Homeland Security

Dealing With Maoist Insurgency: Focused Approach Required
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Issue Vol. 32.2 Apr-Jun 2017 | Date : 03 Jul , 2017

Hundreds of CAPF battalions have been raised and there is no reason they cannot deal with internal security issues. They must perform/be ‘made’ to perform, and most importantly, dominate the Dandakaranya Forest, where an occasional foray and chest-thumping are useless. Surely, we need to look at a more integrated and deeper approach including MHA taking direct responsibility and control of counter-Maoists operations rather than merely dishing out CAPF units to States; reorganising CRPF units in CI role on the lines of Rashtriya Rifles/Assam Rifles; discontinue the practice of imposing IPS officers on CRPF organisations; give the CRPF their own officers, review their training and imbibe the culture of officers leading troops in operations and ensure unity of command. The MHA must get into the act rather than bureaucrats looking over the shoulder towards the Army, and help our enemies in getting the Army sucked in here too.

The Maoists ambush in Sukma on April 24 this year resulted in 25 CRPF personnel killed and some wounded. It is said that the 99-strong CRPF patrol providing protection for road construction was attacked by 300 Maoist and the firefight continued for three hours or so, but the actual story is quite different. The CRPF column was operating in three separate groups and this particular group that was attacked was having lunch, obviously without ensuring protection. As a general practice, all the inspectors – SI, ASI, Head Constables, Constables collected for lunch break – a pattern they had established and was being observed by the Maoists. So, Maoists laid a trap in which the target simply walked in. When the firing started, the balance personnel rather than going for a counter ambush drill, broke contact and ran back to their post leaving their dead and wounded behind. The Maoists at leisure looted their weapons and equipment; 13 AK assault rifles, three INSAS, three SLR rifles, three Light Machine Guns, five radio sets, an assortment of rifle magazines and ammunition, 22 bullet proof jackets, two binoculars and one metal detector. There are claims of 10-12 Maoists having been killed but no bodies were found.

A month earlier on March 11, the Maoists had attacked another strong CRPF column at Bheji (Sukma) and by the time the one-hour confrontation ended, Maoists had killed 11 and injured five, one succumbing to his injuries. Balance of the 110-strong CRPF column abandoned their dead and wounded who the Maoists then clubbed to death, mutilated the bodies, placed IEDs under them and walked away with ten assault rifles, a Light Machine Gun, a 51mm mortar, a Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, two radio sets and an assortment of ammunition. In both the encounters, not a single CRPF officer was killed or wounded, indicating serious lapse in junior leadership, insufficient training and motivation. No lessons appear to have been learnt from the April 2010 Maoist attack in Dantewada where 76 CRPF personnel were massacred and all their arms, ammunition and equipment looted.

Cadres are exhorted not to undertake armed action in urban areas ‘at this stage’…

The Maoists

The Maoist document entitled “Strategy and Tactics for the Indian Revolution” scripted as late as in 2004, states, “The central task of the Indian revolution is the seizure of political power. To accomplish this, the Indian people will have to be organised in the People’s Army and will have to wipe out the armed forces of the counter revolutionary Indian state and establish in its place their own state.” It further goes on to say, “As a considerable part of the enemy’s armed forces will inevitably be engaged against the growing tide of struggle by various nationalities, it will be difficult for the Indian ruling classes to mobilise all their armed forces against our revolutionary war.” Maoists are well organised in battalions, companies, platoons, intelligence and logistics departments and with arms and IED manufacturing capability.

Periodic media reports of dwindling numbers of Maoists cadres are misleading. Tactical pauses may reduce the number of incidents, but Maoist influence is actually expanding to states of Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. They have established what they term ‘liberated zones’ where the state machinery has abdicated and the Maoists organise ‘Jan Adalats’, awarding justice as per their own norms. These adalats are attended by thousands of villagers since the official judicial system has become defunct. In 2011, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) had reported that there are at least 3,000 child soldiers in India. The policy of Maoists to forcibly recruit at least one boy of around 16 years of age from each tribal family has actually swelled their numbers.

Weapons holdings of the Maoists are substantial, estimated around 20,000 through imports, foreign arming, third parties, plus snatched/captured from the CAPF and police, including Light Machine Guns and 81mm mortars. Explosives are in apparent abundance – fertilizer and chemicals and loots from road construction detachments, illegal and legal mining in the area. Proficiency in explosives is amply demonstrated. With sympathisers in the electronic media targeting the government’s resolve to put down insurgency, the Maoists are handling the media and propaganda well. Do they have political patronage? That is for intelligence agencies to ascertain. AK-47s, Uzis and modern communication equipment are flowing in. Laptops have been recovered from their bases and hideouts. Maoists undertake overt operations to seek legitimacy and public support for controlling the territory. Refusing to recognise national norms, rule of law, human rights, slaughtering and beheading those who oppose them, they adopt copycat tactics of Mao’s ‘People’s War’; guerrilla as well as mass attack. Their writ already runs over large tracts of territory including vast declared ‘liberated areas’. Their strategy is to expand the ‘Red Enclaves’ rapidly.

In Maoist-affected states, the CAPF are being thrown around in penny packets…

The financial backing of the Maoist terror industry was estimated at over Rs 1,500 crore (about $250 million) in 2010 growing annually by 15 per cent through drugs, ransom, looting, extortion, robbery, poppy and ganja cultivation. Income from poppy cultivation was estimated at Rs 1 crore (about $0.17 million) per acre. The Maoists empire spans over 200 districts in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, they are systematically investing in urban centres.

The ‘Other’ Maoists – National Capital Included

A Maoist document entitled “Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas” (UPUA) says, “At present, the revolutionary movement is advancing in a vast belt of people’s war encompassing the extensive areas of Dandakaranya, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar-Odisha border, North Telangana and Koel-Kaimur. We will be able to build these areas into contiguous areas of armed struggle with each area influencing the other.” Linked with recent events, they indicate that the critical phase of attacking the political fabric of Indian democracy has already begun. The issue needs to be viewed even more seriously considering that the brain of the Maoist ideology is in Beijing, they are receiving focused support from both China and Pakistan, and their on-the-ground elements are cloaked as intellectuals and social activists, even participating freely in seminars and debates in New Delhi.

At present, the Maoists are busy establishing urban bases (bastis, slums) and infiltrating security forces organisations is planned (followed by white-collar employees, intellectuals and youth). Cadres are exhorted not to undertake armed action in urban areas ‘at this stage’. Propaganda through student-worker organisations is the present strategy and inroads apparently have been made into JNU and DU. Some Maoist leaders have been arrested from New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nasik, Kolkata and Chandigarh in the recent past. What we fail to acknowledge is that all this is a vital part of successful hybrid warfare against India. The most recent examples of this are the anti-India slogans raised at the JNU and some other educational institutions from time to time, even as the nation moans the loss of lives of security personnel. Thomas Friedman said, “India is the sole country of 21st century with abundant youth power” but do we realise the consequences of youth power going astray under the euphuism of ‘freedom of speech’? Hasn’t similar approach ignored the radicalisation of youth in the Kashmir Valley? These issues should be of serious concern to the NSA and the MHA.

External and Internal Linkages

As early as in 2009-2010, Stratfor had warned that Pakistan’s ISI was forging alliance with Maoists to destabilise India from within. In 2005, empties of bullets fired by Maoists were found with Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) markings. More significantly, the IB had reported in that in 2008, 500 Maoists had undergone training under SIMI in Kerala. In November, 2010, it was reported that Maoists had acquired a vast and diverse assortment of foreign weapons, including rifles of .315 bore to .30-06 caliber and that more than three quarters of their $70,000+ budget was spent on procuring weapons and armaments – about $20,604. Intelligence agencies would have more details of the collaboration of the ISI and some India-based Islamist outfits with the Maoists. The ISI-SIMI-Maoist nexus merits serious concern. We must take cognisance of Maoist links with the Popular Front of India (PFI) headquartered in Kerala and Maoists of Nepal. South India may soon be activated through the Maoist-PFI under the China-Pakistan hybrid war. Unfortunately, the PFI is not being taken seriously because of vote-bank politics, despite evidence of their armed cadres in combat uniforms undergoing training in jungles of Kerala.

Why are we unable to work out a comprehensive and holistic counter Maoist strategy at national level?

Defaults – State Level

States have to maintain law and order as it is their subject, which is fair enough. But first, what is the genesis of the Maoists problem if not lack of governance for which the states are directly to blame. Isn’t it for the same reason that the situation in J&K has not improved, other than Pakistan’s continuing proxy war; endemic corruption in the administration and more importantly, radical support that the low level politicians enjoy to get elected and to remain in power, and in turn, it is these MLAs that form the political edifice on which the Chief Minister presides.

The truth is that insurgency has become a lucrative industry where everyone makes money, the Centre pours in enormous amounts of funds, and there is little accountability. The same is relevant to the Maoist affected states. If this were not the case, why have these states not implemented Article 5 and 9 of the Constitution in letter and spirit to address part of the Maoist grievances? Why have no new police stations come up in areas devoid of administration and rule of law despite being sanctioned years ago? Compared to handling routine law and order, the states need to counter the Maoist insurgency in a synergised fashion simultaneously at the socio-political, moral and physical planes, population being the centre of gravity and military operations only being part of the response.

Can the states do it individually? The political response will be a definite yes, citing J&K and the North East. But how are military operations conducted in J&K and the North East? There is a Unified HQ (same as in the Maoist belt) and there is a unified operational command by Assam Rifles in the North East and by the Army in J&K. The Assam Rifles and the Army do not seek clearance from the Chief Minister for everyday operations, even major ones. However, the Chief Minister is kept informed when considered appropriate. The big contrast is in the Maoists affected states where the CAPF are placed under the DGP of the State who is subservient to the Chief Minister. This is a sure recipe for reactive operations and even leakage of plans since the administration is involved. It is not a question of loyalty to the nation but remember, the political edifice is linked to radical support and you can guess the inhibitions.

Is the DGP of a state proficient enough to plan and handle the strategy to be adopted with the massive forces placed under him? Ask the CAPF and they say definitely not, even as the MHA is ambivalent. Take Chhattisgarh, which has the maximum number of CAPF battalions, 45 at all times that were boosted to 135 battalions during last elections (135 battalions being equal to 15 Army Infantry Divisions). Do you really think the DGP can develop the required strategy, optimally employ such large force of 45 or more CAPF battalions, and have dynamic intelligence acquisition, psychological operations and perception management plans in play, where the Centre has actually failed to do so? Yet in Maoist-affected states, the CAPF are being thrown around in penny packets. As for Human Rights (HR) one cannot just hold hundreds in jail indefinitely without trial.

Defaults – MHA Level

From day one, the Home Minister has been calling for the CAPF to infiltrate the Maoists organisation; DMs and SPs with ‘zeal’ to be posted in these areas, and there is need to evolve a new policy to counter the Maoists, and the like. But, looking at the ground situation, doesn’t it strike you why after all these years we have not been able to evolve and implement requisite policy for the Maoist problem? What is holding back the CAPF and why are they suffering loss of lives repeatedly? Is it possible that all DMs and SPs are without zeal in the affected states? Why does the Home Minister have to make such calls? And, much more importantly with the declared unambiguous Maoist strategy to capture power through armed struggle by 2050, guerilla warfare and mass attack tactics, training videos to shoot down helicopters, ideology spread in some 20 states affecting 40 per cent of the population including intellectuals plus educational institutions like DU and JNU, and well planned perception management optimising media, isn’t it outright naïve to believe that the issue will get resolved in next two-three years?

There is a complete void of junior leadership, motivation and little is being done to ensure their officers lead from the front…

In 2011, CRPF discovered Bodiguda village (29 km from Begrampur Town and Police Station) for the first time since India’s Independence and the villagers who have never seen or heard of electricity or water taps, schools or dispensaries, men or machines, have grown up believing Maoists are the government? How many more Bodigudas are there in the Maoist belt? Why can the MHA not get after the Survey of India to update maps; not updated for the past 30 years or more? Why should it be difficult with satellite imagery and other technical means? Why is it that despite some 160-odd CAPF battalions (including 135 CRPF battalions) deployed in Maoist affected belt in non-election period), the states are unable to deal with the problem? Why is it that the population by and large cannot be provided security against the hardcore Maoists? Yes, the police versus population ratio is poor in India, but what are the states doing about it? And why is it that an appropriate counter insurgency grid cannot be optimised?

Why is it that while the BSF and ITBP have been given designated areas in the Maoist belt, this is not the case with CRPF despite the fact that 90 per cent of CAPF battalions provisioned are CRPF? With pro-active operations at premium, could part of the CRPF be integrated into the counter insurgency grid? Then is the question of state level officials paying protection money to Maoists for their own security and news reports some time ago that the DM of Malkangiri stage had stage-managed his own abduction. There have also been reports about foreigners being abducted by Maoists and let off later, which could have been stage-managed to make direct contact with the Maoists for sinister objectives.

The Centre is transferring powers to the states progressively, but should it include what is considered a threat to national security albeit MHA is no different from MoD, latter without military expertise and sans cohesive national security strategy. So, it is easy for MHA to pass on responsibility as there is no accountability. Why is it that our MHA is not organised for perception management while the Maoists play it full hilt? Why is it that the MHA does not think of a unified operational command in the MHA to cover the Maoist belt, manned by career specialists – not just bureaucrats and IPS officers? Why are we unable to work out a comprehensive and holistic counter Maoist strategy at national level? Why is it that instead of simply proliferating the number of CRPF battalions, no thought has been given to reorganise at least two-thirds of the 343 CRPF battalions into an effective counter Maoist force, taking a cue from successful counter-insurgency models like the Rashtriya Rifles and the Assam Rifles?

A former Home Secretary says he had proposed in 2015 that an army cantonment be established in the Bastar region, as if that will be the silver bullet to tackle the issue. But did he realise that Chhattisgarh alone has some 45 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (BSF, CRPF and IRB) – a force equivalent of five Infantry Divisions or two Corps of the Army. The same Home Secretary would also not disclose what the plan drawn under him was to deal with the Maoists. Another Home Secretary who had delivered a talk at a prominent Think Tank in the capital responded to searching questions cursorily and peremptorily, not once mentioning that the MHA is ‘accountable’.

He had no answer as to why control of the international borders is handled by the Police and by the Indian Army just as the control of the coasts has been given to the Indian Navy. He too could not throw any light on what the plan of MHA was for dealing with the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and the Maoist belt during his tenure. One can hear statements time and again from MHA that additional forces can be allotted to the States, as required. But should the responsibility and accountability not be with the MHA when Maoists span multiple states? With CRPF designated as the main counter-insurgency force, why does the Home Secretary not recommend that the Police Academy at Hyderabad shift to the Maoist belt rather than trying to indirectly suck in the army in the region by recommending an army cantonment in the region? Incidentally, a decade-old proposal for locating Army and Air Force elements at Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) that had been agreed upon has not fructified because the state only made available part of the land required and the MHA has taken no interest in the issue. Finally, since the CAPF are directly under the MHA, what is MHA’s accountability for their manning, training, equipping and performance on ground?

Defaults – CAPF

Considering the above, defaults of the CAPF, particularly the CRPF require little elaboration. There is a complete void of junior leadership, motivation and little is being done to ensure their officers lead from the front. In such a setting, no lessons are being learnt, no standard operating procedures evolved and followed for operating in insurgency areas, and the jawans are being shoved en masse into the slaughterhouse. The inside story is that in the training at various training establishments set up by the CAPF, emphasis is more on demonstrations and press coverage, other than the one set up by Chhattisgarh commanded by a veteran Army Brigadier.

The CAPF who have gone through training at the latter academy have performed far better in counter-insurgency operations. While CAPF undergo pre-induction training in sub-unit or unit lots, individuals posted to units operating in Maoist belt are sent directly to them ‘without’ any CI training. This also includes annual turnover of some 25-30 per cent of the two CRPF units positioned in Maoist belt on semi-permanent basis. The CAPF also have their share of grievances. With the strong IPS lobby, very few officers from the CRPF and BSF get promoted to the rank of Additional Director General (ADG); bulk of appointments at this level too are held by IPS officers despite it being grossly disproportionate given the strength of individual CAPF. So the Director General CRPF actually is an IPS officer who has not come through grassroots of the CRPF, leave aside any experience of operating with the jawans in insurgency areas. This, as per veteran CRPF officers, is the main reason why the manning, training and equipping of this force have been suffering. The MHA needs to look at these issues.

Finally, is the question of Human Rights (HR), which is not just holding hundreds in jails indefinitely without trial? On February 08, 2017, Chhattisgarh High Court admitted a criminal writ petition for alleged gang rape and assault of 28 Adivasi women by police in Chinnagelur and Peddagelur in Bijapur district. The National Human Rights Commission found allegations of rape and assault by the police on 16 women to be prima facie true. That is perhaps the reason why going by one report, genitals of some of the CRPF personnel killed at Sukma on April 24 were cut off by the Maoists.

The Requirement

At the very root lies India’s inability to manage social change, aggravated with rampant corruption in tackling economic disparities, social inequities and restoring tribal rights particularly with regard to forested areas though guaranteed by the Constitution. But that is not all. Beginning in West Bengal in the 1960s, the fight actually began for land rights, as was seen in the later years in Andhra Pradesh. The tribal movements joined in from Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as did the caste conflicts in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand – all thriving on lack of governance.

Very intelligently, the Maoists are expanding their influence by picking up issues that are troubling the local population. That is why they support separatism in Jammu and Kashmir and North East India, in aligning against the Indian State. Post the April 24 Maoist attack, the officiating DG CRPF has been asked to go down and oversee what is happening at ground level. Media also reports that the government has directed the CAPF to go all out against the Maoists. But that may not be enough. What is required is a comprehensive counter-Maoist strategy encompassing all issues discussed above.

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Hundreds of CAPF battalions have been raised and there is no reason they cannot deal with internal security issues. They must perform/be ‘made’ to perform and most importantly, dominate the Dandakaranya Forest, where an occasional foray and chest-thumping are useless. Surely, we need to look at a more integrated and deeper approach including MHA taking direct responsibility and control of counter-Maoists operations rather than merely dishing out CAPF units to States; reorganising CRPF units in CI role on the lines of Rashtriya Rifles/Assam Rifles; discontinue the practice of imposing IPS officers on CRPF organisations; give the CRPF their own officers, review their training and imbibe the culture of officers leading troops in operations and ensure unity of command. The MHA must get into the act rather than bureaucrats looking over the shoulder towards the Army and help our enemies in getting the Army sucked in here too.

As discussed above, the ‘other Maoists’ cloaked as university students, intellectuals and social activists supporting the China-Pakistan hybrid war must also be incorporated into the counter-Maoist strategy. They are even more dangerous than the Maoists physically attacking the security forces. The Home Minister should consider sending MHA bureaucrats to go and live with the CAPF (not as state guests) in Bastar region by rotation to get first-hand experience of the issue. This should be standard procedure for bureaucrats posted in the MHA. Much of the army’s requirements in Siachen Glacier were met after Defence Minister George Fernandes sent MoD bureaucrats to Siachen!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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