Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Why it is so difficult to fight India's Taliban

Have you wondered why Pakistan finds it so difficult to confront and fight the Taliban? The answer is reasonably simple. Pakistan is a state as its constitution notes, “wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives ... in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”
So when you have a group saying that they are trying to create a society where the Shariat is enforced, there is confusion in the minds of the people. Their methods are wrong, but surely what they are fighting for is just, goes the refrain.
This is the kind of confusion which many Indians face on the issue of fighting Naxalism or Maoism. Our Constitution says we are among other things, a “socialist republic”; the Congress party is wedded to a “socialistic pattern of society”, as indeed are a number of other parties.
So when you have a group of people who say they are fighting for a socialist revolution, there is perplexity which persuades celebrities and intellectuals like Aparna Sen and Mahasweta Devi to support extremism and university professors to rise to their defence in the name of human rights.


According to Home Ministry figures, Maoists killed 100 security force personnel and 466 civilians in 2004, the year in which the UPA government first came to power. Last year, 2008, the tally had gone up sharply to 231 security force personnel and 490 civilians. The civilians killed, often through kangaroo-court sanctioned executions, are not the rich or “class enemies” but those who happen to be “richer” and better educated among the dirt poor and illiterate population amidst which the Maoists operate. Their executions are designed to terrorise the people in the area.
Historically, India dealt with communism in a sophisticated manner. The Congress, which dominated the polity till 1967, fought the communists politically, but did not hesitate, when required, to fight them militarily.
This was a time when countries like the US blundered into fighting national movements in Asia in the name of fighting communism.
The Congress incorporated a great deal of socialist rhetoric, if not substance, into its working. Central planning, a la Soviet Union, was introduced in 1951; the Congress insisted that it was committed to creating a “socialistic pattern of society” after the Avadi Congress of 1956. But the same party’s government ruthlessly suppressed the armed uprising of the communists in Telengana. When a communist government was elected in Kerala in 1957, the Congress used CIA funds to overthrow it. In the 1970s the Congress-led government crushed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or the Naxalite revolt in West Bengal with great brutality.

Over the years the success of the policy was in seeing various factions of the Communist Party abandoning armed struggle and agreeing to participate in the country’s parliamentary democracy system. The last major faction that did so is the CPI(ML)Liberation led by Dipankar Bhattacharya.
But over the years as the Congress party lost its political pre-eminence, the effectiveness of the strategy and tactics of managing left-wing extremism began to decline. The result is that an enormous swathe of the country —some say 40 per cent of its land area — stretching from northern Tamil Nadu to north Bihar has been allowed to fall under the sway of a vigorous Communist Party of India (Maoist) which is said to have just 20,000 full-time cadre.
Governments have periodically tried to deal with the new Naxalite challenge. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took notice of the rising depredations of the left extremists and summoned the second meeting of the standing committee of chief ministers from six of the affected states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra — to New Delhi to discuss the issue. In his address Singh pointed out that the naxalite movement was now characterised by superior army style operations, better coordination and trained cadres, and had the ability to mount large-scale frontal assaults on defended targets. He declared Naxalism to be the “single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country.”


As a result of this meeting, a two-pronged strategy stressing development and security schemes was set in motion. A plan was made to enhance the connectivity of the Maoist affected areas and money was allotted to create critical infrastructure in the region. The states affected were provided additional money for security and a large force of Special Police Officers was raised. They were given Central forces and a decision was taken to create 10 commando battalions of the CRPF. In addition, 20 counter-insurgency schools were planned to train the
local police.
Yet, as the second UPA government takes office, it is clear that the situation has not changed. The Naxals have consolidated their hold in many areas and expanded it to others. Lalgarh in West Bengal is just one example. Early this year when there was yet another meeting, another state was included to the original six — West Bengal.
The Union government still lacks a strategy of dealing with the Maoists. In part because of the confusion we spoke of which convinces people that measures like the Forest Rights Act of 2006, more schools, health-care centres and good roads will fix the problem.
On the other hand, there are ham-handed attempts, such as that of arming local people through the Salwa Judum to take on the Naxals. This may be necessary when the state has its back to the wall — as in Jammu & Kashmir in 1992-93 — but it is unconscionable when the state has not yet effectively deployed its own uniformed personnel.


A serious battle against the Maoists requires, first and foremost, a unified command. Wars are won by generals and not standing committees, even if they are of chief ministers. The present battle is scattered between the seven affected states. If you mount pressure in one, the Maoists escape to the other. Invariably they show better coordination and cooperation than is exercised by the union government and the seven chief ministers and their bureaucracies.
The Union government and the states should sit down and appoint a single commander for the affected zone and place all the forces and resources there under his command. This may require special legislation, but so be it. Only when the Maoist- controlled battlefield is seen as a single theatre can the threat be effectively thwarted.
But an even tougher battle has to be fought within the intellectual sphere of the country to convince the people that the Maoists are indeed a fundamental threat to the republic, and that they are not heroes by any measure. They are neither “socialist” nor “socialistic”, nor “romantic” but simply power-hungry thugs for whom extremism is a way of life. Neither are they the valid representatives of the poor and deprived.
There was once a certain romance attached to the idea of being a left-wing revolutionary in the 1960s. But that was before we knew what Pol Pot or Mao did to their own
India needs to get over its confusion about the Maoist path and begin to fight them tooth and nail.
This article appeared first in Mail Today June 26, 2009

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