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Army Vs Maoists:NO ROOM FOR CONFUSION, by Col. (Dr.) P K Vasudeva (Retd), 21 June 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 21 June 2010

Army Vs Maoists


By Col. (Dr.) P K Vasudeva (Retd.)


Pressure is clearly mounting for gunning up the role of the Army in operations against Maoists/Naxalites: especially after Dantewada revealed their striking power, Jnaneswari exposed their killing agenda of innocent civilians by continuously blasting rail-road tracks beside ambushing police and paramilitary forces.


While it is true that military force will not address the root problems, there is increasing realisation that Maoist/Naxalite violence has to be countered and contained unless they are compelled to negotiate for a mutually acceptable peaceful solution. Still, there are human rights, philosophic, strategic and tactical issues that have to be addressed before the troops are called out: particularly if the favoured “calibrated” employment of the Army fails to avert the unfortunate ultimate direct action on the ground.

Most national televised debates about Maoist/Naxalism degenerate almost instantaneously into a shouting match between human rights groups and the Government on the question of what comes first, development or peace. The human rights groups insist that the lack of development is the source of Maoist/Naxalism but the Government is equally certain that there can be no development without peace.

By posing the problem of development and peace as a simple chicken-and-egg one, both sides come up with hardly perfect solutions. The human rights groups' prescription of reducing security forces and providing greater resources ignores the experience of the North East. Armed groups in that region have found means of using their dominance to tap into resources for development. They ensure their proxies get the contracts to carry out development works through extortion. 

Home Minister P Chidambaram's option of using armed forces to get over the problem suits the Maoists/Naxalites though rightly disapproved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The notion of bringing about peace through the use of the gun plays directly into the Maoist/Naxalite ideology. At the heart of this ideology is the contention that behind the democratic facade is armed machinery protecting the interests of capital at the cost of the tribals. It is then morally right for the tribals to use whatever armed might they can muster against the Indian State.

While it is true that using the Army against “its own people” does not go down well in the uniformed community, it is sometimes prudent to get the Army involved before insurgency snowballs into a civil war. Reports suggesting that the Army has been formulating plans point to its professionalism, it will not launch operations under-prepared, as did the paramilitary at the behest of Home Ministry.


Whether it will be advisable to withdraw some units from J&K is a matter for concern, there is evidence that militants are waiting for opportunities to infiltrate, and wreak havoc. But from where else will come enough boots on the ground to establish a counter-insurgency grid across Maoist/Naxalite-dominated regions? This cannot be perceived as a localised operation. This is possible if a force like the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) is created under the Army to tackle the Maoists/Naxalites. In the meantime, the police and the paramilitary forces should be well trained at the Army’s Counter-insurgency School regularly.

The key issue is a determination on whether “all else has failed”, and the Army is the last resort. For that will entail accepting considerable collateral damage, allegations of human rights violations, perhaps even further alienation of the populace. Yet to ask the Army as politicians seem to think is virtuous to “fight with one hand tied behind the back” is to risk severe reverses, maybe even failures. Can the nation’s decisive instrument of authority-enforcement be permitted to fail? 


The limitations of the State machinery in dealing with the Maoist/Naxalite challenge have sometimes led to the encouragement of local opponents of the Maoist/Naxalites. The Salwa Judum was created as a force to fight the Naxalities. But since they used the same violent methods it was not difficult for the Naxalites to project them as another instrument of upper class repression that could only be fought through armed struggle.

The need to provide a moral justification for what is, at best, political murder has led both sides to try to grab the only moral symbol still surviving in Indian politics, Gandhi. Supporters of the Salwa Judum insist that this violent group is Gandhian. Not to be left behind the Naxalites have used the literary firepower of Arundathi Roy to be described as ‘Gandhians with guns'. The fact that those who see it as their duty to defend Naxalites have had to fall back on Gandhi suggests that the ideological battle for the mind of the tribals may not be over.

The idea of large private companies to invest in tapping the natural resources of these areas for giving employment to the tribals may be well meaning but this makes it easier for the Maoists/Naxalites to argue that the real benefits of the rich resources of the tribal regions are being taken away by the outsiders. This link between ethnic and class identities provides them a strong emotional appeal that transcends the attraction of a few job opportunities. There is also a need to reach out to the mind of the tribals. The way forward here would be to deal with not just their current economic conditions, but also their aspirations.

One of the reasons why our vastly unequal cities among the most unequal in the world control their anger is because the poor can aspire to become a part of the rich. A slum dweller can dream of becoming a movie star. Even the more realistic among them can aspire to have their children educated to a level where they can become a part of the information technology revolution.

For such aspirations to become meaningful in the tribal regions they have to have their bows-to-riches stories. The only such examples available to them today are those of corrupt politicians. The fact that such politicians do little to hide their corruption and still win elections suggests that they have become a model that younger tribal aspire to follow. But such flawed unethical models create an environment that makes the violently unethical means of the Maoists/Naxalites acceptable.

A more ethically suitable bows-to-riches model that the young could aspire to follow would be the emergence of a tribal entrepreneurial class. The Central and State Governments could consider a variety of specific initiatives that would help such a class emerge. Even if such initiatives do not immediately succeed they would at least counter the Maoist/Naxalite propaganda that all development in the region only uses tribal labour to help outsiders take over local natural resources.

However, there is no room for using armed forces to solve Maoists/Naxalites problem, as it is only a political one of providing resources and development to the tribal’s who have remained neglected for the last 64 years. INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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