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How the Maoists must be countered

By B Raman
June 24, 2009 16:21 IST
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The continuing inability of the government -- whether at the Centre or in the states -- to counter effectively the spread of the activities of the Maoist insurgents-cum-terrorists has once again been demonstrated by the temporary control established by the Communist Party of India-Maoist and its front organisation called the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities in 17 villages spread across some 300 square kilometres in the Lalgarh area in West Bengal ruled by a coalition headed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

The People's Committee, with the backing or at the instigation of the Maoists exploited local anger over alleged police excesses against the tribals following an alleged  Maoist attempt to kill Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee through a landmine blast in November last year.

What started as a protest movement against police excesses was transformed by the Maoists into a violent political movement for establishing their writ over the villages in the Lalgarh area of West Midnapore distict. The hesitation of the governments of West Bengal and India to act strongly against the Maoist-instigated committee at the very beginning apparently due to electoral considerations arising from the recently-concluded elections to the Lok Sabha, was exploited by the Maoists, with the reported help of Maoists from the adjoining states of Jharkhand and Orissa, to strengthen their control over these villages.

The transformation of the ostensibly human rights movement into a political movement for a confrontation with the state is evident from the demands put forward by Gour Chakraborty, the CPI-Maoist's spokesman who has since been arrested, in an interview to on June 18, after the state government forces, with the help of para-military forces started counter-insurgency operations to eject the Maoists from the villages controlled by them.

The security forces have already succeeded in ejecting the Maoists and their supporters from many of the villages earlier controlled by them. In his interview, Chakraborty spelt out the three main demands of the Maoists as follows: "Central and state forces must be withdrawn from the entire area; the state government must officially apologise to the tribals for its torture and misbehaviour and it should immediately put an end to police atrocities."

While reiterating the government of India's policy of being willing for talks with the Maoists on their legitimate demands if and when they give up violence, the government as evidence of its determination to put down the Maoist activities firmly has banned the CPI-Maoist after designating it as a terrorist organisation. The ban order was issued on June 22, under Section 41 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The CPI-Maoist was formed in 2004 through the merger of the CPI- Marxist-Leninist, the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. The earlier ban order had covered these organisations, but after their merger to form the CPI-Maoist, no specific order had been issued to bring the CPI-Maoist under its purview. This lacuna has been sought to be filled up now by banning specifically the CPI-Maoist and its front organisations.

The CPI-Maoist is a partly political, partly insurgent and partly terrorist organisation. It believes in the Maoist strategy of capturing political power with the help of a well-motivated and well-trained army of the impoverished rural masses. It has been using the tribal areas in the mineral rich central and east India, where the tribals have long been subjected to political, economic and social discrimination and where alleged instances of police excesses have been frequent, for the recruitment of its cadres and for establishing operational bases from where attacks could be launched against small and big towns to capture arms and ammunition from the police and para-military forces.

As an insurgent organisation, it believes in establishing its control over territory 'liberated' by it. As a terrorist organisation, it differs from others. It indulges in targeted killings of security forces personnel and its perceived class and political enemies. It does not indulge in indiscriminate killing of civilians (non-combatants), who do not come under any of these categories.

Since Dr Manmohan Singh came to power as the prime minister in 2004, he and his government have been projecting the Maoists as the greatest internal security threat faced by India and calling for and promising a special strategy to counter them through co-ordinated action involving the Centre and states in whose territory the Maoists are active. The Congress had appointed in 2004 a special task force of the party to go into the Maoist activities in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh to come out with suitable recommendations for dealing with the Maoist activities.

Till now, one does not see any sign of a suitable strategy emerging. Before evolving such a strategy, one has to understand the basic differences between Maoist insurgency/terrorism and jihadi terrorism. Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon.

Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda. Jihadi terrorism is externally sponsored or aided by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh and is motivated by their strategic agenda. Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.

While the Maoist leaders are motivated largely by their desire to seek political power through a Maoist style People's War similar to the war waged by their counterparts in Nepal, their cadres and foot soldiers fighting for them are largely motivated by genuine grievances arising from the political, economic and social hardships.

It is our long neglect to develop the tribal areas which has created large pockets of alienation against the government and these pockets have become the spawning ground of Maoist terrorism.

We cannot have the same strategy for dealing with Maoist activities as we have for dealing with jihadi terrorism. We have to take note of the genuine grievances of the tribals and deal with them in a sympathetic manner. We should not dismiss summarily their allegations of police excesses. There has to be a machinery for a prompt enquiry into these allegations. Maoist terrorism cannot be effectively countered without modernising and strengthening our rural policing and the rural presence of the intelligence agencies. The tribal areas, which have not yet been affected by the Maoist virus, have to be developed on a crash basis in order to prevent the spread of the virus to them.

The capabilities of the security agencies deployed for countering Maoist activities have to be different from those of the urban counter-terrorism agencies. The emphasis has to be on greater mobility in the rural areas with very little road infrastructure at present and greater protection from landmines used extensively by the Maoists. Our failure to develop the road infrastructure in the rural areas has facilitated the spread of Maoist terrorism by taking advantage of the lack of mobility of the security forces.

The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don't. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.

Unfortunately, instead of working out an appropriate strategy which will address these operational deficiencies and at the same time pay equal attention to the political handling of the problem, there is an unwise tendency to militarise the counter-Maoist insurgency management by adopting methods similar to those followed by the British in dealing with the Communist insurgency in Malaya after the Second World War. This will prove counter-productive.

It is time for the government to have a re-think on the way we have been dealing with this problem in order to have a tailor-made strategy based on improvement of political management, strengthening rural policing and rural intelligence and developing capacities for rural operations with emphasis on mobile as well as on static security.

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B Raman