Homeland Security

Left Wing Extremism
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Issue Vol 24.3 Jul-Sep 2009 | Date : 12 Jan , 2011

The Assembly elections in J&K in 2008 was peaceful and witnessed record voter turnouts. In sharp contrast the very first day of the Lok Sabha Polls in 2009 witnessed an upsurge of Naxalite violence. There were 14 attacks that claimed 16 lives. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were the epicenter of the bulk of these attacks. However, what was of concern was the coordinated assault across the entire Red Corridor spanning Bihar, Orissa, AP and Maharashtra, in addition to the core areas of this virulent insurgency in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. This tribal insurgency has overtaken both J&K and the Northeast in terms of the overall calculus of casualties and the threat it poses to India’s Internal Security.

Lalgarh : Revival of the issue of tribal land, Lalgarh has now served to highlight this issue and accorded to it the degree of salience it deserves in our public discourse. This second phase of tribal angst is again rooted in the issues of land. This time the tribal alienation stems from acquisition of land for industrial projects/Special Economic Zones. The Maoists have leveraged upon this tribal grievance to rekindle the Naxalite rebellion in West Bengal.

The problem however is that Lalgarh itself is not the key or core area of this insurgency. The prime areas of concern, are the core LWE affected states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The armed Naxal presence in Lalgarh is comparatively not as high as in the core states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Op Steeple Chase. Military history is a grossly neglected subject in this country. It would surprise many to be reminded that on 01 Jul 1971 the Indian Army had launched Operation Steeple Chase along with the Police to put down a Santhal tribal uprising in West Bengal. This was a culmination of the Naxalite movement that had begun in 1967 in Naxalbari. The Army had formed the outer cordon in Op Steeple Chase and the Police had gone in for the kill. Operation Steeple Chase ended by 15 Aug 1971 and broke the back of the first Naxalite upsurge in West Bengal. The Santhal tribesmen armed with bows, arrows, dahs and spears were no match for the fire power of the Army or Police. The plain terrain of West Bengal with its well developed network of road communications is not ideal guerilla country. Hence the first Naxalite uprising was easily crushed. It was fuelled by the tribal angst and anger that stemmed from a lack of land reforms. In the decades since, West Bengal and Kerala were two states that went the farthest to enforce land reforms. This, to a great extent, resolved the primary cause of the initial Naxalite rebellion and it withered away by the end of the 1970s.

Terrain Shift. In the 1980s, the Peoples War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) revived the Naxalite insurgency. They had learnt their lessons about the ideal terrain that would suit guerilla operations. They shifted the focus of the struggle to the densely forested and hilly tracts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. From insurgency in the plains (where it had no chance due to the mobility and fire power differential of the Security Forces), it became a jungle insurgency in classical guerilla terrain. The merger of the PWG and MCC into the CPI (Maoist) gave it an all India orientation. From just 09 States and 53 Districts in 2001, it has spread to 17 States and over 180 Districts in central and peninsular India. The core of this insurgency is in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The Maoist had come to power through the ballot in Nepal after a decade long virtual civil war.

Today the Naxalites in India talk of a Compact Revolutionary Zone or a Red Corridor that extends all the way from Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in peninsular India. It has over 10,000 armed cadres, some 15,000 assorted weapons (including 900 AK-47 Rifles, 200 Light Machine Guns and locally fabricated Rocket Launchers). Like the Maoists who gained power in Nepal, it has a Central Military Commission and Five Regional Bureaus. The Pakistani ISI has been making concerted attempts to forge linkages with it. It is one of the most dangerous threats to India’s National Security. However, despite the repeated warnings by the Prime Minister himself, it had generally not been recognized in the popular perception as a major threat to India’s National Security. Lalgarh hopefully, seems to be changing all that. The problem however is that Lalgarh itself is not the key or core area of this insurgency.

Also read: Gujjar Agitation: Internal Security Ramifications

The prime areas of concern, are the core LWE affected states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The armed Naxal presence in Lalgarh is comparatively not as high as in the core states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The armed Naxals in Lalgarh have rolled with the punch and melted away into the forests. So far the operations have generally taken the form of flag marches to reassert Govrnment control over areas from which the local administration had fled. The armed Naxals will bide their time to return once the additional forces deployed are withdrawn. The real areas of prime concern however are the core eight districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar. Excessive media hype about Lalgarh should not detract from this operational core of the problem.


Demography is a key subject that is largely overlooked in our security analyses. 62 percent of India’s population is in the working age group. The bulk of it resides in the villages. By 2026 this youth bulge would grow to 68.8 percent of a population of 1.4 billion. By 2026 India will have the most youthful population in the world. This would translate into almost a billion people who would need jobs. What will happen if the state fails to generate this many jobs? The internal–security consequences of such a failure could be dismal. This demographic bulge in turn could generate a major rural–urban fault line in India. The primary manifestation of this today is in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) that is sweeping through the tribal regions of central and peninsular India.


As stated, Naxalism had started as an agrarian rebellion by the Santhal tribals of Naxalbari in West Bengal in the year 1967. Ruthless attempts by the state to stamp it out have failed as the state has exhibited the lack of a political will to effect agrarian reforms. After initial setbacks, this insurgency resurfaced in the 1980s with the rise of the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). In 2004 the PWG and MCC had merged to form the CPI (Maoists). This has given a pan-India orientation to LWE. The spatial growth of the LWE has thereafter been dramatic and alarming. Large scale displacement of tribal populations by major hydro-electric projects and extensive mining in jungle areas has led to the current third phase of the LWE. The core of the insurgency is focused in Chhattisgarh (Abujmar Region) and Jharkhand, with significant activity levels in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa.Casualty Ratios. What is becoming a cause for alarm is the adverse tactical exchange rate or casualty ratio between the Police/Central Police Organizations (CPOs) and the Naxals. This had ranged between a not very reassuring 1:1.4 to 1:2 between 1999 and 2006. However in the year 2007 and 2008 this ratio has become adverse and tilted in favor of the Left Wing insurgents. Despite all the attempts at the modernization and training of the police and their expansion by some three lakhs, the situation in 2009 has taken a turn for the worse. The number of police and Central Paramilitary Force casualties has already crossed 200. The casualty ratio has further worsened to almost 2:1 in favor of the Naxals. It may be noted that the casualty ratio between the Indian Army and the terrorists in J&K was of the order of 3 or 4 is to 1. When it reached the figure of 5:1 in 2005, there was a visible improvement in the situation and the back of this movement was broken. Casualty ratios therefore are a highly critical parameter that merits very close monitoring.

the casualty ratio between the police and insurgents is a cause for concern. For the last three years in fact, it has become adverse and tilted in favor of the insurgents.

Insurgency or Terrorism? Tribals make natural guerillas. Only 12 percent of India’s tribal population lives in the Northeast. This had revolted in 1956 and tied down some 2 to 6 divisions of the Indian Army and three times that number of police and paramilitary forces. 85 percent of the Indian tribal population lives in central and peninsular India. It is this which is now in varying stages of rebellion. The internal security implications of this are patent and obvious.

Heartland vs Rimland. Unlike the earlier insurgencies in the Northeast and the terrorist movements in Punjab and J&K, this is not a rim-land insurgency, but a heartland rebellion. The Indian Army obviously is not keen to intervene here because this will draw it far away from the borders it is supposed to guard. The key issue is – can we (or should we) paramilitarize our entire police forces to quell this insurgency? The strength of the Indian state police forces has been raised by 300,000 in the past few years. It has gone up from 1.3 million to 1.6 million.

The CRPF is raising 10 COBRA Battalions to combat this menace. So far, however the casualty ratio between the police and insurgents is a cause for concern. For the last three years in fact, it has become adverse and tilted in favor of the insurgents.

The world over, armies are employed to tackle insurgencies. It is essential to grasp the essential difference between insurgency and terrorism. Terrorists target defenseless civilians. Insurgents usually target the police, PMF and the Army itself through hit and run guerilla raids and ambushes. Their organizational pattern is on semi- formal military lines. They operate in platoons, companies and Battallions/Dalams. Though the Police is ideal to tackle terrorism , especially in cities, towns and densly populated areas, tribal insurgency in difficult jungle terrain needs the intervention of the regular Army. Militarizing the entire police forces would take 8 to 10 years with the existing training infrastructure. Would it be cost effective or even possible to raise tactical skills of the entire states, police forces to even a basal military level? An across the board paramilitarization of the nation’s Police forces is definitely not the answer. It would take far too long and would not be cost- effective in the end.

Counter Insurgency training and operations are treated as virtual punishment postings/assignments and the state of morale and motivation of these State Police Forces is poor.

The Grayhound Model. Quite obviously therefore, the Andhra Pradesh Grayhound model of creating elite, specialized police forces, is one obvious solution. It has worked well in Andhra Pradesh. Can the Andhra model be replicated in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand? The outlook seems rather pessimistic as the state of road infrastructure is much poorer in these two states. Better road communication network in Andhra Pradesh had enabled the police to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, the police leadership in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand has been focusing more upon raising the general level of training of the entire police force rather than on creating elite forces on the Andhra model.

Counter Insurgency training and operations are treated as virtual punishment postings/assignments and the state of morale and motivation of these State Police Forces is poor. An increase of pressure by the Grayhounds in Andhra Pradesh has merely pushed the Left Wing Dalams into the neighboring states of Jharkhand and Orissa. As a deliberate practice, the Naxalites have been operating on the tri-junctions of states to take full advantage of the lack of coordination between the states as also the states and the center. The key parameter to be closely watched is the tactical exchange rate or the casualty ratio between the police and the Left Wing insurgents. This is now becoming a cause for concern. Should this deteriorate further, we may have to consider a genuine para-militarization of the conflict, i.e. intervention by the Rashtriya Rifles or the Assam Rifles. Alternatively, we may have to consider a onetime repeat of Op Steeple Chase (Army assistance provided to anti-Naxal operations in West Bengal in 1971).

Matrix of Response Options

CRPF as Lead CI Force. The Kargil Review Committee had identified the CRPF as the lead force for Counter Insurgency/Counter Terrorist Operations. Though excellent in theory, this apparently logical solution was somewhat hasty and ill considered. It did not take into account the readiness state of the CRPF to effect such a radical transformation in its role. The CRPF is a successor entity of the Crown Reserve Police Force of the British Colonial era that was designed as an add on Police Force to counter the non-violent agitation of Mahatma Gandhi. As such it has a largely police orientation and is not a genuine para military force that can conduct offensive Counter Terrorist Operations. A mere change of designation does not generate an across the board change of organizational culture, ethos, or manning, leadership and equipment profiles. The CRPF has been an excellent force for Law and Order duties, elections, communal riots and static guarding duties in CI/CT operation environments. It is however not structured presently for undertaking offensive CI/CT operations.

Chinese rhetoric on Arunachal Pradesh is on the rise. Internal Security is fast emerging as a third front with LWE and Jihadi terrorism emerging as significant threats. India therefore does not have the luxury of 8 to 10 years to resolve her Internal Security issues.

To expect it to perform this enlarged role without effecting the across the board transformation that it requires, is patently unfair to the force. The BSF was raised as a more para-militarized force and a number of Army officers who were initially seconded to this force did impart it a more para military orientation. Possibly one of the biggest errors in judgement in J&K was replacing the BSF in Srinagar with the CRPF. The CRPF constables retire at 58. The very age profile and 12 hour shift system of this force militates against the conduct of offensive CI/CT operations. This calls for an across the board transformation of its basic ethos, officering pattern and organizational culture. A ministerial fiat designating it as the country’s lead CI/CT Force , unfortunately does not make it into one. Such an across the board organizational transformation of the CRPF will take minimum one to two decades if not more. The brunt of this hasty policy reversal has been borne in Srinagar – which is the key centre of gravity in J&K. The recent Lalgarh episode was not classic CI operations. The Naxalites have rolled with the punch and melted into the jungles. These have only been high profile road clearance and Flag March operations so far. The number of armed Naxalites killed or captured has been virtually zero.

The Grey Hound Model. The Grey hound model of elite State Police Forces – specifically trained and equipped for CI/CT operations has been a far more successful model. The STF of J&K and Punjab Police had proved equally successful. These had employed a large number of ex-servicemen from the Army’s elite Special Forces and other Regiments and had performed excellently. This model should urgently be replicated in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. The states must make optimal use of the large number of Short Service Commisioned officers who are optimally trained and released every year as also infantry and Special Forces Personnel who retire each year at a relatively younger age. However, such Special State Police forces still do not solve the problem of inter-state coordination which can only come with the introduction of a Central Force.

If an across the board paramilitarization of the police is ruled out and if the CRPF will need 10 or more years to transform itself for the offensive CI/CT operations role, what other options do we have, especially if the Naxalite situation deteriorates further. The urgent response options are just three :

  • Rashtriya Rifles. Urgently raise two more RR Divisions with 30–40% recruitment from the tribal areas. This should be deployed to form a classical CI Grid in the Core 8 Naxalite effected districts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar. During the late Gen BC Joshi’s tenure as Chief, 30 RR battalions had been raised within a time period of just one year.
  • Regular Army Divisions. The Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand area was the jungle warfare training area of the Indian Army for the Burma Theatre in World War II. The two new Divisions to be raised for the Chinese front could be put through their initial paces in the CI Operations in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It would make them combat hardened and prepare them for their eventual role in Arunachal Pradesh/other forested border tracts.
  • RR and Regular Mix. The optimal requirements is for 30 RR/Infantry Battalions. This could be done by an optimal mix of RR and Regular Infantry Battalions. We could go in for one RR and a Regular Division to be raised post haste for employment in the 8 Core Districts of the insurgency.


The threat of Left Wing Extremism cannot be viewed in isolation from the external threat environment. India is in a classical two front situation with China to the north and Pakistan to the west. Internal security is fast emerging as a third front. China has grown out of the Deng era posture of “hide your capabilities and bide your time”. It is aggressively showcasing its capabilities through its recently conducted Fleet Review and a proposed major military exercise focused on the South China Sea, which will focus the resources of four Military Regions on a single war zone.

Also read: Limitations of Technical Intelligence

Chinese rhetoric on Arunachal Pradesh is on the rise. Internal Security is fast emerging as a third front with LWE and Jihadi terrorism emerging as significant threats. India therefore does not have the luxury of 8 to 10 years to resolve her Internal Security issues. She has a narrow time window of 3 to 4 years at best. As such, this would compel us to utilize forces in being or those which do not need radical re-structuring/ transformation. Much as one would like to avoid it, two additional RR or Regular Infantry Divisions are the only viable response options. Letting the Police try and fail to fight a full scale tribal insurgency for 10 years and then fashion a military response in an environment of external stress would amount to a lack of strategic perspective that would ensure that we tackle our strategic threats sequentially and not all at once. It would be better for the fire brigade to intervene even as the fire starts and not wait for half or two thirds of the house to burn down. It may then be a classic case of ‘too little too late’.

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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

Maj Gen GD Bakshi, (Retd)

is a war Veteran and Strategic Analyst.

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One thought on “Left Wing Extremism

  1. Calling them names won’t help, I guess. We cannot eeitrmxnate a group of people because they are violent. First off, we are not capable of doing that. Secondly, there are more sane solutions to every problem. What we’ve got to do in the long term is to understand the causes of the birth of a terrorist. And terrorist means everybody who terrorizes by mass destruction and violence.

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