The killing of 25 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Sukma in South Bastar of Chhattisgarh on 24 April has once again brought the focus on the Left Wing Extremist (LWE) movement which has been plaguing certain parts of the country. Its genesis lies in the Naxalbari uprising of 1967, which an editorial in the People’s Daily, the organ of the Communist Party of China, called the “Spring Thunder over India” (5 July 1967) and whose slogan was “China’s Chairman is our Chairman”. This slogan was taken from an article written by Charu Mazumdar on 22 April, 1969. Its last line read: “Victory certainly belongs to us because China’s Chairman is our Chairman and China’s path is our path.” The Party firmly believed in Mao’s dictum that “Political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” The present day CPI (Maoist), which was formed in 2004 by the merger of the Peoples’ War Group with the Maoist Communist Centre, believes in the same ideology and firmly rejects the Indian constitution and parliamentary democracy — the Indian State is its enemy, which is to be overthrown by armed struggle waged by its Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA ).
Thus, it is a full-scale internal war, being fought by the LWE movement without any rules or Geneva Convention and is largely based on surprise, deception and savagery to overawe both the local population and its opponents.
It is not surprising that all security forces, whether the Army, Assam Rifles, BSF or CRPF, have faced heavy casualties at sometime or the other while carrying out counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. This does not mean that these forces are incompetent or poorly led, rather the very opposite. While engaged in such COIN operations which are akin to wars, no quarter is asked or given. The aim is to learn from such mistakes, rectify them and refine existing standard operating procedures and revise COIN strategies to be more effective against a ruthless and unscrupulous enemy.
Although India is largely a peaceful country, there have been violent insurgencies like those in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam, Tripura, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. In all these theatres, success has been achieved due to strenuous efforts of the local police with generous help from the Army and other security forces like the BSF and CRPF. It is the local police and Central police forces which are more suited for such COIN operations and the Army’s own record has been mixed. It is for this reason that the Union government has ruled out using the Army in LWE affected areas.
The Naxal movement spread to many parts, particularly Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Maharashtra, Odisha, etc. In West Bengal, it was put down firmly by the local police when Siddharth Shankar Ray was the Chief Minister (March 1972-April 1977). It could never re-establish itself back in West Bengal except for scattered pockets in Jungalmahal, etc. Police officers like Ranjit Gupta, former Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (1969-71) and later IGP (West Bengal 1972-76) played a significant role in combating LWE in the state.
Some of the India Reserve Battalions being raised in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha must be trained on the ‘Greyhound’ pattern. The intelligence machinery in this region will also have to be strengthened.
Even in other COIN operations, the Punjab Police led by K.P.S. Gill and Julio Ribeiro succeeded in containing the Khalistan movement under the political leadership provided by Chief Minister Beant Singh. In Tripura too, it was the local police which fought pitched battles with the insurgents and finally defeated them with the help of the CRPF. In Punjab, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal, the police gained the upper hand largely due to excellent intelligence backup provided to them. Even in J&K, the local police have performed remarkably, despite terrible odds and have stuck to their task in the face of grave provocation.
Perhaps the most significant victory against LWE has been in undivided Andhra Pradesh where a special force, the “Greyhounds”, was set up for COIN duties. This force, consisting of locals well trained to fight LWE guerrillas, was raised and trained by retired SSB officers. Its success, ironically while leading to the defeat of the LWE in AP, led to LWE leaders and cadres taking shelter in neighbouring Orissa and Bustar (now Chhattisgarh) and spreading roots there.
If the LWE are to be decisively defeated, Chattisgarh, Andhra–Odisha border region, Koraput region of Odisha, Araku Valley of AP and Jharkhand must be treated as one police region and security forces allowed to operate seamlessly across the entire belt. Some of the India Reserve Battalions being raised in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha must be trained on the “Greyhound” pattern. The intelligence machinery in this region will also have to be strengthened. It is interesting to note that while the top leadership of the CPI (Maoists) is predominantly of high caste Telugus, the Dalams comprise mostly of local tribals. It is important that development work like schools, hospitals and roads be built to take care of the needs of the local tribal population. Their land particularly must be safeguarded so that it remains in their possession not just on paper but in actual fact.
If the Ministry of Home Affairs provides full support to the state governments and the state police are given a free hand by the respective Chief Ministers, then the scourge of LWE can be wiped out in the next few months.
The CRPF has to work in close coordination with the local police. IPS officers provide the leadership to both which helps in coordination. It is for consideration whether the security forces engaged in COIN duties need legal protection through an AFSPA-like law as their efforts have often been stymied by Left-wing overground activists, misplaced directives from NHRC, and various courts, etc. It is unfortunate that the real ground situation is often missed when seen from safe havens far away from the war zone.
Kulbir Krishan, former DGP of Meghalaya, spent many years with the IB.