their officers. Lack of regimentation added to the overall deterioration in leadership standards.
- Not to discount the fact that the troops have an unsettled family life. The organisation lacks infrastructure to provide medical, residential and education facilities for their families, this accompanied by continuous long spells of deployment in remote and harsh places further contributed towards the low morale.
The home ministry should draw the expertise from our armed forces initially to create and staff a higher organisation that is designed to tackle insurgency all across the Red Corridor.
These fundamental shortcomings contribute towards an overall low morale of this force. These need to be addressed, before we start expecting miracles out of the PMF soldiers. Apart from these issues our home ministry should focus upon building a higher organisation which is independent of the state administration and is guided by the central agenda. The complexity involved in the nature of counter insurgency operations warrants an operational model which is responsive and responsible to its hierarchy and organisation. There is an urgent need to put in place an organisation that is operationally effective and administratively sound on the lines of our armed forces. The home ministry should draw the expertise from our armed forces initially to create and staff a higher organisation that is designed to tackle insurgency all across the Red Corridor.
…the enemy is the Maoist and his strategy is to isolate the masses from government sponsored development and administration through propaganda and coercion…
It is recommended that a unified Para Military Force Headquarters be raised for exercising complete operational coordination and command and control over the Central Forces deployed in the Red Corridor. The existing trend of allocating forces to the insurgency effected states and there subsequent deployment at the disposal of district administration should be reviewed. This unified force head quarter should be given overall responsibility for coordinating and carrying out complete operations in the Maoist effected region. The Para Military forces available, should be organised into Ranges and the Sectors on the lines of Divisions and the Brigades of the Indian Army and operate under the operational control of this unified force headquarters. For better planning and coordination, this headquarters has to be staffed by the police officers and representatives from the civil administration of the effected states. To ensure sound operational planning, effective training and logistic support the staff should also include officers from the Army and the Air Force as well. The Central Govt in addition to these recommended changes should ensure insulation of these Para Military personnel from political interference and also provide them with legal protection like the AFSPA.
As Sun Tzu says “ Fight the enemy’s strategy and not the forces”. The enemy will thus be forced to come out and get on to offensive, at this time manoeuvre and strike at the weak points leaving his elite units to be defeated easily later. Here the enemy is the Maoist and his strategy is to isolate the masses from government sponsored development and administration through propaganda and coercion, simultaneously target the state machinery to render it in effective. In this fight the weak points would be its central leadership and over ground workers. Post Dantewada incident of 6 April 2010, we did succeed to some extent in line with this strategy but we have failed to defeat him when he was on the offensive, like the one on 25 may 2010 in Darbha valley.