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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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The Challenge of naxalism - strategy for tackling the Threat  

The Naxal menace occupies the centre stage in the internal security scenario today. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had acknowledged in 2005 the gravity of the threat and described it as the biggest challenge to national security. The then Home Minister, however, downplayed the issue in public and said that naxalism was not a law and order problem and it could be solved through dialogue and discussion. The political and bureaucratic ambivalence has continued to plague the counter-Naxal strategy of the government since then. Meanwhile, the reign of terror unleashed by heavily armed ruthless Maoists have spread to 20 states in the country. It has taken heavy toll of innocent lives and caused wanton destruction of property. Following the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike, Shri P. Chidambaram took over the mantle of the union Home Ministry. It goes to his credit that he has displayed remarkable clarity and had the courage to admit that the Naxal problem had been underestimated for several years as a result of which the Maoist guerillas have been able to spread their wings (Rajya Sabha, July 2009).

The truth is that notwithstanding the root causes, terrorism in any form, religious, ideological or separatist, must be faced without any leniency. No democratic government can tolerate the use of violence against innocent people or against the functionaries of elected government. The rule of law must be enforced first and law-breakers must be dealt with sternly. The propensity to downplay the gravity of left wing extremism while looking for the so-called root cause, has been the primary reason for the governments failure to tackle the problem till today. Veteran leaders within the ruling congress party and its alliance partners even now make confusing statements branding Naxal terror as only a socio-economic problem and refuse to see it as a serious internal security threat. Occasional soft pedaling and opportunistic alliances with the extremists for electoral advantage have proved to be a major constraint in implementing the plans of the Union Home Ministry. Besides, confusing & contradictory statements have sent wrong message to law enforcement officials undermine the capacity of the Indian state to deal with this problem.

It will be a serious mistake to look at the Naxal problem as a revolt of the marginalized and the poor. We are up against heavily armed groups of ruthless killers who are waging war against the Indian state in order to capture political power as substantiated by various documents and statements of Maoist leaders themselves. They have developed linkage with terrorist organizations within and outside India. They forcibly collect funds, extort money, impose fines and oppress the very same poor people whose cause they profess to champion. Wherever the Naxals are well-entrenched, they resist developmental efforts because the movement draws sustenance from lack of development.

Undoubtedly, there are genuine grievances relating to land reforms, poverty, unemployment, rights of the tribal and above all corrupt, insensitive government officials. Indeed, the problem of misgovernance and inefficient delivery mechanism must be addressed. Since the Naxals operate in administrative vacuum, the institutions of governance must be revitalized through well-conceived machinery built around hand-picked, honest, willing and motivated young officers who can deliver at the grassroots level. The armed Maoists succeed in enlisting the support of the rural poor and the tribal because the latter no longer have any confidence in the administration. Nor do they trust politicians who raise bogus slogans of social justice while promoting narrow caste, religious and sectarian interests in pursuit of vote-bank politics. By all accounts, Andhra Pradesh seems to be the only state where the challenge of Naxal terror has been met with reasonable degree of success. The special anti-Naxal commandos known as the Greyhounds did an excellent job in making the affected areas secure while a community empowerment process through social mobilization ensured that developmental benefits actually reach the rural poor. The tribal and landless dalits have organized themselves into small self-help groups with support from highly motivated community coordinators who work with the poor in rural areas. Unlike the typical bureaucrats, the community groups have been successful in delivering the fruits of development to the people who had earlier looked up to the Maoists for redressal of their grievances. One wonders why the success story of Andhra Pradesh is seldom discussed by the media or the political leaders to examine whether this can be replicated in other states.

During the last few years, the governments counter-Naxal efforts have proved to be half-hearted and the war against the Naxals has been a one sided affair with the balance heavily tilted in favour of the Naxals. Between 2006 and end of June 2010, Maoist violent incidents and the number of people killed far exceed the number of civilians and security personnel killed in the J&K and the North East. According to the latest assessment, the Naxals are present in more than 200 districts across 20 states and they virtually control 34 districts where the writ of the government does not run. Meanwhile, an unseemly debate continues within the government about the type and extent of response from the government at the centre. There is really no scope for debate because article 355 of the Indian constitution says it shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state in carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Therefore, the problem has to be tackled jointly by the centre and the state governments concerned.

The central paramilitary forces and the state police should be given the task of earmarking or raising special anti-guerilla units which can be trained by the Army for Jungle Warfare and anti-Naxal operations. The repeated massacre of CRPF in several incidents in the recent past have proved that they need much higher level of specialized training to tackle Naxal guerillas who are entrenched in jungles and have superior terrain knowledge, topographical advantage and local intelligence network. The state police forces as well as the central paramilitary forces like the CRPF are meant to handle situations where the people to be controlled are unruly mobs, not armed guerrillas. The role, training and culture of the Paramilitary Forces need to be revisited with regard to their structure, leadership, training, command and control, weaponry and equipment if they have tackle guerillas operating from secret hideouts in dense forests. The other alternative is to raise, train and equip an entirely new force meant for tackling counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare because an unconventional combat situation requires equally unconventional response. The existing central forces are unlikely to fit the bill. Eventually the government may have to revisit the basic strategy for achieving its much publicized goal of capturing and clearing the affected areas through application of superior overwhelming force.

The state police forces are the first responders to any kind of violent activity by terrorists, organized guerillas and separatist insurgents. But they are understaffed, under-equipped, ill-trained, poorly motivated and over-worked. Indias police-population ratio (130 policemen 100000 people) is, as the Home Minister has acknowledged, one of the lowest in the world. The country needs to recruit 400000 constables to fill existing vacancies in the next two years and also expand the current strength. There are large numbers of vacancies in senior leadership ranks too. The 13000 odd police stations and about 7500 police posts have virtually no connectivity or any system of data storage and sharing. The police & the intelligence branches have been grossly neglected in almost every state. In spite of repeated demands, the old colonial Police Act of 1861 has not yet been replaced by a new Act to ensure greater efficiency and accountability of the police. The directives issued by the Supreme Court for Police Reform in September 2006 have not yet been implemented by majority of the states mainly due to reluctance on the part of the political leaders in the states. Since political parties tend to politicize their response to terror, inter-state cooperation in respect of sharing of intelligence and police action is still far from perfect. Unified Command and joint action across state boundaries will prove to be an elusive goal unless there is unprecedented cooperation between state governments ruled by different political parties.

Finally, a few words are in order regarding the so-called peace talks and negotiated settlement. History teaches us the lesson that armed terrorists and insurgents have invariably used cease-fire and peace overtures to buy time and regroup. The cease-fires offered by the Srilanka Government to the LTTE were invariably used by the militants to rearm, regroup and launch fresh offensive. The cease-fire agreed to by the Andhra Pradesh government in 2004 had set the anti-Naxal operations in the state back by months. Negotiation, as a strategy, will succeed only when the government of the day will be able to over power the Naxals by stern counter action. If and when the government gains the upper-hand, the Naxals will give up arms and talk. By all indications, this will not happen any time soon. The anti-Naxal campaign will be a long haul.

  Kalyan K. Mitra
Former Principal Director,
DG Security,
Cabinet Secretaria

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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