Counterinsurgency paradigms in vogue today are unsuitable for use in containing the Maoist menace
On April 6, 2010, G Company of 62 Bn CRPF at Chintalnar (Chattisgarh) was ambushed by a large group of Maoists in the Tarmetla area. The unit was completely wiped out. Seventy six (cheyattar in Hindi) policemen were murdered that day. To date, the criminals responsible for this massacre remain on the loose. Maoist leaders who publicly lay claim to this action continue to evade capture. Why is this happening?
Experts like EN Rammohan, KPS Gill and Prakash Singh have pointed out that there were significant management failures and operational errors by the Police commanders. It has also been proposed that the men of G Company were exhausted after a long deployment and were no longer an effective fighting force.
The Maoists responsible for this attack appear to have become emboldened by this ‘success’. They have gone on to conduct a two year long campaign of bombings, kidnapping and extortion in the same area. The impunity with which Maoist dalams operate in the Dantewada district makes rational minds question the validity of the prevailing counter-insurgency paradigms to cope with the Maoist situation.
Very briefly, the prevailing counterinsurgency (COIN) paradigm in India works as follows. The Central Government deploys paramilitary reserves to a region when anti-state sentiments overpower local police resources. Through “Area Domination” and “Cordon And Search Operations” (CASO) the reserves challenge the activities of anti-state forces. Faced with this, anti-state forces coalesce into a unified front and this brings the proverbial crazies out of the woodwork. Despite this unification, anti-state forces are unable to hold their own against the sheer numbers of central reserves. Attrition losses thin down their ranks and criminalisation of the movement grows. This alienates the local population, which then drifts over the side of the local police. Having regained public confidence, the local police resolutely move to eliminate the threat to public order.
This paradigm has worked effectively in India’s border regions where separatist sentiments have often made common cause with extra-territorial interests. India’s security forces have demonstrated the willingness to take horrific losses in adverse and hostile terrain if needed to preserve the institutions of democratic governance. The Indian public whole-heartedly supports the Government of India when it uses such a strategy to deal with religious terrorists and separatists. It is this bedrock of strength that carries the Ministry of Home Affairs through its daily struggles against threats to the Union of India.
And therein lies the rub. The tribals who support the Maobadi dalams are not demanding extraordinary rights. They are simply demanding that their ordinary rights to life, land, livelihood and civil liberty be respected. These rights are being gradually taken away from them as Indian private corporations are seeking out mining operations in traditionally tribal lands.
It is unclear if the Indian public will support a security policy hat effectively seeks to place the interests of a few rich businessmen over those of many poor tribals. The Indian public may be willing to make moral compromises when dealing with ISI sponsored terrorists, but they are unlikely to make such compromises when dealing with a group of poor people demanding perfectly sensible things. For all the economic prosperity, the average Indian remains a compassionate and understanding person at heart.
The security forces are bound to feel conflicted if they are seen to be undermining the interests of tribals for the benefit of the corporates. The troops who are willing to go beyond the call of duty in fighting the Maoists might find their motivation shaken if they are perceived as mercenaries protecting the private sector.
If the COIN paradigm does not carry the support of majority in India, the Maoists will not need to turn to foreign supporters. The level of indigenous dissent will be sufficient to sustain their campaigns.
A terrifying consequence of this will be a stalemate where neither Maoist nor central forces prevail. An unending cycle of violence will alienate the population from both the security forces and the Maoists. No progress will be made and peace will become a mirage. The world is littered with several examples of this kind of a situation. It can and will happen in India if one is not careful.
The Maoists know these facts. It is likely that they seek to use violence in a provocative manner that leads to such a stalemate. This stalemate draws them closer to their publicly stated goal of discrediting democracy as viable form of governance. Over-reliance on COIN concepts from another place and time will simply play into their hands.
An alternative to the currently popular “Area Dominance” and ‘CASO’ culture is a “law enforcement” culture that grows from sustained investments in local policing. An emphasis on higher crime detection, judicial clearance, visible protection of human rights and community oriented policing measures could yield measurable improvements in the situation. Increasing the size and resources available to the detection of crime alone could go a great distance in addressing the local population’s concern about effectiveness of law enforcement. A highly publicised trial and conviction of Maoist assassins would help flesh out the Government of India’s desire to enforce the writ of the law. Even the simple conviction of Srinivas Ravula aka Ramanna would have a salutary effect telling every criminal that there is no escape from accountability for breaking the law.
Heretical as it may seem- counter-insurgency paradigms in vogue today are unsuitable for use in containing the Maoist menace. Moving away from these old ideas may lead to a better place — a place where the Cheyattar (Seventy Six) would not have died in vain.