A comprehensive strategy to counter Maoists, including a development offensive, is missing
For close to 24 years, Jawahar Yadav alias Nakul Yadav, a dreaded Maoist leader who carried a reward of Rs 15 lakh on his head, had a job profile not different from that of a mobster: killing police officials, abducting businessmen and contractors, and forcibly recruiting children into the insurgent group and training them – in the name of ideology and armed revolution – for blood-curdling violence. Registration of 144 police cases against him in different districts of Jharkhand is a testimony to his career in crime.
On May 5, within two weeks of the ghastly killing of 25 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, he surrendered before police in Ranchi. He did so not out of guilt or fear of getting caught eventually, but rather out of desire to save the vast empire of wealth he had created in over two decades of his association with Maoism, his former colleagues allege. They talk of Rs 60 lakh deposited by his family members in bank accounts which have been frozen post-demonetisation. Police officials also speak of some documents they stumbled upon recently, about the purchase of over 27 acres of land in the name of his wife in Kunda and Pratappur areas of Jharkhand’s Chatra district. (His only son is said to be enrolled in a prestigious university of Australia as an undergraduate.)
Even in surrender, he has made money. Besides getting the Rs 15 lakh reward, he will also receive monthly stipend and land, apart from vocational training for a new life.
“If top leaders like Nakul Yadav, Dinesh, Vikash or Kundan Pal surrendered before police, it was so not due to mounting family or police pressure on them; they did this because they wanted to keep their family interests over and above the Maoist ideology,” remarks Yugal Pal, alias Madanji, once a big name in the Communist Party of India-Maoist who is currently working with the Jharkhand Jan Sangram Morcha, an NGO.
Nakul is of course not an exceptional case; many young rebels joined the CPI-Maoist only to take advantage of the armed revolution and amass money through extortions, bank robberies, loots, abductions and forcible possession of land and properties. A 2015 press release of the Anti-Naxal Operations (ANO) unit of the Maharashtra police notes that Maoist leaders like Dev Kumar, Malliraji Reddy and Vijay Reddy are “spending extortion money” in serving their family interests, including the education of their children in premier academic institutions like IITs. They have since surrendered, only to be replaced by the next in the ranks. Thus, the centre and states continue to battle anti-insurgent movements in the forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra and Odisha.
A total of 3,766 Maoists surrendered between 2011 and November 2016, according to the home ministry. Of them, 1,399 insurgents surrendered in 2016 alone – the highest in the last six years. Coupled with these surrenders, the killing of top Maoist leaders like Chalapathi, Aruna, Daya, Sudheer and M Koteswara Rao hit the morale of the rebels.
But, as a senior CRPF official requesting anonymity puts it, they are like the demon Raktabija, a mythological character whose drop of blood falling on the ground would give birth to another Raktabija. “Tell me, have our continued operations against them uprooted them? I say no,” he says.
K Vijay Kumar, a retired IPS officer currently serving as an advisor in the home ministry, agrees. Asked by the ministry to stay put in Sukma after the April 24 killings, Vijay told me on phone that defeating Maoists through military means is very difficult, if not impossible. “The military means just gives you an entry. They help you bang open the door. But after we move the front foot, that is, security, it should be followed by the rear foot, which is governance or development. The gap between the front and rear feet should be very minimal. When the forces enter an area of security deficit and they complete the task assigned to them, nobody wants them to hang on in the area. Developmental work should immediately follow. In most cases, in our country or other countries which face insurgency problems, it [development] doesn’t follow as quickly as needed,” said Kumar, who is credited with the elimination of dreaded sandalwood brigand Veerappan in 2004.
He is not alone in making this diagnosis. District magistrates and superintendents of police of 35 Maoist-affected districts and two of the six chief ministers who had assembled for a meeting called by home minister Rajnath Singh in the national capital on May 8, questioned the government’s anti-Maoist strategy. According to official sources, they asked the government why the integrated action plan (IAP), which was launched in dozens of tribal and backward districts in 2010 to provide central assistance to the tune of Rs 25-30 crore to each selected district, was discontinued in 2015.
IAP was the UPA’s track-II strategy, a sort of developmental offensive, meant to build infrastructure and facilities like schools, primary healthcare centres, anganwadis, village roads; install electric lights in public places; and supply drinking water. Some officials say the IAP was becoming successful – to the extent that Maoists found fresh recruitments drying up. “They became so desperate that they issued a circular among their members in 2013, asking them to oppose the IAP tooth and nail,” an official said.
Similarly, the special infrastructure scheme (SIS), launched in 2008-09 with an outlay of Rs 500 crore to plug critical infrastructure gaps for security forces, has been discontinued from central assistance from 2015-16 following the recommendations of the 14th finance commission.
The fate of such developmental initiatives clearly indicates the government’s single-track. In Chhattisgarh, for example, a total of 118 paramilitary battalions comprising 1.18 lakh troops have been deployed. Security officials have no hesitation in admitting that Chhattisgarh is the second most militarized zone after Kashmir in the country.
That irks human rights activists. Ananda Swarup Verma, an activist whose book Rolpa to Dolpa presents a narrative on Nepali Maoists’ activities in the mid-1990s, is disappointed to see that the successive governments at the centre have focused more on militarisation than development of the affected areas and improvement of the tribals’ lot. “It is unfortunate to see that successive governments since the 1960s don’t want to go deep into the root cause of its rise. Maoism is a socio-economic problem and it cannot be handled militarily,” Verma observes.
But this logic has few takers, especially among hardnosed security officials, who believe that offence is the only defence. “In a situation when Maoists talk about their way or highway, should we treat them with kid gloves? They are blood hungry hounds and they should be dealt with all offensive means,” remarked a senior North Block official. He, however, bemoans that the country still lacks a short-, mid- or long-term strategy against armed insurgents.
“We wait for an incident to happen. Only when a Sukma-type incident occurs do we wake up and take action,” the official said. He also spoke of how paramilitary forces are becoming “sitting ducks” in the absence of coordination from police in Chhattisgarh.
Data from the home ministry supports the view. Of the total 1,730 people killed in insurgency hit areas of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal from 2011 to April 2017, as many as 642 were security forces personnel. The worst month was April when 25 security personnel were killed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
In spite of the rise in the fatalities among CRPF personnel, the ongoing exercise to arm the forces with modern equipment and training is tardy. On record, 120 anti-landmine vehicles have been deployed in Chhattisgarh for Naxal operations. But these are not only old and outdated, their capacity to withstand landmine blasts is also very low, according to a senior paramilitary official. After a few of these vehicles were blown up by rebels in landmine blasts, they have been left redundant. For years, says another senior official of a paramilitary force, “We have been fighting battle-hardened Maoists with low and average quality weapons. We do not have quality bullet-resistant jackets. On the intelligence front too, we are weak as we are not getting proper support from local police.”
However, they are equally about leadership. An officer of the rank of deputy inspector general (DIG) in a paramilitary force said the government should desist from making a newly appointed IPS officer in-charge of anti-Maoist operations. “These IPS officers don’t know how to lead from the front. Any complex situation requires simple and straight answers. The government, instead of picking able and experienced hands from paramilitary forces to lead anti-Naxal operations, brings in a neophyte IPS officer. This is one of the reasons behind the increase in casualties on troops’ side,” the official said.
There is little possibility such deficiencies at the operational front would ever be plugged given the system where IAS and IPS officer rule the roost.
Those who have a close association with rebels in the jungles of Jharkhand and West Bengal offer a different narrative. “They [the government] could have wiped out Naxalism in the 1960s when it was born. Could they do it? No. Why? Because the problem which gave birth to Naxalism still exists.
Exploitation of tribals and dalits has not ended; instead it has grown manifold in the age of globalisation,” Madan-ji, once a hard-core Maoist, said. From around 1991-92 to 2012-13, “over 22 lakh acres of land, which was mainly ‘Gairmazarua’ [land which has no record or entitlement against anyone’s name] were distributed among tribals and dalits in Jharkhand. But the state government took it away for building highways or sold them to corporate houses without giving the poor and illiterate tribal any compensation.”
The story is no different in neighbouring Chhattisgarh where tribals constituting 26.76 percent of the population find themselves squeezed between rebels’ dictates and the state administration’s apathy towards their plight.
(The story appears in the June 1-15, 2017 issue of Governance Now)