Thursday, 27 January, 2022
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UPA to NDA, India still confused on how to fight Naxal insurgency. Maoists know that

Manmohan Singh rightly described Naxalism as India’s greatest internal security challenge. Nothing much changed after that.

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After a lull, Maoist ambushes and killings are back in Chhattisgarh. At least 22 state police and CRPF personnel have been killed in the Bijapur region in the latest clash. This comes on the heel of another ambush last week that took five policemen’s lives. Why the sudden rise in Maoist insurgency, we do not yet know. But it underlines that the problem, which former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh rightly described as India’s greatest internal security challenge, persists.

It has thrived under two Congress and three BJP governments in Raipur since the state was formed and central governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. Different issues arise with changing political landscape, but the basic weaknesses in India’s fightback remain. Lack of conviction, local politicians’ complicity with one group of Naxals or the other, corporates’ tendency to buy peace by paying ransom, and of course the bleeding heart “let’s look for the root cause of violence” sympathies all play a role.

Substantively, the waffling continues under NDA, especially as Chhattisgarh now has a Congress government. If the UPA blamed BJP’s Chief Minister Raman Singh, the BJP would now accuse Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel of being soft. Further, the BJP is fixated, for the reasons of its own politics, on what it calls the ‘Urban Naxals’ while the real ones carry on as before.

India is paying a heavy price for this messed-up politics. It will need to change, especially as, with the new MMDR Act, the Modi government wants to give a mega push to mining.

Essentially, however, things haven’t changed since similar confusions set back the UPA’s one effort to push back at the armed Naxals when P. Chidambaram was Union home minister. It is then, that this National Interest column was written on 1 June 2013 in The Indian Express. Please check out if it has stood the test of time.

In this quick piece, I pick up the thread from that column and take the argument forward. More as a reminder of our insensitivity, incompetence and callousness that cuts across parties.

Also read: Over 250 Maoists, trapped forces — Why Chhattisgarh encounter led to high casualties

‘Sainiko tum sangharsh karo’

The latest clash leading to the death of at least 22 state police and CRPF soldiers in Bijapur zone of the Naxal-hit tribal heartland isn’t the biggest setback to the security forces in recent times. The 76 killed in Dantewada on 6 April 2010 is by far the second-highest single-day loss for India’s security forces in counter-insurgency since 1947, after the first night of Operation Bluestar (149). The third highest of a day has also been in this confused war (38, when a police boat was attacked on 29 June 2008 in Odisha). This, at Bijapur, might be among the biggest. The other one I recall in the same range was the February 1982 Naga ambush on a Sikh regiment convoy in Manipur’s Namthilok, on the road between Imphal and Ukhrul.

You need to put these figures in perspective. India’s armed forces rarely suffer such high single-battle or single-operation casualties in counter-insurgency. They did not lose these many lives in a single day of fighting even in Kargil, even on the nights Tololing and Tiger Hill were assaulted.

Which takes us back to the state response. How did the UPA government react to the 2010 Chintalnar massacre? Before security forces had got their wits together, its embedded bleeding hearts had popped up with conspiracy theories and root causes. And equally so when successive chiefs of the Army and the IAF made unsolicited statements that their forces can’t be used in fighting the Naxals.

For nine years now, the UPA and its various elements, ranging from the prime minister to those considered close to Sonia Gandhi and speaking for her, from the home ministers (I use the plural deliberately, because even the three who ran that ministry, Shivraj Patil, Chidambaram and Sushil Kumar Shinde, spoke in different voices, with the first being a pure root-causes man) to National Advisory Council (NAC) members, spoke at cross-purposes.

Through its 10 years, the UPA was conflicted on Maoists. Some of its top leaders, including the prime minister, routinely called them a grave threat or dismissed them as a bunch of bloodthirsty, extortionist bandits and so on. Another group romanticised them as merely misguided, well-meaning people fighting for the tribal victims of extractive industries. The leadership of the Congress bought this unquestioningly. It allowed, even welcomed, the embedding of the Maoist middle ground and sympathisers within its establishment, notably the NAC and the Planning Commission.

Remember that one of those eight Maoists released in exchange for the abducted Malkangiri collector Vineel Krishna was A. Padma, wife of top Maoist Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramakrishna. And she managed Aman Vedika, an orphanage run by activist and then NAC member Harsh Mander (At NAC members’ NGO, they wait for Padma, wife of top Maoist, IE, 24 February 2011).

Many of us — including the paper I then edited — sympathised with Dr Binayak Sen for being charged and convicted under the obviously archaic sedition law. He is also a very likeable, soft-spoken, sincere paediatrician. But did he have to be appointed in a key Planning Commission committee (steering committee on health, drafting their 12th Five Year Plan)?

Gentle, children’s doctor, yes. But he is a convicted Maoist sympathiser. Bringing him inside the tent like this, what message were we sending out to the security forces, to the police and intelligence agencies and people of India? Or, to twist the knife, and twist a popular Hindi heartland slogan as well, sainiko tum sangharsh karo, hamein pata nahin hum kiske saath hain (fight on soldiers, just that we are not sure whose side we are on).

And finally, what message are you sending out to the Maoists? They keep letting you know how they read your confused minds, by wiping out large police patrols, and even the entire state leadership of the Congress party (the ambush that killed V.C. Shukla, among others).

Also read: Chhattisgarh Maoists suffering from betrayal, fewer leaders and weapons, and too many roads

The colour of uniform

Our governments are routinely confused while dealing with internal security challenges. The one comparable example is V.P. Singh sending Jagmohan as governor to throttle the then incipient Kashmiri insurgency and, at the same time, designating George Fernandes as the Kashmir affairs minister to apply the healing touch. The two worked at cross-purposes, clashed and confused everybody, from the armed forces to the people of Kashmir, even the separatists. The price of that schizophrenic approach, we are all still paying. The UPA decade gave us this. On the Naxal front, nothing seems to have changed even now. Just that the parties in power have reversed, in Raipur and New Delhi.

Sadly, politicians are not the only guilty party here. Your heads and hearts should burn with fury every time an armed forces chief says he won’t send his forces to fight the Maoists, because his troops can’t be seen fighting their own countrymen.

Own countrymen, did you say?

Then who are the Kashmiris whom you’ve been fighting with pride, and to subdue whom you have built the largest and most powerful military command in India’s history? So large that the Northern Army Commander has more than 50 two- and three-star generals reporting to him. So you think Kashmiris are not your countrymen as much as the heartland Indians are. Isn’t that exactly what the Kashmiri separatists are saying?

Or what about the Nagas, the Manipuris and other tribal insurrectionists of the Northeast, to fight whom, sort of permanently, you have set up an entire counter-insurgency corps in Dimapur?

Do you think they aren’t Indians as much as the tribals of Dandakaranya? If so, isn’t that exactly what the Northeastern separatists are saying?

How are we to explain this utter indifference to the loss of police and paramilitary life in east-central India? Could it be that we put a different value to the life of an Indian soldier depending on the colour of his uniform?

Also read: The bleeding heartless

How many OB vans follow the coffins of CRPF men who die fighting what our former prime minister described as our gravest security threat? Which ministers visit their families? Obviously, the netas go where OB vans are.

I made my living as a reporter covering wars and strife all over the country and elsewhere, notably Sri Lanka when the IPKF was there. I have said often that the only time I struggled, and struggled to keep my clinical reporter’s reserve, was when I saw the body of an Indian soldier.

My recurrent nightmare, even now, almost four decades later, is the bodies of jawans on stretcher bunks, three on each side, in an Army truck leaving the Golden Temple on the morning of 7 June 1984, after the long night of Bluestar. The one on the top stretcher on the right side, a boy barely 20, still had beads of perspiration on his face, indicating he must have just died. Would it have mattered if he wore khaki, instead of olive green? Wouldn’t you rather be colour-blind than accept the cynical finessing that seems to be the norm these days?

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  1. BJP was so busy winning elections and othering minorities that they seem to have completely forgotten the Naxal threat. Whether they have the ability to put down the Naxals remains to be seen.

  2. It seems this article is trying to portray the Naxalite menace purely as a law an order situation. The statement ‘an armed forces chief says he won’t send his forces to fight the Maoists, because his troops can’t be seen fighting their own countrymen’ is the most diplomatic admission that this situation is something created by the combined nexus of politicians,mining giants, wood traders who have looted this area from may years depriving the locals of their due. Added to this the coal and wood mafia also grabbed their share making this made a deadly situation, the price for which is being paid by the armed forces now, never mind if in the past some were paid to look the other way when the loot was going on. Even train drivers were paid on a per wagon basis to look the other way. Kashmir and Punjab have also been an outcome of this loot recipe by vested interests which even people still privately admit. Blaming Christian missionaries etc. is just a thick-skinned approach to guard the deep vested interests of all concerned and preserve the deemed cultural pyramid.

  3. What a solution! Gupta ji. Kill them All.

    This is what solution a senior journalist can come up with.
    Its unfortunate that our soldiers died in fighting war not India’s war but of the capitalists friends of yours. Do you really have an idea about ground reality? The tribal Naxalites don’t want to be controlled by New Delhi. If talking like this make people like me “Communist symapthiser”, speaking on behalf of your capitalists friends and RSS makes you “Right wing sympathiser”. Think about it.

    • “Tribal Naxalites don’t want to be ‘controlled’ by New Delhi”?
      People like you who label themselves as “Deshbhakt” are nothing but traitors. The modern day Seth Amirchands and Mir Jafars.
      The likes of you mislead the youth and portray Communism as a panacea for all ills. The disastrous experience of USSR and East European countries should have taught you a lesson.
      Better keep your ill conceived, utopian and half baked political theories to yourself.

  4. Historic wrongs committed in the North-East and Kashmir cannot be used to justify the same in Chattisgarh? Using Armed Forces against own citizens is simply not the right thing in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Chattisgarh…. Political problems have to be solved politically and not militarily.

  5. Shekharji a lot of ultra left wing radicals who had control over bureaucracy under congrass as unelectable but anti HINDU radicals were responsible for policies that gave fodder and were able to channalise Chinese anti development activities against INDIA.

    THE church which saw an opportunity for large scale conversion tactically supported these naxalites through spurious human rights and environmental NGO’S.

    We must remember that unless we focus on education and population control and access to proper health care by ensuring elimination of naxalites who survive by denial of developmental services we will not be able to achieve naxal free areas.

  6. Typical smoke and mirrors writing by Mr Gupta. Snide allusions and no solutions.
    1. The govt has been using UAPA extensively. Actual terrorists operations have scarcely been affected. Is UAPA working as intended to deter terrorism or has it merely become a tool to incarcerate “unwanted characters”?

    2. Demonetisation was supposed to have sucked up all illegal money and rendered terrorism devoid of funds. How did the Maoists manage then to procure arms and logistical supply? Was the intent of demonetisation to end terrorism or win elections?

    3. Who are the suppliers of logistical support and intelligence to these killers? We had police officers being arrested in Kashmir who were helping terrorists move about the state in their official vehicles. Same thing happened in Mumbai recently. What is the state of the probe into Davinder Singh case? What is the state of the probe into the Pulwama case?

    After every such attack, we have famous journalists, PM and other celebrities with “tears” in their eyes, but scarcely are any real questions asked or answers sought from powers that be. Some cosmetic counter-measures are carried out and all is hunky-dory till the next attack occurs and whole cycle repeats. Reporters get their story, politicians get their glory, and has been rightly pointed out, young Indian soldiers get used as cannon fodder in this gory game.

  7. JNU will be celebrating tonight. And so will Jadavpur University, TISS and similar such institutions.
    I recall that when the Dantewada massacre (76 casualties) took place, night long celebrations were hosted in certain JNU hostels. Young “idealistic” students were excited about the imminent revolution and overthrow of the “extortionist capitalist bourgeoisie”.
    As pointed out by Mr. Shekhar Gupta, the NAC was full of Maoist sympathizers and was an extra-Constitutional institution with no accountability. However, the liberal/secular cabal had no problem with this as the “threat” to Constitution arises only when the BJP is in power. Top ministers and NAC members back then peddled bizzare conspiracy theories and absolved the Maoists of any wrongdoing.

  8. It appears that BJP government of Raman Singh was handling Naxalites better by running efficient welfare programs in Tribal area, which probably was benefiting Naxals also, so they were keeping quiet. But with Congress in power with their traditional corruption cut was Congressmen and Naxals were not getting their cut.

    Basically it is better to buy off forest Naxals, as opposed to urban Naxals, as security forces and army can not effective in deep forest and it would be far more costly to defeat them economically and could also damage forest eco-system.

  9. CRPF is famous for fake encounters of minorities.

    Why not send RSS khaki cheddis and Bajrang Dal bravehearts to fight the Naxals ? They never seem to rise to the occasion.

  10. Any violence against the armed forces is a threat to very existence of state. The very defination of state is the entity which has legitimate monopoly on violence. State should ensure that these Maoists are brought to the courts and know how to live in a civilised country. Pathetic losers.

  11. As long as it is poor and backward people who give away their lives in the name of fighting naxals, this game will go on. These kind of writings make no difference whichever party in power.The moment urban and upper class people start losing their lives you can find some solution for the problem. Unfortunately we have enough people in our countryside who are willing to replace these dead security forces.

    • Sons of urban elites will never be found among the dead soldiers. Our soldiers are typically sons of farmers and villagers who enlist to serve in our military forces.

  12. Dear writer,

    There is no military solution to this. There are two types of Maoists. The ideologues who manipulate the foot soldiers. These people want to see a change in the whole system. Nothing will placate them because for them only armed peasant revolt will ever change India. They must be shot at sight unless they agree to join the political mainstream. The second type is the peasants who have bought into the idea of a Maoist nirvana. These people must be provided land, electricity, water, housing, telephone, gas, roads, schooling and most importantly secure jobs. They must be not shot at ever unless they insist on shooting.

    The military has no place in this despite you asking them to expand their role. The CPFR and local police are woefully under-equipped. They could easily use satellite and drones to have better battlefield awareness and not lose scores of people all the time. Use technology and sacrifice machines, not men.

  13. It seems shekhar ji has written with teary red eyes and full of anger and with lot of emotion also

  14. My heart was bleeding since I was able to read the news papers, when will this end, is there any one leader Or one party take firm ground about this issue? Who is responsible for the loss of life, where is our national interest? We elected these coward politicians who have no balls to take action in this internal security issue, God give us politician who have balls big enough to take firm action or enlight the brains of flock of sheep i.e votery of this great democracy .

  15. Recall how SC ended Sulva Judum, the local resistance to Naxals. Will SC now take responsibility for death of 22 jawans?

  16. Ideally the Cobra force and other forces who receive such specific tips should conduct a recce with infrared drones on the previous night, and Medium Altitude or High Altitude drones should be monitoring the operation to prevent Maoists springing a trap. And your point about Army’s hesitancy is spot on. With so much money beins spent on arms by India, it is shameful when officers incharge say dehydration may have contributed to high toll. Even though we have 1.35 billion population, we can’t let soldiers die like Cannon fodder. Each soldier dying is someone’s son, husband, father. Hope this incidence leads to permanent change in strategy of the present govt. BJP as such is not too fond of people giving excuses about root causes. Hope the infra push to provide better conditions to remote villages is coupled with high tech, coordinated Anti Naxal Ops, with much greater use of Tech like Drones, to minimize and ideally eliminate human casualties.

  17. A Composite Approach and Clear Intention Needed:
    There must be a composite approach to solve the Naxal violence problem. The corporate companies must stop paying the Naxals the extortion money, rehabilitate the poor and the tribal people, make police stations corruption-free, including detangling the Naxals from the machinations of the local politicians. In other words, there must be a clean and clear intention to confront the problem head on — that has been missing in all hot zones.
    Shekhar Gupta has hit the nail on the head when he says the following about Dr Binayak Sen — nothing could be more demoralizing to the security forces than this:
    ” But he is a convicted Maoist sympathizer. Bringing him inside the tent like this, what message were we sending out to the security forces, to the police and intelligence agencies and people of India? Or, to twist the knife, and twist a popular Hindi heartland slogan as well, sainiko tum sangharsh karo, hamein pata nahin hum kiske saath hain (fight on soldiers, just that we are not sure whose side we are on).

  18. I rather wanted to see if any solution was offered by the Author. In absence of the same, it’s just the recollection of the events. Our hearts also bleed when paramilitary forces lose their brave hearts. But, what’s the way out? Scorched Earth policy? Healing Touch?

  19. Nonsense and bakwas analysis. What happened was simple. It was a Congressi government, so the naxals had advance intel about the movement of the security forces. The congressis fed the jawans to the naxals as fodder. The congress government deserves to be dismissed.

  20. Our deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved families. The government should ensure, apart from other financial support, a job to one member of the family. 2. The hard part of dealing with this grave internal security threat will be dealt with by the professionals. Intelligence, weapons, training. Some have gone as far as to suggest use of the armed forces and air power. 3. No one could call New India a soft state. So we must ask ourselves why one million men in the CAPF, AFSPA being as old as I am, so much of a free hand is not getting the job done. There was an absolute rogue police officer in Chhattisgarh whom the new government is equally fond of. How does the average tribal family view the instrumentalities of the state, including some terribly avaricious corporates.

    • He said that ‘Urban Naxals’ is made-up term that the BJP is using for its own political ends. I agree with the rest of your comment.

  21. First time in his life Shekhar Guptha wrote something very very honestly, enough is enough, just wipe out these blood thirsty Naxalas and their chief supporters in Urban Naxals , who disguised in the form of Proffessors in JNU and other central universities, NGOs , Christian missionaries, Civil right activitvists like Medha Patkar , Suzane Arundhathi Roy and Vara vara Rao and all these Urban Naxals ,, journalists who writes columns supporting these Naxals and political leaders. just wipe them out.

  22. very well written shekarji. but wow what anger!! i have never seen such anger in your writings. i would definitely like to see more of it.

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