Policing and development combination is not enough to defeat the Maoists
The government of India is unlikely to win the battle against the Maoists; neither on the ground nor in the hearts of the people. Home minister P. Chidambaram tacitly admitted as much during the recent meeting with the chief ministers in New Delhi. The cacophony generated by the non-Congress party chief ministers on an issue which was not even on the agenda effectively smothered both his admission and warning.
Chidambaram said that the decline in casualties among civilians and security forces in Maoist-affected districts may give a false sense of assurance, but that is not the true picture. He conceded that operations by Paramilitary forces in the Maoist-hotbeds have not been as successful as expected and the government’s capacity to carry out developmental work in the affected areas is not commensurate with the challenge. “We still do not have an upper hand,” he said, admitting that the two-prong strategy of hard policing and hard development is not yielding the desired results. Finally, he sounded a note of caution: While Assam is emerging as the new theatre of Maoist activity there are intelligence inputs about Maoists establishing links with insurgent groups in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
The home minister couldn’t have been more lucid than this. What he said is that the Maoists can be pushed from one district or one state by the security forces, only to surface in the next one. Analysts who are quick to use Andhra Pradesh as a success story against Maoists forget that all that the Andhra police and the Greyhounds have been able to do is drive the Maoists out of the state and ensure that they do not return. Sheer brute force achieved the same results in West Bengal in the Seventies. But India is more than an Andhra Pradesh or a West Bengal, where in any case, the Maoists have returned.
Similarly, after the Andhra operations, the Maoists slipped into Chhattisgarh and Orissa. When these governments started the operations against the Maoists, they hit back where they could, and when they could not they slipped away. The increased numbers of incidents till a year ago, especially in Chhattisgarh was because the CRPF and the state police were mounting more aggressive operations; and not because the Maoists had suddenly become more powerful. But once the security forces’ operations changed tactics, focussing more on fortifying their presence than seeking contact, the incidents declined too.
It does not help the Maoists to take on the security forces in open pitched battles. After all, how can a few thousand insurgents take on the might of the State? Instead, they have always played to their strengths: Killing by planting IEDs, outnumbering the patrol parties in ambush, setting up traps, hitting infrastructure and so on. But they do most of this when they are pushed; when they are left alone they don’t go out of their way seeking contact, because their goal is to ‘prepare the people for the revolution’. Hence, the focus is to recruit as many people as they can as foot soldiers and convert more and more educated class as future ideologues. There have been sporadic media reports about Maoists recruiting tribal adolescents and youngsters in schools and universities, especially in places like Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra where pools of discontent exist.
At the most basic level, the Maoists’ appeal is drawn from the timeless battle between justice and injustice, between fair-play and exploitation. Their support base is the exploited, marginalised class, which has been convinced that they cannot get justice from those who govern them. It goes to the credit of the Maoist ideologues that they have successfully used injustice and marginalisation as a unifying theme across states, culture and linguistic divides.
It is not surprising, but very dangerous that they are now canoodling with insurgents in the Northeast. A large number of people in these areas feel discriminated against by mainland India; they feel exploited and uncared for. Not only this makes them vulnerable to persuasion by the Maoists, the proximity to the border adds another dimension to the problem. Instead of the Red Corridor going towards Nepal, the Maoists could now move towards an eastern corridor. Last August, DG Chhattisgarh Police, in an informal chat with FORCE, hinted at such a possibility suggesting a possible corridor from Chhattisgarh to Orissa and West Bengal going towards Bangladesh or through Assam and Manipur onto Myanmar or to China via Arunachal. “They have infinite patience. We may not even come to know till it becomes a reality,” he had said.
With Chidambaram’s address, it was clear that the government is looking for creative ideas to tackle the Maoist problem and is not getting any help from the states. Both policing and development have only limited utility. While hard policing can lead to greater instances of injustice, development will remain susceptible to destruction. Given these ground realities, the government needs to rely more on the grassroots workers, the much maligned NGOs and even the fence-sitters to reach out to the tribal population. The more tribal people the government will have on its side would mean there are less available to the Maoists. Instead of killing them, it should try to dry up the well from where they source their numbers.