Source: Front line
in New Delhi and Ranchi
|The naxalites' tactic of supplementing armed struggle with mass agitations forces the government to rethink its strategy.|
The site of the landmine blast targeting former Chief Minister N. Janardhana Reddy and his wife, at Chitwedu village in Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh on, September 7.
"THIS is essentially to create a shock effect on the government and its agencies. More concrete and substantial political and organisational work of the Maoists is taking place at the grass roots in a number of States including Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa." This is how a senior security specialist belonging to the Jharkhand police machinery responded when Frontline sought his view on the September 7 landmine attack on the convoy of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Min ister Janardhana Reddy. He said that this attack as well as the killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament Sunil Kumar Mahato on March 4 are part of the new "mobile warfare" strategy that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has evolved and implemented after its 'unity congress' held in January-February this year in the jungles running across the Jharkhand-Bihar border.
Security analysts are of the view that the naxalite group's military tactic relies on "chosen mobile guerilla cadre", who use advanced technology and gadgets to make sensational strikes at high-profile targets. "But the movement of this cadre is supported and facilitated by the contacts that the Maoists and their front organisations generate through the political, organisational and military interventions they make at the grass roots," said the Jharkhand officer. He added: "Naxalites take advantage of the vacuum created by the inadequacy of administrative and political institutions, espouse local causes and take advantage of the disaffection and perceived injustice among the underprivileged and remote segments of the population." Hence, he said, there is a general consensus in the security machineries of all naxalite-affected States that along with investigations into strikes such as the ones against Janardhana Reddy and Mahato, the larger, more concrete grass-roots activities of the Maoists need to be countered with greater vigour.
A comparison of the last two annual reports of the Ministry of Home Affairs (for the years 2005-06 and 2006-07) underscores this understanding of security specialists. The overall approaches of both the reports are similar as they deal with security issues such as raising more anti-naxalite units and India Reserve Battalions; strengthening intelligence gathering, inter-State cooperation and joint operations; keeping a constant watch on areas of current naxalite activity; and identifying areas where the Left extremist groups plan to spread violence and activity. Yet, there are significant differences between the two reports in terms of emphasis and focus.
One striking difference relates to the idea of evolving anti-naxalite civilian resistance groups. The 2005-06 report emphasised this and said that State governments "have been advised to encourage formation of Local Resistance Groups, Village Defence Committees and Nagrik Suraksha Samitis in naxal-affected areas". The report also stated that "in the year 2005, Chattisgarh witnessed significant local resistance against the naxalites in some areas". The 2006-07 report does not lay so much stress on developing civilian resistance.
By all indications, the mayhem in Chattisgarh created by the fight between Salwa Judum, a self-styled civil resistance group, and the naxalites has contributed to this shift (story on the Chhattisgarh situation, page 14). The only reference to civilian resistance in the 2006-07 report is as follows: "Stepped-up violence in Chhattisgarh is attributed mainly to greater offensive by naxalites to derail Salwa Judum, which is a voluntary and peaceful initiative by local people against naxalites in Dantewada district." The reference, evidently, admits that the "significant local resistance" recorded in the earlier report has contributed to the aggravation of violence in the troubled State.
The major thrust of the 2006-07 report is on the formation of an Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) headed by an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The IMG would focus almost entirely on the socio-economic issues that breed Left extremism. Its terms of reference include matters such as reviewing the implementation of various Centrally sponsored schemes and the programmes being undertaken particularly in the naxal-affected areas as well as monitoring the progress of land reforms in various States.
The IMG has also been instructed to "ensure that naxal-affected States take necessary steps to address tribal-related issues, facilitate meaningful implementation of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), formulate and implement a progressive and forward-looking Resettlement and Rehabilitation (RR) policy for displaced persons and tribals, to review progress of action taken for the developmental and security related infrastructure proposals under the Forest Conservation Act, and to closely review implementation of schemes like Backward Districts Initiative (BDI) and Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) specially approved for naxal-affected areas".
Observers of naxalite politics and the government's countermeasures, such as Lucknow-based political analyst Indra Bhushan Singh, point out that, in a sense, this shift in emphasis in the annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) indicates the flaws in the strategies followed so far by the governments at the Centre and in various States to take on the naxalite challenge. "It is clear that the militaristic and propaganda war unleashed by the Central government as well as various State governments against Left extremism, particularly its central political outfit, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has not produced favourable results," the report says.
For nearly three years since the formation on October 7, 2004, of an Special Task Force consisting of a Special Secretary from the Centre, nodal officers of nine naxalite-affected States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – and representatives of the Intelligence Bureau ( I.B.) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the thrust was on improving coordination between various forces and agencies to conduct effective joint operations.
The experience of the past three years has shown that the results are, at best, patchy. This is an assessment shared by a number of senior police officials in States such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. "We make significant gains whenever a new security initiative is launched but soon the Maoists change their tactics and strategy to circumvent our initiative," a senior police official in Ranchi told Frontline.
Figures put out by the Home Ministry corroborate this perspective. According to the Ministry, there were 1,509 incidents of naxalite violence in 2006 as against 1,608 incidents in 2005. This shows a marginal decline of 6.15 per cent in terms of incidents of violence. But casualties in 2006 were 678 as against 677 in 2005. Chhattisgarh alone accounted for 47.38 per cent of the total incidents and 57.22 per cent of the total casualties during 2006. This year, until June 2007, a total of 249 persons – 69 civilians, 113 security personnel, and 67 alleged naxalites – have been killed. The highest number of killings was reported from Chattisgarh (141), followed by Andhra Pradesh (39) and Jharkhand (29).
Incidents of violence and the number of casualties have come down in Andhra Pradesh. The State witnessed 535 incidents of violence and 208 killings in 2005. This came down to 183 incidents and 46 deaths in 2006. The State government has also won praise from the Centre for its surrender and rehabilitation policy for naxalites. However, security officials point out, seizures of huge consignments of rocket shells and rocket launchers in 2007 show that naxalite groups are in the process of regrouping. This is a matter of concern for the security agencies.
Another issue of concern for the security agencies is that a little over 45 per cent of the casualties in 2007 are their personnel. The killings of security staff have increased in Jharkhand and Orissa, too – to 24 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. One of the most shocking incidents was the mass killing of 55 security personnel in a single incident at Ranibodli in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.
If this is the situation in terms of violence, sources in the Union Home Ministry as well as in the governments of various naxalite-affected States point out that the CPI (Maoist) and fellow organisations, such as the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (New Democracy) or CPIML(ND), have been able to break new ground, in terms of mass movements, and win popular support in States such as Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Jharkhand. This mobilisation is mainly based on their struggle against Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and the corporatisation of agricultural land.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government in West Bengal has consistently pointed out that naxalite groups had infiltrated the groups of villagers protesting against land acquisition for industrialisation in Nandigram and Singur. Leaders of the government have also said that this infiltration played a major role in making the villagers' protest violent. Developments in States such as Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand clearly point towards the increasing leadership role played in anti-SEZ agitations by parties such as the CPI(Maoist) and CPIML(ND) and also its front organisations``````.Change in tactics
Janardhana Reddy and his wife, N. Rajyalakshmi, who is the Minister for Women and Child Welfare, at the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, after surviving the landmine blast.
This correspondent gathered from State-level CPI(Maoist) activists in Jharkhand that this principal political organisation among the naxalite groups in the country has brought about two major changes in its contemporary political and military practice. These changes were essentially evolved during the party's unity congress, held in January-February 2007 in the jungles bordering Jharkhand and Bihar, and have been put into practice skilfully over the last four months. At the military level, members of the Jharkhand Maoist group pointed out, the change has been from guerilla warfare to mobile warfare. This apparently involves extending the war zone to newer areas utilising the cadre from regions under guerilla control.
States such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are supposed to become the new fronts in this extended war. "This war tactic has been evolved essentially because greater destruction of enemy forces is central to consolidate the gains made so far and advance further," said a State-level Maoist activist to Frontline.
At the political level, the interface for mass movements, too, is also becoming more and more broad-based. Analysts and observers of the struggles against the SEZs in Orissa have pointed out that in places such as Kalinga Nagar, the Maoist organisations have a big say in setting the agenda. Even in West Bengal, which has had a record of controlling naxalite activities for over three decades, the Maoist agitations against land acquisition for industrial projects and related issues are evoking greater mass appeal than ever before.
Such is the impact of these agitations that from Asansol to Bankura in West Bengal, the CPI(Maoist) and its front organisations have become the principal opposition to the CPI(M). These areas are adjoining Jharkhand. It is believed that the rank and file of all mainstream Opposition parties – the Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress – are switching across to the front organisations of the CPI (Maoist) in significant numbers. CPI (Maoist) activists in Jharkhand told Frontline that this switch-over has been made possible by the skilful strategising by their party, which aims at attracting new sections of the population to the "Maoist path".
In keeping with this broad-basing strategy, the name of the organisational mechanism of the CPI (Maoist) that guides and advances mass movements and front organisations has been changed from the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) to the People's Democratic Front of India (PDFI). The RDF was formed in May 2005, approximately six months after the merger of the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) to form the CPI (Maoist). Clearly, the party has made a re-evaluation of the political climate prevailing in the country and chosen to alter its path from "revolutionary democratic" activities and to press forward broad-based "people's democratic" mass agitations. Activists of the CPI (Maoist) in Jharkhand made it clear to Frontline that this does not mean giving up the path of "armed struggles" but only supplementing it with "fiery mass agitations".Schemes on paper
The Maoists seem to be able to hold on militarily even in the face of greater coordination between security agencies and State governments and at the same time make significant gains in terms of mass propaganda initiatives. This state of play could well have contributed to the shift in emphasis in the Home Ministry's annual report.
Indra Bhushan Singh is convinced that the Ministry's shift is based on this consideration. While welcoming such modifications, he wondered whether putting socio-economic and development perspectives on paper alone would suffice to make a real difference on the ground. "Look up any document of the government on the naxalite issue and one can see that it is prefaced by pronouncements asserting that naxalism is not merely a law and order issue and has grave socio-economic dimensions. Repeating that constantly does help to advance awareness about the menace, but the government and its agencies can hope to produce tangible results only if schemes and projects really get implemented. There is little doubt that the progress card of the Central government as well as naxal-affected State governments on this count is far from satisfactory," he pointed out.
At a Maoist training camp in the forest in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) also reflects a similar opinion. A note on the naxalite conflict prepared by the ACHR in July this year pointed out that there has been "no dearth of development schemes in India but the implementation of such schemes perennially remained problematic and implementation of the schemes in the naxalite-affected areas almost came to virtual halt because of the increased conflict. An estimated Rs.6,500 crores meant for implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) were not spent during 2005-2006 and Rs.1,522.90 crores for development of the tribals could not be released by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to various State governments by the end of December 2006 because of the failure of the State governments to submit utilisation certificates under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2004."
Estimates by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) are that the Rs.1,680 crore provided to naxalite-affected States under the Backward District Initiative (BDI), too, is under-utilised (story on development, page 21).
The ACHR in March 2006 opined that the formation of a separate Ministry for the development of naxalite-affected areas should be considered as a way to bridge the gap between promises and performance. This suggestion has not been taken up seriously by any section of the government, but the political leadership, as well as the bureaucracy, has not been found wanting in setting up a number of government bodies and committees with the ostensible objective of addressing the situation in naxalite-affected regions.
Apart from the IMG, there is a high-level Coordination Committee headed by the Home Secretary, a Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of naxalite-affected States, and an Empowered Group of Ministers headed by the Home Minister and comprising select Union Ministers and Chief Ministers – all apparently analysing and finding solutions to the "naxal problem". Some of these committees, such as the high-level Coordination Committee, have been functioning since 1998.
Can the new directives and initiatives of the government encapsulated in the latest MHA report do what many bodies in the government machinery failed to accomplish for nearly a decade? Now, that is, indeed, a moot question, the answer to which is certainly bound to have a long-term impact on the country's security climate as well as on the political situation.