The Maoist insurgency sweeping across parts of central, eastern and south eastern India is a growing menace and unless addressed immediately, could spread to other parts of the country.
The main affected states are Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra.
The Naxalite Movement
The origins of the Naxalite movement traces back to 1967 when the then Communist Party of India (Marxist), spilt with the forming of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) – CPI-ML. The party got further splintered with the formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) – CPI-M, which followed a radical leftist ideology inspired by Mao of China.
The initial armed rebellion was started by Charu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal with the first armed attack against a police party in Naxalbari in West Bengal. The movement later on came under Charu Mazumdar who expanded the armed rebellion from rural to urban areas of Bengal, by initiating the college going students into the movement. The armed movement peaked in 1971.
The West Bengal government led by the then Chief Minister, Siddharth Shankar Ray, initiated a brutal crackdown against the movement with full support of Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister, at the time. The movement soon lost its momentum with the arrest of Charu Mazumdar in 1972, who subsequently died in prison.
The Revival of the Maoist Insurgency
In 2004, the CPI-Maoists came together with the merging of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, to take up armed struggle against the government. The Maoists began recruiting villagers from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra and U.P. It is estimated that the members were between 6,000 and 9,000 and were armed with small arms. The numbers have swelled significantly since then. By 2009, they were active in 180 districts across 10 states. They began attacking police and paramilitary personnel, with CRPF taking the maximum casualties.
In 2009, the central government launched the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) aimed at coordinated counter action against the insurgents in co-operation with all affected states. The measures taken have had results and by 2010, Karnataka was taken off the list of affected states.
Since then a lot of lives have been lost on both sides. India lost its senior political leader in V.C. Shukla, who was severely injured in an attack in 2013 in Darbha Valley in Chhattisgarh. 24 lives were lost in the attack which included former state minister Mahendra Karma and Chhattisgarh Congress Chief, Nand Kumar Patel.
According to former Director General of B.S.F, Ajai Raj Sharma, there have been more lives of security personnel lost in the Maoist insurgency than in the Kashmir Valley.
Inadequate manpower, equipment and training
The reason for high casualties suffered by the security personnel is the lack of adequate number of personnel deployed, given the vast territory of operations that the insurgents operate in. Due to hostile terrain, they have to undertake long marches on foot with poor logistic support.
Most paramilitary forces do not have IED resistant and bullet proof vehicles to travel in. They have almost no counter IED equipment to adequately deploy to sanitize travel routes. The personnel do not have adequate bullet proof jackets, night vision equipment, thermal sensors, smoke screens or communication equipment that is needed to successfully take on this level of insurgency.
That along with poor training, long hours of patrol and lack of logistic support in interior areas, have all affected the morale of the security forces. Almost every attack that has taken place has had the security forces caught by surprise and outnumbered, often resulting in losing their weapons to the attackers. Unless the government is serious in its commitment to fighting insurgency and back that commitment with adequate support required, the security forces will continue to lose lives.
Another area that urgently needs revisiting, is the use of air power to support the operations on the ground. The insurgents have been assembling in large numbers prior to an attack and this can only be countered with air surveillance over wide areas and rapid counter measures, as and when an attack takes place.
The Maoists do not follow any principles of warfare or rules of engagement and therefore very little purpose is served by the political establishment in not using air power against this growing menace. Even if air attack is ruled out, air assets can be deployed for surveillance including active use of drones, choppers for rapid insertion into point of conflict and post incident insurgent tracking, are areas that the government needs to ramp up immediately.
Unless the military response is immediate and strong, the Maoists will only get bolder, as has been seen in recent attacks through 2013 and this year.
Political solution is the only answer
Though government at the centre and the state have repeatedly expressed a desire to bring the Maoists to the table, the reality on the ground is very different.
Years of complete neglect of the interior areas of the affected states has resulted in people alienation due to the appalling conditions that they are forced to live in. Rampant corruption has ensured siphoning off large amounts of funds allocated for development in these areas, as a result very little development activity has taken place in the interior regions of the affected states.
Their traditional lifestyles of living off their land has been negatively impacted by halfhearted development measures undertaken by the government that further alienated the local people. This deep disenchantment and feeling of helplessness against the government has been successfully exploited by the political ideologues and propagandists of the Maoists, who have convinced the local people that only an armed rebellion can bring them the freedom and control of the land resources that they have lived on for centuries. The people have little choice but to sympathize, if not actively join the Maoists.
Unless the central government along with the respective state governments work with the local people and involve them in developing a long term proactive policy that provides them employment, education, health and housing and gives them a share of the profit that their land generates, it will never be able to end this armed conflict.
History the world over, has shown that armed resistance can’t be won over by force unless the local people are in support of the government. Therefore, it’s time for the government to actively engage with the local people immediately in opening up a sincere dialogue, along with the representatives of the Maoists. After all, people only want to live with dignity and its time we gave peace a chance.