The Maoist corridor is increasingly being called India’s Swat. The Maoists – India’s Taliban. While the Maoists may not have the Taliban’s war like stores, training and expertise yet, they certainly have a similar style of functioning.
From creating Kangaroo courts, public executions, levying taxes, issuing diktats to the concept of creating a state within a state, there are many similarities between the Taliban and the Maoists. Both the Taliban in the Af-Pak region and the Maoists in India-Nepal region made use of the apathy and weakness of the state to carve a place for them selves.
Both the Taliban and the Maoists were encouraged by elements within the state for vested interests. And now the Frankenstein’s monster appears too powerful and hydra headed. Both India and Pakistan have started separate operations to crush the monster – but in these initial phases the sincerity of these operations are being questioned.
INDIA’S OP END GAME?
Lalgarh in West Bengal was perhaps the biggest slap on the face of the state. Even after the chief minister was targeted, the state’s response was limp. After nearly seven months of abdicating power, the West Bengal government was forced to take action, with the centre and the world watching. For India this was a litmus test. Lalgarh was captured with little resistance but the war against the left wing extremism has just begun.
The big question – how prepared is the state – not just west Bengal but all the left wing terror affected states and the centre – to fight this war. In September 2004, Maoists closed ranks and formed one group – CPI (Maoists). They found they could coordinate their actions better – mount bigger offensives against the state. And in case pressure mounted in one state they could just hide their weapons and sneak into the neighbouring state.
MULTI PRONGED ATTACK NEEDED
The need of the hour is for the naxal affected states to launch a multi-pronged attack on the Maoists. Police and special anti-naxal forces in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra need to launch a simultaneous well coordinated operation to seek and destroy Maoist strongholds.
This would require a lot of help from the Indian Air Force – for movement of men and material and aerial reconnaissance. But this is a national problem and needs to be addressed at this level. Not only this, police forces in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and other adjoining states need to ensure Maoists do not slip into their areas. Already there is intelligence about increased Maoist movement into new territory.
An operation of this magnitude would require careful planning and perfect execution to avoid a) collateral damage and b) friendly fire casualties. The army has tremendous experience in mounting multi-theatre operations and their assistance should be sought. This should be above turf wars and in national interest.
Army’s counter insurgency and jungle warfare school (CIJW) at Vairangte (Mizorum) provides perhaps the best jungle warfare training in these parts of the world. I have seen it first hand and have heard rich words of praise coming from some US officers who did a course there. A core team of police officers and men from the naxal affected states should undergo intensive training at CIJW and then be deployed to eliminate the threat in their respective threats. Since these officers would have trained together they will be able to operate together easily and can overcome turf and jurisdiction issues.
MAOISTS: BIGGEST THREAT
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had on November 4, 2004 said and I quote
The spectre of Left wing extremism continues to haunt us, albeit in new forms. Charu Mazumdar had once talked of a ‘Spring thunder over India’. In the initial days of the movement, many of the best and the brightest had been attracted towards the movement. Almost 40 years later, the Naxalite movement has lost much of its intellectual élan, but it has gained in strength and has now spread to over 150 districts all over the country.
In 2004, left wing extremism was the biggest threat India faced – bigger than terror both in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north east. What is shocking is the fact that the Prime Minister of the country says naxals are the biggest threat and yet precious little is done over the next 5 years to eliminate the threat.
The Naxal threat has grown from 150 districts (in 2004) to more than 200 districts in 2009. Traditional logic is Maoists occupy the vacuum created by the absence of state administration. While that is true – it is equally true Maoists are now ensuring there is no development in the areas under their domination for the simple reason it will weaken their control and hold over the region.
According to statistics tabled in the Lok Sabha, on December 16, 2008, a total of 62 telecommunication towers have been damaged in Maoist blasts between 2005 and November 30, 2008, in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa. According to union home minister P. Chidambaram, Maoists are anti-development.
Telecommunication towers, railway stations, rail tracks and infrastructure and power stations have been Maoist targets across the Naxal affected states. In 2007, there were a total of 26 attacks on the Railways. During the previous year, there were a total of nine attacks on the Railways. The largest loss from attacks on infrastructure was witnessed when the rebels blew-up three 132 KVA high tension (HT) towers in Narayanpur district of Bastar, on May 31, 2007.
As a result, six districts were thrown into darkness for a week; normal power distribution in the affected area was impaired for a whole fortnight; and functioning of hospitals, communication system and rail traffic, besides iron ore mines, were badly affected. The total estimated loss on account of this act of destruction was a whooping Rs 2,000 crore.
The Maoist game plan is clear – destroy all infrastructure development so that their word remains the law. The Maoists too lord over a multi-crore rupee industry.
There is a pattern to the Maoist attacks. They attack at night – in large numbers – 200 to 300 armed Maoists lay siege and then open fire from all sides. They loot armouries and banks, kill policemen and government representatives and then disappear into the jungles.
The Maoists have a better intelligence network – know about the deployment and movement of security forces and exploit their weaknesses – laying land mines on routes of convoys, attacking police posts by launching simultaneous multiple attacks in an area.
They destroy communication network to ensure reinforcements cannot be sent quickly and even lay ambushes on the route of the reinforcement movement.
The government should beat the Maoists at their own game – launch multiple simultaneous operations against them – cut off their escape route and supply chain. This would choke them. Once the top leadership is either killed or captured the development plan should begin in the right earnest. Steps like Backward District Initiative (BDI) where Rs 15 crore is to spent each year on the backward district should be enforced in the right earnest. Development should show on ground.
Security forces must remain on ground till locals have a vested interest in development. Once that happens – Maoists will have nowhere to hide – people will turn against them. They will be fish out of water.
Unless this is on top of the government’s agenda – present Lalgarh operations will be just an eye wash!