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Status of Naxalism: Strategic Options by Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia

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Author: Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM (Retd)
Going by the statistical data of last seven years and recent spate of successes achieved by the SF and the state police in the naxal-affected areas give an indication that the movement has reached its plateau.

Some experts are of the view that it actually has started to decline due to loss of their main stronghold in Telangana, inadequate volunteers to join the cadres and the reverses suffered in various operations. Jharkhand has recorded the highest Naxal violence in the first quarter of this year. It accounts for over 40 per cent of the country’s incidents and 58 per cent of the deaths in the first three months of the year. However, the writer warns that it is the Maoist endeavour to wear out the security forces and the government machinery by spreading the violence to widely separated remote areas of the country. They would withdraw when they are weak and strike at a place of their choosing. While there has been an overall decline in the Naxal violence, there has been no appreciable improvement in the confidence levels of the investors in the region.

The level and intensity of Naxal violence had increased manifold since 2001 and peaked around 2009 and 2010, which left a huge trail of death and destruction.  Latest in the series was an attack on the CRPF personnel in Karkatiya forests at Latehar (Jharkhand) on 7 January 2013, in which the Naxals used brutal tactics to booby trap the bodies of the slain soldiers, with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Further, the Naxals employed the most inhuman tactic: they placed 2.5 kg of explosives inside the stomach of one of the martyred soldiers. Perhaps, the aim was to create fear psychosis and to show their presence to the local populace and the SF alike. On the other hand, the Naxals too have accused the SF of not following any ‘rules of war’; and hence, they have stated that they would also go beyond the rules. As per the latest figures released on April 20, 2013, Jharkhand has recorded the highest Naxal violence in the first quarter of this year. It accounts for over 40 per cent of the country’s incidents, and 58 per cent of the deaths in the first three months of the year. The figures of violence for Chhattisgarh are much lower than Jharkhand. Jharkhand had recorded much higher incidents of violence in 2012 in comparison to Chhattisgarh. It appears that the Naxals have shifted their focus to the mining and industrial areas of western Jharkhand, to retain their control on the revenue earning centres, among other reasons.

An analysis of some of the raids or attacks by the Naxals suggests that they studied their intended targets in detail, obtained specific and real-time intelligence from their network of sources and executed the operation boldly. On the SF side, besides the operational, training and leadership issues in general, these attacks underscored the sensitivities and weaknesses at the bi-junctions and tri-junctions of the LWE-affected states. Consequently, there has been substantial improvement in the standard of training, weaponry, surveillance and communication systems of the CAPF. The article aims to essentially discuss the current status of Naxalism, effect on security and economic growth and the strategic options available to the Naxals.


High civilian casualties

As per available data, it is evident that the violence has always caused large casualties among the innocent civilians. The Naxals have been carrying out repression against some of the civilians by branding them as police informers. The attack on the Gyaneshwari Express on May 28, 2010, indicates that they have deviated from their original ideology, which states that people are centre of gravity of the armed struggle by the masses. Their support is most vital to carry forward an insurgency. As per the MHA report (from their website), the Naxals have killed 5,467 civilians and destroyed 281 schools from 2001 to 2011. The civilian casualties have been high since 2003 and have consistently maintained high figures until 2010. The Indian Maoist’s ideology is predominantly based on the thoughts of Mao Zedong of China. During the 8,000 miles long march, Mao could connect better with the local population, as a result of which he and his supporters gained power and prestige nationwide. From 1935 to 1949, some of the principles followed by Mao to win the support of the masses and to strengthen the revolution were “simple administration, reduce bureaucracy, send intellectuals to the villages, reduce rents, oppose landlords’ oppressive activities, cooperative agriculture etc.”4 The peasants and the poor people fully supported Mao, due to which he gained control of China in 1949. However, it does not appear to be true of the Naxals, who have been taking actions repressive against the civilians themselves. In the long term, they would lose the support of the local populace.

The violence and killing by the Naxals has adversely affected the security environment and the economic growth of the country. The Naxals have links with transnational drug and weapon smuggling mafias and links with other militant organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Nepal’s Maoists and militant outfits in the north-eastern states of India. An insecure and uncertain environment, due to large scale destruction of economic infrastructures, crime and extortion, has resulted in loss of confidence among the corporate houses and the industry to invest in the conflict ridden areas

Tide turns

The SF has progressively turned the tide in their favour from 2011 onwards. Refer the Graph, “Naxal violence in India: 2006-2010”. A close look at the graph suggests two important aspects. First, there has been an increase in the incidents and killings – of both the civilians and the SF – from 2006 to 2010. By then, the PLGA had fully honed their skills in guerrilla warfare and the SF was still in the process of capacity and capability building. The net result was that, between 2006 and 2012, the SF suffered the highest number of casualties (317) in 2009 and the second highest in 2010. The number of civilians killed was also among the highest during these two years. However, by 2011 and 2012 the SF had become reasonably proficient in anti-Naxal operations. They reversed the trend of casualties in favour of the SF, so essential to bolster their motivation and morale.

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