LWE may not be making headlines, but it is still alive and kicking
Sometimes the power of the popular media in determining our reality is so overwhelming that it is actually worrisome. If one were to follow what appears in the newspapers or television these days then it would seem that the Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) is a thing of the past. Just as there was an overkill of news pertaining to Left-wing violence, kangaroo courts and twin-pronged government strategy a few years ago, there is a near silence now. Of course, unravelling of the government and Chinese perfidy deserve the space they are getting, but perhaps in our coverage of news pertaining to national security we need to stop chasing headlines.
For instance, on LWE, just a handful of incidents have made it to the inside pages of the newspapers in the last few months. Two major news items pertained to the Maoists’ attack on helicopters (one Indian Air Force and one Border Security Force) in quick succession; one of which was forced to crash land. The other reports have been about internecine violence within the Maoist ranks (suggesting disunity) and a few well-planned security operations by the police-Paramilitary forces combine. All this suggests that probably the LWE threat was over-assessed and the crisis has now blown over, with the government firmly in control.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is less violence now, because the security forces are venturing less in the unknown. The figures speak for themselves. In 2011, while 72 Maoists were killed in various operations, 26 CRPF personnel were martyred. If one were to include the police personnel of various states, the figure would probably rise. In the same period the following year, overall figures went down, but the CRPF-Maoists kill ratio worsened. For 50 Maoists, 37 CRPF personnel laid their lives. For any force, this is a demoralising factor. But there is no way around it for the simple reason that despite heavy induction for forces in the LWE area, the initiative is still with the Maoists, who are becoming more technology savvy by the day.
Over the years, Maoists have consistently shown that they never take on the security forces in open pitched battles, preferring to avoid contact as much as possible. They only make contact if there is fear that their location may be exposed or if they come across a particularly vulnerable group.
Cases in point are the two helicopter incidents. They have not been stray attacks but a demonstration of their upgraded technological skills. The Maoists had tried to attack IAF helicopters in the past also, which led to the service asking the ministry of defence for the right to fire back in self-defence. But none of those attacks ever caused much damage to the helicopters. Probably to learn the right lessons, for the last year-and-a-half, the Maoists started video-graphing the helicopters during take-offs and landings in the forested areas.
In one of his notes to the ministry, the director general, CRPF mentioned this, expressing concern that the Maoists could be doing this with the intent of attacking the helicopters. Given that the helicopters operate only from the secure police or CRPF camps, the videography was clearly being done from somewhere close to the camp. This shows the Maoists’ gall and familiarity with their area of operation. Fugitives do not behave like this. If anything, these two attacks have increased the cost of air operations in these areas. There have been instances now where request for air support has been turned down because of uncertain security environment. The IAF will now be working on new standard operating procedures!
Nearly a year ago, the government did an extensive review of the LWE situation and realised that the funds allocated to the gram panchayats, instead of being used for the welfare of the people were instead spent on weapons and ammunitions for the Maoists. The government note to various ministries cooperating in countering the LWE instructed them to ensure that the ‘money is not diverted to fund acquisition of arms and ammunition or to further the agenda of the Maoists in areas dominated by them’. It urged them to learn lessons from counter-insurgency operations in ‘countries like Indonesia and Malaysia’.
What lessons the government officials learn remains to be seen, but the Maoists have regularly shown that they are fast learners. One middle-level CRPF officer, who has served three years in the LWE area and is currently on leave, told me, “Whenever I come across their training manuals, I have been completely astounded by the meticulousness of their methods, from describing the most vulnerable parts of a mine protected vehicle to conducting emergency medical procedures. Maybe because they are teaching the illiterate tribal that they go in such details. But those who write these manuals are neither illiterate nor stupid.”
Every now and then, self-congratulatory reports appear about elimination of top Maoist commanders by the security forces. These stories miss the most crucial aspect of LWE. The Maoist insurgency is not a top-heavy centralised movement. It is not about the leaders but the cadre. And the cadre comes from the disenfranchised people who do not understand what being a citizen of India means. Unless we make them citizens in the truest sense of the word, they will continue to fill the ranks of the Maoists.