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Former IPS officer Mahendra Kumawat on tackling the Maoists

Last updated on: November 30, 2009 09:50 IST

Image: Paramilitary forces fight Maoists. Inset: Mahendra Kumawat
Photographs: Chindu Sreedharan
In part one of his interview with's Sheela Bhatt, retired Indian Police Service officer Mahendra Kumawat discussed the Maoist threat, which he had dealt with extensively during his tenures in government.

Part I: 'In the short term, Naxalism won't go'

In this concluding segment of his conversation with Bhatt, Kumawat outlines how the war against the Maoists can be won.

What exactly is happening on the ground?

The Centre is sincerely trying to deploy COBRA battalions, which have been raised at great cost, in the states. The Centre is giving the states funds to set up 25 jungle warfare training centres. But it should be done at speed. These centres should come up in two years.

What kind of budget does the government have for it?

There is no separate budget to deal with the Naxal problem. For managing internal security, the Centre has a budget of Rs 30,000 crores (Rs 300 billion). It was only Rs 16,000 crores (Rs 160 billion) in 2007-08. It is a huge jump in budget allocation to manage internal security and border management.

What about human resources?

We have about 24 lakh (2.4 million) policemen in the country. Of that, around 8 lakh (800,000) policemen are with the Centre and remaining with the states. But these policemen are trained only once in lifetime. Their training should have been on a yearly basis.

'We are trying to control a fever without studying the root cause'

Image: Naxals pose with bows and arrows during a rally in Kolkata
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
Once again, coming back to a basic question -- why did the policemen fail in curbing Naxal violence?

The political leadership could not envisage the issue gathering storm. Many leaders went to the other extreme of branding them as the messiahs of the poor. It was a facade. The Naxal leaders wanted to capture power by projecting themselves as messiahs.

I have a question; today, in case, if their problems are solved will they wind up the CPI-Maoists? They will never do it. The Maoists belong to a political party and all political parties wants to come to power.

The Naxal methodology and strategy is the anti-thesis of democracy. See their Web site and read what they want. They want to capture power in South Block and North Block.

A former prime minister had said if I was young I would have joined them. Writer/social worker Mahasweta Devi has supported them. Unknowingly, they are justifying violence. After all, democracy is dear to us.

With the sacrifice of thousands of people we have achieved this democracy. This particular ideal has been lost in the debate. It is not understood by the police, politicians and intellectuals.

For years, policy-makers didn't understand the Maoist philosophy. A very few policemen have read about them. Not even one percent of the police force is aware about what Marxism, Leninism and Maoism is. Earlier all Naxals were CPI-Marxist-Leninists and now, they are CPI-Maoists.

We are reactive only. We are trying to control a fever without studying the root cause.

For 20 years, we didn't look at the issue. Only specialised forces can deliver the goods in this matter. We ignored psychological management. We totally failed in it. The Naxals could convince Dalits and later the tribals that they can resolve their problems and bring them out of the wretched lives.

Radio, TV, artistes and intellectuals should have been used to convince these tribals and Dalits that only the State through democracy can bring them a better life.

We miserably failed to provide good governance. The Naxal problem would not have been there if we provided good governance.

In the feudal society that we have, officers don't want to go to tribal areas where you see only semi-clad starving people working barefoot. Only those without proper network are posted there and they have not been able to deliver good governance.

In fact, now there is a thinking that senior officers should be posted there. As of now, those who are not able to deliver are posted in those backward areas and those areas slide into more problems.

To urban India, how will you describe the Maoists? Who is a typical Maoist?

There are two kinds of Maoists -- intellectual Maoists and armed Maoists.

The typical armed Maoist is the one who hasn't studied much and could not get a job. He is from the deprived section of society so when he tried to get a job he miserably failed. The system could not provide him an alternate livelihood. So a gun was offered to him. With the gun, he got power.

And after getting power his word became the writ in his area. He got mired into a vortex of crime that he could not come out of. So he indulged in more and more crime. This is how Maoist cadres were formed.

Then we have armchair Maoists. There are intellectuals who support the people with guns without knowing what they are doing. They take full advantage of the freedom they have because we have a democracy. They support the Maoists through human rights organisations. They try their best to legitimise their violence.

'The Maoists are not allowing development'

Image: Security personnel keep watch at a Maoist-infested village in Bihar.
Photographs: Reuters
Are you not contradicting yourself? You told me that bad governance is one of the root causes behind Maoist violence. In that case, don't you think they have an absolutely legitimate cause?

See the Maoists are followed by children and women as we have seen in Jehanabad, Nayagadh and Koraput. They come in big numbers. Why do they follow them? People think that Maoists will be able to provide them bread, if not butter.

They are able to solve their problem of basic necessities. Even if it is so, my point is we cannot allow them to take up arms.

The people of India -- every one of us, under privileged also -- must have faith in democracy.

The Maoists are not allowing development. They want power through the gun and then only they want roads and dams to be built.

The Maoists are the biggest obstacles in the development of backward areas.

Is it a caste oriented or class oriented struggle?

They want to give it a class tint but caste has played very important role in their struggle. About 90 percent of their cadre consists of Dalits or tribals.

Leadership is in the hands of the upper class. They are quite qualified and some of them are intellectuals too.

It is commonly known that if genuine land reforms take place the Naxal issue will more or less sort itself out.

I told you the Maoists are political leaders belonging to a political party. They want to capture power, if not today, then tomorrow. They will continue this mayhem even if you have land reforms.

Land reforms must be done but the Maoists won't end their movement because power is their main aim.

Their Maoism is a facade only to become leaders in society.

If you are empowered to take three steps in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and in the Gadchiroli area of Maharashtra, what will it be?

Number one, I would try to win the hearts and minds of the people. Give them psychological assurance. The government should convince these people. They must start believing that only the Indian State can solve their problems.

Second, prepare the police to deal with the Maoist leaders on their own terms. Good governance should go on silently and must speed up development. We have to work like missionaries.

What can go wrong in the government's policy in dealing with the Maoists?

Many things can go wrong. Wrong people on the wrong job can make things worse. Differences amongst political parties can fail any strategy. Many political parties take the Maoists's help to win elections. I can tell you it creates a mess.

Many political parties have taken the Maoists's help to come to power. I don't want to name them.

We should have a kind of national policy and it should not change with a change in political leadership.

'The cadre think weapons can solve their problems'

Image: Maoist leader 'Kishenji', with back to camera, speaks to the media in Bholagara village, Bengal
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
One argument goes that if more state power or COBRA is used then things will worsen.

The idea is to use an optimum level of pressure. In war also, the enemy should feel he is not having an upper hand. That stage will have to be reached when the cadres question the Naxal leadership.

Have you interrogated or met any senior Naxal leaders?

I have met the founder of the People's War Group, Kondapalli Seetaramaiah. Much before the Maoists came by, the People's War Group was a ferocious organisation. We had a detailed discussion with Seetaramaiah. It was a very interesting talk.

We learnt so many things. How he remained all the time in Mumbai. He was hiding there. Nobody suspected that he could be there. He said he was openly living and moving in the city. Who knows how many Maoists leaders are openly moving in Delhi.

He told me one thing. Wherever they take shelter, they never commit a crime. Wherever they commit crimes, their leadership would not be present there.

So again, the lessons can be learnt that those states which are free from Naxal violence should not be complacent.

Did you find in him some logical and moral cause behind what he did?

Earlier, I can tell you all Naxals, to begin with, were not criminal minded. Right now, there are many who are criminal minded.

If one does not get a job, he joins the Naxals. Many do not join due to ideological commitment. It is also possible that those who are ideologically committed do not take up arms.

That is the great irony that we have. In the beginning there were many who were committed to ideology. I saw many of them when I was deputy inspector general of police in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, which is the ideological headquarters of the Naxals.

Many students of the regional engineering and medical colleges in Waranagal left their studies and joined the cadres due to a deep belief in the ideology. There were many people who thought they can change the life of the masses and downtrodden.

What made them so ruthless?

It is their philosophy. You should read what Chairman Mao said. Those whom I interrogated had read it.

How come tribal leaders in the hinterland read Mao's thoughts? How does the translation of his views reach them?

As I told you very few people, in the police or in urban India, know what is Marxism what is Maoism...what is Naxalism.

Precisely. How come the common man in the interiors of India knows what is Marxism and what Mao said?

The common man there thinks the day I pick up a weapon, I can solve my problems without any help. He thinks that weapons can solve his problems. He thinks that is power. And it is the fact.

I was the superintendent of police in Naxal-affected areas on the AP-Maharashtra border. The beedi workers were getting only five paise for rolling 100 beedis. Only when the Naxals took up that issue was it raised to 15 paise. For the poor people, it was a three-time raise.

During those days, feudalism was rampant in Telangana. When Naxalism started these feudal lords shifted from the villages and migrated to Hyderabad. Poor people were subservient and were treated like slaves by the feudal lords. The Maoists provided them esteem. They convinced them they can have pride once they win power.

'If 2,000 Maoists are taken lightly today, then another 10,000 can pick up arms tomorrow'

Image: A woman outside a CPI-M office, wrecked by the Maoists in Lalgarh, Bengal
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
You are talking like a human rights activist. And still you can deal with them ruthlessly when in uniform. Isn't it?

I am neither. I am a pragmatist and a nationalist. Our country must be in the comity of great nations. Anything that is good for the country and good for the democratic set up should be done and must be done.

I am human and come from a small village. I have a tremendous soft corner for people who are not getting the benefits of democracy. At the same time, democracy is very dear to us.

Sixty years back our literacy rate was around 10 percent, now it is above 60 percent. Our longevity was around 30, now it is 70. We are now part of the G-20.

We also have 700 million people earning Rs 20 a day.

Yes, but democracy can look after them if there is good governance.

You know both sides, but you have proposed the COBRAs, and once you supervised the Greyhounds.

As I said we did it because Indian democracy must be defended.

If 2,000 Maoists are taken lightly today, then another 10,000 can pick up arms tomorrow by taking up some cause. Such lawlessness cannot be supported.

Every Indian must have feelings for the downtrodden but we cannot support an armed agitation.

I have experienced tremendous poverty when I was growing up in a village in Rajasthan. I was studying, but I had no books to read. I belong to the OBC (Other Backward Classes). I used to appear for exams without books. I have suffered because we never had money. My father was an ordinary man.

I understand what goes on in the Maoist leaders's minds and their supporters's minds. Poor people get hurt when they don't get justice. Their feeling of hurt is profound.

When people's work is not done, when they don't get their legitimate due, they say, 'Is liye Naxalism is desh main ana chahiye (That is why Naxalism must come to this country). When people's aspirations are not fulfilled, they want instant justice. Our system is terribly slow.

Are you hopeful?

I am very hopeful. Violence just cannot solve our issues. We will succeed in tackling Maoism. But I am saying this with a caveat. It has to be a national promise. It has to be a long-term plan.