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India: The Wages of Self-deception

05 June, 2013

Maoists: Tactical Retreat, , March 11, 2013

28 persons have been killed, and another 30 have been injured, some of them critically, in the latest swarming attack by cadres of the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist), executed, on this occasion, in the Darbha Ghati region of the Sukma District in Chhattisgarh´s ailing Bastar Division. Those killed most prominently include Mahendra Karma, the controversial architect of the armed Salwa Judum anti-Maoist ´people´s movement´ in the State, which long received support from both the State Government and from the Centre, and was projected as a model for ´popular resistance´ in other theatres afflicted by Maoist violence, till the strategy was excoriated by the Supreme Court for its indiscriminate violence and the violation of human rights, both of its victims and of its own uneducated, backward, often underage cadres. The Pradesh (State) Congress Committee chief, Nandkumar Patel, and his son, former Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Uday Mudaliyar, were also killed, as were eight Security Force (SF) personnel in the contingents guarding the political leaders. Several Congress party workers and three labourers were also killed in the improvised explosive device (IED) blast engineered by the Maoists, and in the subsequent crossfire. Former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla and Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma were among the injured. The 84-year old Shukla is now in critical condition in a Gurgaon hospital. Most of the fatalities were inflicted after the personal guards of the various protected persons ran out of ammunition. In a telling gesture of contempt, the Maoists reportedly did not execute the Policemen after the crossfire ended, and targeted their political victims alone.

Initial reports suggest that no special arrangement had been made for the Congress Party´s high profile political rally Parivartan Yatra (Trek for Change) through one of the worst afflicted regions of the Maoist heartland in Chhattisgarh, and that virtually every element of Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) had been violated by the 20 to 25 vehicle convoy, and by those inevitably responsible for its protection, including State Police officials.

The Centre has quickly deputed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the debacle - another smokescreen that will help silence anxious inquiries, at least for a few days, while the nation awaits the NIA´s learned prognostications.

In the interim, it is useful to turn attention to what is already known.

First, this was a disaster waiting to happen. It was the deliberate and sustained falsification of realities that led to the complacency that allowed a major political rally to be organised through an area as badly afflicted by Maoist violence as the Darbha Ghati in Sukma, with little security cover. This sustained falsification has its sources both in the State and the Central security establishment. The dishonest and politically opportunistic bid to claim ´successes´ without having worked for them has led to a repeated projection of ´gains´, despite the fact that the Government´s own data and at least occasional assessments give no adequate grounds for such claims. The reality, as SAIR has emphasised repeatedly in the past, is that "the core areas of Maoist activity remain intact."

This is more than apparent to any objective observer, even without the privileged flows of intelligence rattling around in the corridors of power, both in New Delhi and in Raipur. And yet, some astonishing assessments have been offered by those who guide the destinies of the unfortunate masses of the Indian nation today, and who order about hapless SF personnel to seek out death by bullet and malaria in the dark heart of the Maoist insurgency, with little understanding or care about the objective circumstances of the ground.

The ´handbook of Government achievements´ for the United Progressive Alliance Government (UPA) of 2004-13, for instance, claims:

The UPA Government´s approach in dealing with left-wing extremism in a holistic manner in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights of local communities and good governance is showing results in declining violence in LWE affected areas...

The integrated action plan being implemented in the LWE affected areas, has helped chart out a new growth trajectory with decreasing violence.

Such statements could easily be dismissed as mere posturing by a political formation, if the deception ended here, but this is far from the case.

The Supreme Court recently described the country´s ´premier investigative agency´, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a "caged parrot" for simply echoing the Government´s (read, political executive´s) views in its investigation into the ´Coalgate scam´. The CBI, however, is not the only "caged parrot" in the Government´s menagerie. The Administrative, Police and Intelligence bureaucracy - in various cases, unwillingly, willingly, and, at least some times, eagerly - routinely toes the Government line, helping falsify realities, distort data and pervert objective threat assessments.

Thus, on March 28, 2013, Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh told a Parliamentary Standing Committee:

There has been an absolute turnaround in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and now we are chasing the Naxal groups. In Odisha we are chasing the Naxal groups. There is a u-turn in Gadchroli where we are chasing Naxals as well.

He has not been alone in misleading Parliament, and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has routinely misled Parliament , for instance, on data relating to Police-population ratios in the country.

Astonishingly, the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Sushil Kumar Shinde, had conceded, on September 6, 2012, at a meeting of Directors General and Inspectors General of Police, "Naxalism continues to pose a significant challenge. There are indicators about increase in the number of trained and armed cadres, reogranisation of military potential for formation of new battalions... (and) the creation of well-developed indigenous capacity for accretions to their arsenal..." These elements and Government data supporting them, have repeatedly been examined in the past, and do not bear repetition here.

It is, nevertheless, crucial to note the increasing danger of the proliferation of a section, particularly, of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who see themselves, not as policemen, but as "higher police management", a Police and intelligence bureaucracy progressively alienated from the conditions within which their Forces are required to function and the challenges they face. It is precisely this growing subset within the Police (and administrative) leadership that has lent itself to fantastical misadventures in the past, most notably, the disastrous 2009-10 "massive and coordinated" operations launched by P. Chidambaram´s Home Ministry, and the simultaneous Operation Greenhunt initiated by the Chhattisgarh Police. These and other campaigns have exposed an unfortunate and persistent inability to think strategically. It is useful to recall that, after the abrupt termination of both these operations in the wake of the tragedy at Chintalnad, where 76 SF personnel were trapped and slaughtered by the Maoists, and after the scores of SF fatalities that preceded this outrage, the then Chhattisgarh Director General of Police, Vishwaranjan, somewhat belatedly lamented that he had just one policeman for five square kilometres of area in the Bastar Division, the Maoist heartland where his Operation Greenhunt was executed in collaboration with the UMHA´s "massive and coordinated operations".

To continue with the make-believe: at the Chhattisgarh State level, we find the State´s Minister for Home Affairs, Nanki Ram Kanwar, declaring, in an official statement on behalf of the Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh, at the Chief Ministers´ Conference on Internal Security on April 15, 2013:

The Chhattisgarh Government has taken concrete measures in the Naxal affected areas. We find that, with such welfare measures and other initiatives of the State Government, the Naxal menace has been contained.

It is not clear if incidents such as the Darbha massacre fall within the Chhattisgarh Government´s notion of ´containment´.

There is much characteristic noise in the wake of this latest Maoist attack. An overwhelming proportion of this cacophony is exhausted by politically correct platitudes expressing shock, sorrow and, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stated in the wake of almost every insurgent and terrorist outrage of the past, the ´determination´ not to let the extremists prevail. To this is added the opportunistic clamour of recriminations, the Centre blaming the State and vice versa, with partisan political defences of either position. Conspiracy theories also abound, with elements sympathetic to the Congress party insisting that the inadequate security arrangements for the Parivartan Yatra were intentional, and contrasted sharply with the ´comprehensive cover´ provided to the Chief Minister´s Vikas Yatra (Trek for Development). Come June 5, when the State Chief Ministers will dutifully troop down to Delhi for another ritual conference on internal security, the Centre and its cheerleaders will most likely raise the issue of the National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC) again, this time probably arguing that it is necessary to prevent ´future Darbhas´; it is equally likely that confused and ignorant State leaderships will fall in line, eager for a symbolic ´achievement´ to flaunt to their respective constituencies, or too cowardly to appear to be ´blocking´ a ´counter-terrorism initiative´. The fact that setting up a new office in Delhi is not going to make troops more effective in Bastar, will deter no one from wasting another few thousand crores to score directionless political points, even as the most basic challenges continue to be ignored. All this is no more than opportunistic garbage by self-seeking politicians and their bureaucratic groupies, and there is little reason to believe that, a few months from now, and despite the talk of the ´unprecedented´ nature of the Darbha attack, this episode will not have slid as far from political and public consciousness as, for instance, the Chintalnad massacre.

The Darbha massacre will, nevertheless, have crucial consequences for the state and for the trajectory of the Maoist movement. In particular, Mahendra Karma´s killing will have tremendous impact in the so-called Red Corridor areas, and particularly in Chhattisgarh. Karma´s disastrous Salwa Judum had pitted him directly against the Maoists, making him the most hated among their individually targeted enemies. Whatever the assessment of the Salwa Judum, Karma´s personal courage and sacrifice are undeniable. Before he was gunned down, reports indicate that he had lost as many as 23 members of his family, but never flinched from his unyielding and public, often violent, opposition to the rebels. He had survived repeated assassination attempts, including, most recently, one on November 8, 2012. He was in a Z-plus category of security threat, purportedly ´heavily protected´. His killing is testimony, on the one hand, to the relentlessness with which the Maoists pursue their enemies and, on the other, of the abysmal failure of the state to protect its own most vulnerable supporters. The Maoists´ demonstration of will, ruthlessness and effectiveness will encourage and inspire many among Chhattisgarh´s youth - and others, perhaps far beyond the State´s borders - to join the rebels in the immediate future, unless the state is able to inflict dramatic retribution on the perpetrators - an unlikely eventuality.

Another foreseeable consequence is that no party or politician will be inclined to campaign in the run-up to the State Assembly elections of end-2013 in the Maoist dominated areas, particularly in the Bastar Division. This will, moreover, give politicians and political parties incentive to enter into covert arrangements with the Maoists, as they have done in the past, most recently in the case of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal in 2011, but also in the case of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections of 2008; the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the Jharkhand Assembly elections of 2009; and the Congress party in the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh in 2004. If this happens, of course, the Maoists will naturally extract a price for their support, with inevitable costs in lives of civilians and SF personnel, to be rendered subsequently.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been repeating, incessantly and vacuously, since the early months of his first tenure commencing May 2004, that the Maoists constitute the greatest internal security challenge to the country. And yet, nearly a decade later, there is no evidence of any coherence of assessment, let alone strategy, within the national and State security establishments; no recognition of the most fundamental reality that, unless the intelligence and Policing apparatus throughout the country is enormously strengthened, professionalised, modernized, and made autonomous of the corrupt and perverse control of political parties and personalities, no crime - leave alone a significant and widespread insurgency - can be brought under control. As has been emphasised again and again, unless the crisis of capacities and capabilities is addressed, Darbha will only be a momentary link in a long and interminable chain of insurgent excesses.

(The writer Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and SATP)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not RDI IBNS)

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