Tackling Maoist Violence
Dr. Satya Pal Singh*
The Communist Rural Insurgency in various parts of the world is generally known as Left Wing Extremism or Naxalism in India and Maoism in Nepal. It has proliferated on a phenomenal scale in its ideology, logistics and areas since the Naxalbari uprising of 1967 in Darzling district of the West Bengal province in India. Union and State Governments’ efforts to contain and curb it have not borne the desired fruits. The divergence and different perceptions in diagnosing the problem and regional political compulsions in tackling it, have in fact help moved the left-extremist movement ahead. A few years ago in the 'CBI Bulletin' (July, 1993) of India, I had emphatically mentioned that half-hearted measures are destined for defeat. Recently, the murders of many ministers and public representatives by use of automatic weapons and land mines and the string of systematic kidnappings and fatal attacks on police personnel and damage to the private and public property in different parts of the country and neighbouring Nepal have given a jolt to the authorities for realising the urgency of initiating effective counter-measures.
The students of Communism know that Comrade Mao - the mentor and torch-bearer of the left-wing extremism had said, " War is politics with bloodshed and politics is war without bloodshed". Left-wing extremists are engaged in a political war - a struggle which might go on for hundreds of years. The ups and downs are the accepted phases of this political-social revolution (or revolutionary war, as extremists call it). Every small or big contribution and every martyrdom is a ladder taking them forward. Any defeat or set back is an experience to learn and rectify its mistakes in the long march to the have-nots' power.
I What is Naxalism / Maoism ?
Inspired by the leftist ideology of (Marx, Lenin and Mao), it is a politico-socio-economic movement manifesting in law and order problem, threatening or capable of threatening the very foundation of a democratic society.
II Extent of Problem:
Since its inception in 1967 in West Bengal, the Maoist movement has split into more than two dozens of groups of different names and slightly varied ideological moorings. The movement in India has now spread its tentacles in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh., Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh., Tamil.Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka provinces. The problem in Bihar, Orissa , Madhy Pradesh., Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh has assumed serious law and order problems. In the last few years, Nepal has become a new killing field for Maoist militants and they are beginning to gain the upper hand as compared to the police. The Maoists have in fact captured the power in Nepal in alliance with other political parties.
Among the major naxal groups, CPI-ML Peoples War ( better known as PWG) has emerged as the most violent and powerful, orchestrating a new offensive against police and persons coming in its way. CPI-ML-Party Unity - a powerful group of Bihar has merged with it in 1998. Efforts are being made to achieve unity with MCC (Maoist Communist Centre) - again an ambitious militant outfit in Bihar and West Bengal.
The Maoist militants have also developed links with other terrorist groups operating in North-East, Jammu & Kashmir and Communitst Party of Nepal (Maoist). There are unconfirmed reports that PWG cadres were trained in techniques of laying landmines and other uses of explosives by the LTTE of Sri Lanka. Also, over the years the movement, despite its splintered character, has received encouragement and support from various Maoist and Communist organisations operating in different parts of the world.
The problem is quite serious. What we see on the surface is the tip of the iceberg. Every visionary person would know that it is a battlefield out there. According to the naxalites themselves, it is a Peoples' War , a beginning of armed revolution for a true democratic society. The security forces are fighting a dynamic unconventional war against a very intelligent enemy in jungles, hills and sparsely populated terrains.
III Strategy of Maoists
Maoist militants are using a double-edged weapon of allurement and intimidation to create a mass base in the villages. They are building up village level cells among the youth, farmers, labourers, women, students and children and cultivating and influencing the intellectuals in the cities. They are equipped with simple as well as sophisticated weaponry, almost mastering the techniques of laying landmines and using explosives in different myriad ways. They have well-established channels of printing and circulating their clandestine literature. Even our electronic and print media has not been unkind to them. Their aim is to make the Government administration totally ineffective and discredited and turning the masses in their favour through tactics and armed revolution to ultimately carve out a Dandakaranya State in the Central India and so-called democratic-republic in Nepal to capture political power.
IV) Strength of Maoists
Before taking about the Strategy of solution for Maoist violence in the region we must know what are the pillars of their strength in the affected areas. According to me, if we generalise, there are only three:
1 Support of Locals:
Rightly or wrongly whether under fear or for favour the vast majority of weaker sections of society (tribals, dalits, marginalised farmers etc.) are either supportive to the Maoists or totally neutral to the administration. Local people provide recruits, food, shelter and intelligence network to Maoists and are lured into their village level cells whether of farmers, labours, students, women and children. Majority of the locals see the Maoists as their benefactors.
2. Source of Easy Funds
Maoist Cadres are collecting huge amount of funds from their areas of active operation. According to the police's rough estimate - it runs into more than Rs.100 millions a year from the state of Maharashtra alone, where the districts of Gadchiroli, Chandrapur and Bhandara (now Gondia) are badly affected. With this money , these Maoists purchase their weapons, ammunitions and provisions; organise training camps, build a net-work of informants and run secret dens in cities etc. Money is coming mainly from Tendu leaves (used for making beedis for smoking –a natural version of cigarettes) contractors, Paper Mill Owners and Contractors working for forest, other developmental agencies as well as other small sources. The major chunk of this money is not through extortion but is what we call protection money. Most of the Contractors and delinquent public servants have developed the modus vivendi - a kind of strange relations with Maoists where both parties share the exploits of these undeveloped areas. Of course, Maoists try to maintain their clean image as ills are inflicted on the heads of contractors and corrupt government officials.
3. Synergy of Hills, Jungles and Inter-State Borders
Forest and hilly terrains and contiguous inter-State borders are being used as training ground and safe sanctuaries by Maoist militants. Vast tracts of jungles and inter- State borders have become big barriers for smooth police operations. Jungles are a great equaliser of force and if I quote one British Commander Lt.Colonel S.M.Mans who commanded the operations against Communist insurgents (other name of Maoists) in Malaya in 1950s that because of jungles, "Never in the history of warfare have so few been chased so much by so many for such a long time". Therefore , it is a daunting and debilitating task and not simply a policing job for any law and order problem. Non-apprehension of the sandal-wood smuggler , Veerappan, by the combined Special Task Force of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu States underscores the synergical advantage of jungle terrains to the activists of extremism and insurgency.
V. A Strategy of Success
Such a complicated and serious problem defies easy solutions. It warrants a multi-disciplinary and multi-departmental approach. The police alone can just fight the fringe of the problem. It cannot tackle the deep-seated malaise, and the history of the last 30 years has proved it.
Such an unconventional problem cannot be solved through usual bureaucratic means. We have to demolish the pillars of strength of the Maoist movement. Many may not agree, but it requires the same strategy that is being employed by the extremists themselves, with only one difference - we have to put the gears of their strategy in reverse. Following are the measures for maiming the moorings of Maoists movement.
1. "Winning the minds and hearts of Local People"
This is the most important requirement for the state administration to be successful against this unconventional warfare.
How is it possible?
Every human society wants its progress. Tribals and locals are no exception to it. So, creating a stake of locals in their own development is the foremost requirement. Some people have an erroneous assumption that along with the development of an area, the Maoist problem will automatically vanish. This is not true, as insurgencies have occurred at all levels of economic development except at the highest or the mass consumption level. Interestingly, in Latin America insurgency has occurred in countries with high levels of development as Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia. One of the few comprehensive studies on the relationship between economic factors and insurgencies found a curvilinear relationship between gross national product (GNP) per capita and political violence. It suggested that there is no simple relationship between economic factors and the outbreak of violence.
Recently, the study of 24 insurgencies since 1946 in different parts of the world, as quoted by Jerry Tinkar revealed that the level of economic development of a country provides no immunity to insurgency. There may, however, be some relationship between GNP per capita and the level of violence. The study also found that insurgency is not restricted to countries with rural low-density population or having low adult literacy.
The most pertinent question is; "Can anyone say that after pumping about hundreds of millions of rupees in the affected area in India, the Maoist problem has lessened or the locals have become favourable to the administration ?" My answer to these questions is a big 'No' Then what does it portray and convey?
The message is clear. The locals are not with the administration and we should admit it. Even their passive neutrality is advantageous to the Maoist militants and an obstacle for the security agencies. Building up roads, bridges and the electrification of villages, where our 70-80% buget is being spent, has shown little improvement in the quality of life of the local people. We, in administration perceive roads, bridges, electrification and telephone as symbols of development but the tribals and locals feel otherwise.
Unless we involve the locals, create a stake of theirs in their own development, much is not going to change. And for creating a stake of locals in the process of their own development, we require the gearing up of the entire administrative machinery and not just the police alone. Today, the coordination amongst different government departments hardly exists, or even if it does, it exists mainly on paper, as far as anti-Maoist strategy is concerned.
It may be accomplished simply by implementing the Central legislation -Extension to the Scheduled Areas Panchayats Act, 1996 (implementation of 73rd amendment to the Indian Constitution) which was passed in the year 1996 unanimously by the Indian Parliament . All the State governments were directed to enact their own local Acts keeping the core of Central legislation intact within a year or they shall have no option but to implement the Central Act. The directives have been clear and compelling. Many States brought their Acts keeping in mind the local ethos and variations.
According to the Central Act, every village shall have a Gram Sabha which shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the tradition(s) and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and customary mode of dispute resolving. Panchayats shall also be vested with the powers to approve the programmes and projects for social and economic development, as also identification of the beneficiaries under the Poverty Alleviation Programmes. Every Panchayat at the village level shall be required to obtain from the Gram Sabha a certification of utilisation of funds by the panchayats for plans and projects.
Case of Maharashtra :- The State of Maharashtra also passed the act - The Maharashtra Panchayats in Scheduled Areas for self-government, 1997. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Act has hardly seen the light of the day, barring one or two provisions and that too at a few places. The Act has not found favour with policy planners and other field bureaucrats. They do not want to give up their privileges and powers to local people. The cry of social activists has fallen on deaf ears.
Gadchiroli - the worst affected district in the State with naxalite problem presents an ideal example of ground realities. The naxalite problem started there approximately 20 years back. Certainly, it was and still is, the most backward district of the State. About 7000 million rupees have been pumped in the district for development activities by the government so far. Signs of area development in the form of roads, bridges, schools, hospital, panchayat-buildings are clearly visible. But for the local tribal people there has been hardly any change. Their children have better literacy and more government works to earn wages. But they feel deprived of the privileges and powers they used to enjoy before political independence of 1947 and certainly before British clamped their controls in these areas in late 19th century. The alienation is alarming.
Gadchiroli district gets about Rs.600 millions in Tribal Sub Plan annually. In return, this district, rich in natural resources, provides about Rs.400 millions revenue to the State exchequer. Much of this revenue stems from the sale of Tendu leaves and bamboos. As I mentioned earlier, in the last 20 years, around Rs. 7000 millions have been allocated, used and misused in this district but quality of life of the tribals have marginally changed and the naxal problem continues unabated.
Path we missed
Where have we gone wrong ? The policy makers have not yet reviewed it honestly and comprehensively. Only the police department is asked to explain about the continuity of such a complex phenomenon. The secretaries of concerned departments have hardly bothered about it or were ever asked to explain the negligible return on huge investments in their fields.
Very recently, while reviewing the nation-wide poverty alleviation programmes, the Planning Commission of India has stated with great anguish and sadness that had the money been sent to the beneficiaries directly through money orders instead of bureaucratic machinery, their economic condition would have been much improved. The story of Tribal and Agency Areas Development programmes is the same irrespective of the names of different schemes in various States. And the same might be true about our immediate neighbour Nepal..
One is never too late to embark upon the path of progress. There are two workable options. First, we may distribute the budget to the village panchayats, and let the Gram Sabha decide what plans and programmes they would like to execute, as per the provisions of new Act. Let the bureaucrats help and not dictate the whole village community or panchayat in this endeavour. Let us encourage them to become contractors, businessmen, government servants etc. so that the locals become a part and parcel of the development process.
The second option is, again within the unambiguous provisions of the Village Panchayat Act of 1996, the locals should be given the total ownership over the local resources - the minor forest produce and minerals. But some of the States have not included the major revenue earning items like tendu-leaves and bamboos in the category of minor forest produces as happened in the State of Maharashtra. However, the Act clearly provides for it.
The often advocated bureaucratic logic of scientific management of forest for tendu-leaves collection or bamboo cutting cuts no ice, because even in the present system of tendu-collection, the Forest department gives in hardly any technical or scientific input. Contractors do it (plucking, drying, storing) or for that matter the tribals who work for paper mills in cutting the bomboos.
Now the locals and tribals are cutting the forest, encroaching upon its land because it does belong to the government. In the changed scenario it will belong to the people. These simple but historical decisions on the part of the respective Governments will create a stake for development in the minds of the locals as it will be:
¨ their own forest (property of Gram Sabha and not of individuals)
¨ their own roads, bridges, schools, hospitals etc.
¨ their own Panchayat system of dispute resolution.
One of the major irritants the tribal society is facing is our criminal justice system. There is no need to elaborate on it. Indian Criminal Justice System has already collapsed under its own mounting weight. Justice is a far cry especially for the poor. Today the standard of justice, as written by the Greek historian Thucydides about 2,400 years ago, depends on the power to compel. The strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept. The Supreme Court of India recently said that the law enforcing agencies and prosecution have become the engines of oppression. This is one of the main reasons that the Maoists have adopted to holding people's Courts - Jan Adalats as one of their important tactical tools. They dispense rough and ready justice and becoming popular. This forum of Jan Adalat is being used by these militants for dissemination of ideology, programmes and collection of funds as well as discrediting the government system.
The powerful anti-dote against the above problem has to be in consonance with local ethos and traditions. We must revive the customary village elderly panchayats, encourage and reorganise them for dispensation of justice at least in all civil and non-serious criminal cases. Now the Supreme Court is also advocating for adoption of Lok Adalats - the alternative mode of dispute resolution instead of approaching the courts every time. Justice S.K.Sardana of Chandigarh has done miracles in resolving more than 20,000 cases in a year through conciliation and mediation. Now Lok Adalats are in existence in most of the States but are not very active. Why don't we bring them in insurgency - affected areas? Let the locals be given authority to manage their village affairs as they used to do it in pre-independence days. A least governed State is the best administered.
The above measures will make the locals proud of their self-reliant and peaceful orderly society. They will prosper very soon as they will be able to decide their wages, their plans, their progress and be the masters of their own destiny. Spoon-feeding and subsidies give no self-esteem and provide no sustainable development anywhere in the world. Development prerequisites a sense of pride for any society. Today's tailored and stereotyped schemes have undermined the confidence and competence of our tribals and created dependency.
Besides, Government must go all out to wage a psychological warfare through propaganda and publicity using mass media and all the Government departments to turn the masses against the Maoists. It should be done by the Publicity department by creating an exclusive cell for this purpose.
We have to mobilise all sections of the society - farmers, labours, students, women, youth and children by creating different cells and organisations for each of them. We have to fight the Maoists, as mentioned earlier, with their own strategy simply by putting the gears in reverse. Effective organisation is must to thwart the systematic and meticulous infiltration of Maoist cadres in village and city life.
2. Cutting the Source of Funds
Regular flow of funds is the fuel for any organisational machinery. Arresting or eliminating a few cadres or leaders does not tackle the problem because new cadres take over the leadership immediately. Hence, cutting the regular source of money is of paramount importance. In the extremist - affected Central India, the contractual system of tendu-leaves collection is the main villain. The collection of Tendu-leaves is the most important economic activity in the area giving employment to tens of thousands of people, though only for a short-span of 15-20 days. In Gadchiroli district alone, about Rs. 500-600 millions are disbursed as wages to labourers. It also contributes about Rs. 300 millions to State coffers as royalty. The naxalites collect around Rs. 100 millions as protection money from the contractors and one-day wages, as contribution, from the labourers.
In all the areas and activities of contractors' operations whether collection of tendu-leaves or construction of roads or government buildings or cutting of forest timber, the Maoist cadres have compelled the contractors to pay much higher wages to labourers as compared to government rates. The Maoists are happy, because of the huge fund they extract and so are the labourers, for having got higher rates of wages because of the militants. Contractors , forest and other development-related bureaucracy are also happy for obvious reasons. In extremist -infested areas the floor-rates for tenders are hiked at least by 20 percent on the premise that contractors are not readily available. For some of the works, it is true also. But mostly an artificial phobia has been generated. In the Contractor system, police is also happy in day to day affairs as it has no hassles. However, the State is the biggest loser, as the State has to put in millions of rupees in the area for strengthening the law and order machinery for fighting an enemy which has been made stronger by our own faulty policies.
In late 1980s, the Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra had switched over to departmental collection of tendu-leaves under pressure from security agencies. Border Road Organisation (BRO) was brought in the area for the construction of roads and bridges basically to eliminate the source of funds to Maoists emanating from private contractors. But we have messed up the whole set-up by reverting back to contractual collection of tendu-leaves after a few years, much to the chagrin of the law and order machinery. Thanks to the well entrenched vital vested interests in the region and in the corridors of power.
The best solution lies in giving the ownership of tendu leaves, along with other forest produce , to local Gram Sabhas. Government will continue getting its royalty. The Forest department can help in marketing the tendu-leaves, which is not a big problem. Maoists cannot extract the money from Gram Panchayats for fear of losing the people's support and thereby getting their flow of fund dried up with the passage of time.
The Second solution but a somewhat less effective one would be the collection of tendu-leaves through the department (Forest) only. The Contractor system is also a dying phenomenon because every year, rate of wages to labourers is increasing (much more in naxal-affected areas); money has to be paid to naxals and the Forest Department can't sell all the Tendu-units (an earmarked forest area) below the offset price of last year. When this would become non-profitable, the contractors won't come forward to purchase. The number of Tendu-units not being sold because of the quoted (tendered) price being less than the offset price, is increasing year after year and the Forest Department itself has to get it organised and tendu-leaves collected.
Even if both the above suggestions are not acceptable to policy makers (but non-acceptance will help the Maoists) at least the State Governments, may come up with an administrative order envisaging that after giving fixed royalty per tendu-unit the tender quoting the maximum wages to labours will be accepted. At least if not in the entire region, this kind of Government Resolution. could be implemented in naxal-affected areas. Then the credit for increasing the wages of labours would go to the Government and not to the naxalites. It will help wean away the locals from the fold of Maoists.
Similarly , let bamboos be auctioned or sold by the Gram Sabhas to the Paper Mills operating in the region. Money will go to the villagers. The loading of trucks and maintaining the supply at depots should remain to be the responsibility of the Gram Sabhas. The Government , of course, will keep on getting its royalty as of now. In the new scenario, the Maoists cannot force the paper mills to pay protection money because, if they do not pay, the Maoists may not be able to stop cutting of bamboos or setting the bamboo depots on fire- ( a usual trick played now-a-days). If the Maoists do this, the sufferers will be the villagers. Also, harassing the villagers will be counter-productive for Maoists. Again, the ownership of Gram Sabha over bamboos will remove the long-standing irritant between the locals and the administration, that the government is selling the bamboos to locals for customary requirements at a rate about ten times higher what the Paper Mills are required to pay.
Thus, we will be able to cut the mass base and source of funds to Maoists to a great extent . There will be hardly any recruits for them. These two measurers will bring Maoists on their knees. About 70 to 80% of the problem of naxalism /maoism would disappear.
3. Breaking the Barriers of Terrain: The Police Response
Promoting disorder is the objective of the Maoists, which is cheap to create and very costly to prevent. They may attack a lonely police post or station in the jungle or in an isolated area and thus all the police posts and stations are to be protected, so on and so forth. It is a war where the extremists need so little to achieve so much, and the police need so much to achieve so little.
Unfortunately, almost in all the States facing extremist problems much emphasis is on increasing the manpower rather than enhancing the effectiveness of the police force already in place. Andhra Pradesh has done extremely well in raising and training a speciliased police unit called 'Grey Hounds' for anti-naxal operations. Besides , physical fitness, weapon training, field-craft; the most important ingredient for stamping success is the mental attitude of the officers and men deployed for the purpose. From the practical field experience, it can be stated that in manpower, training, weaponry, fire power and logistics the police force is far more superior. In fact, there is no comparison to the extremist cadres. But we are way behind and miserably failing as far as commitment to the cause is concerned. The Maoist cadres , whatever we say for them - the lumpen elements, frustrated, distorted or criminals-- majority of them have one superior quality, an attitude of mind to do or die, a will to become a revolutionary or a martyr , a dogged determination to achieve results. Otherwise, how many will take to jungles, suffering starvation and sleeplessness, facing snakes, malaria and typhoid and always on the run facing the risk of losing their life. When motivation goes down or frustration sets in - they leave the organisation or surrender to the Government . The strategy of success for police , according to me, revolves on the acceptance of following three principles
1. 1st principle : First movers are the winners
In this competitive world, those who start first are likely to be the winners. This principle is equally applicable to the domain of corporate world as well as to the strategic frontiers of insurgency and counter-insurgency. If we want to win the war against the Maoists, we have to make the first move in every aspect, as opposed to them. Whether it is a case of
- effective coordination and cooperation among the affected nations, states, districts or teams
- better weaponry and logistics
- Collection and timely use of operative intelligence.
- Laying ambushes
- Wooing the locals and weaning them away from the Maoists fold through a policy of all-out friendship and all-out force or with an iron hand in a velvet glove.
- establishing village level cells for all the sections of society.
2. 2nd principle: "God is on the sides of best shots"
The famous French political thinker, Voltaire, had said , ‘God is on the sides of not heavy battalions but of best shots" . It underscores the pre-eminence of training and training- a meticulous sustained practice for excellence. Whether it is a case of
- courage, commitment and loyalty to the cause we
are supposed to farther.
- physical endurance and mental alertness.
- training in field craft.
- team-spirit and empathy,
Training and more training in all aspects of jungle warfare and counter-insurgency will be the harbinger of success. Like in the demanding world of aeronautics, every part and component - however minute it may sound - is tested and approved before launching and every time, without fail, before any aeroplane takes off. The same type of preparedness and perseverance is required in the fight against Maoist militants.
3. 3rd principle: "The Snake in a home is to be searched and killed."
This principle may sound to some as violative of animal or human rights. But for our own survival , in our every day life, almost everyone, except the sickly and coward, believes in it. The Maoist militants have declared a war against the State. Every member of the security agencies is an enemy to them. They don military uniform, are always armed with illegal and sophisticated weapons and in search of targeting policemen. They do not believe in the constitution or in a democratic system. Violence is their guru - mantra. They have maimed and killed thousands of innocent people and brutally attacked policemen. Vehicles of security agencies and public representatives have been blasted by the use of land mines. Should the security agencies wait for their attack or should it go all out in search of them? When there is a question of killing or be killed, who would prefer to be killed instead of taking the other's life? Let us face the reality instead of believing in the rhetoric.
At the end, I would like to reiterate again, that serious, well-coordinated and unconventional decisions are the need of the hour as half-hearted measures are destined for defeat.