Under India’s Constitution, issues of law and order have traditionally been the responsibility of the states, rather than the central government. Till 2006, the affected states were mainly taking on the Red challenge. Andhra Pradesh had even succeeded in curbing naxalism to a large extent.
In 2006, after the Prime Minister’s declaration of the naxal problem as the biggest challenge to internal security, many new steps were taken. This included creation of a separate division in the Home Ministry (Naxal management division) and appointment of an expert committee headed by D Bandopadhyay by the Planning Commission in 2006.
The expert committee underscored the social, political, economic and cultural discrimination faced by the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SCs/STs) across the country. The committee established the lack of empowerment of local communities as the main reason for the spread of naxalism. It further stated that state bureaucracy had failed miserably in delivering good governance in naxal affected areas. It recommended a tribal friendly land acquisition and rehabilitation policy.
More than three years after identifying Naxalism as the biggest internal threat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted in 2009 that the government’s efforts at containing the Naxalites had not been up to the desired level. After this, the worst affected states launched a large-scale offensive that involved deployment of heavy troops in the worst affected areas.
Change in Strategy by the Home Ministry:
The government has realized that the issues of good governance, development, regular functioning of critical field institutions and public awareness are also important in dealing with left wing extremism. Therefore, its approach has accordingly changed to deal with naxalite activities in the areas of security, development, administration and public perception in a holistic manner.
Important Schemes for States Affected by Left Wing Extremism:
a. Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme:
Funds are provided for meeting the recurring expenditure relating to insurance, training and operational needs of the security forces, rehabilitation of left wing extremist cadres who surrender in accordance with the surrender and rehabilitation policy of the State Government concerned, community policing, security related infrastructure for village defence committees and publicity material.
b. Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS):
The scheme for special infrastructure in affected states was approved in the XIth Plan, with an allocation of Rs. 500 crore, to cater to critical infrastructure gaps which cannot be covered under the existing schemes.
These relate to requirements of mobility for the police/security forces by upgrading existing roads/tracks in inaccessible areas, providing secure camping grounds and helipads at strategic locations in remote and interior areas, measures to enhance security in respect of police stations/outposts located in vulnerable areas, etc. Now, this scheme has been expanded to provide funds for up gradation of infrastructure, weaponry, equipment and training of special forces of the states affected by extremism.
c. Central Scheme for Assistance to Civilian Victims/Family of Victims of Terrorist, Communal and Naxal Violence:
This scheme was started in 2009. The broad aim of the scheme is to assist families of victims of terrorist, communal and naxal violence. An amount of Rs. 3 lakh is given to the affected families under the scheme.
d. Integrated Action Plan (IAP):
Planning Commission is implementing a plan for 88 selected tribal and backward districts in the country for accelerated development. The aim of this initiative is to provide public infrastructure and services. Existing model of spending Rs. 30 crore per district through a district level three-member committee headed by the District Magistrate, with the Superintendent of Police and the District Forest Officer as members of the committee is being implemented.
Major works/projects taken up under the IAP include construction of school buildings/school furniture, anganwadi centres, drinking water facilities, rural roads, panchayat bhawan/community halls, godowns/PDS shops, livelihood activities, skill development/trainings, minor irrigation works, electric lighting, health centers, etc.
e. Road Requirement Plan for Extremist affected Areas:
Phase I of the plan was approved in February, 2009 for improvement of road connectivity in 34 districts in 8 states extremely affected by left wing extremism, viz. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, with a projected cost of Rs.7,300 crore.
f. Scheme of Fortified Police Stations:
The Ministry has sanctioned 400 police stations in 9 affected states at a cost of Rs.2 crore per police station.
g. Civic Action Programme (CAPs):
Under this scheme, financial grants are sanctioned to CAPs to undertake development in the affected states. This is a successful scheme which aims to build bridges between the local population and the security forces.
Meanwhile, the Home Ministry has brought some changes in its civic action programme. It has now adopted an ‘individual-oriented’ approach rather than a ‘project-oriented’ approach as this will help in bridging the gap between locals and security personnel more efficiently.
Under the project christened ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force, who have till now been spending funds on small projects and development activities which included building small bridges and roads, implementing drinking water and irrigation schemes, etc., can now spend Rs.20 crore per annum, on welfare activities directed at individuals and families under the revised guidelines.
h. Roshani Scheme (Ministry of Rural Development):
It is a placement linked skill development scheme targeting 50,000 rural men and women, mostly the tribal population, in 24 worst affected districts. It emphasizes on special efforts to proactively cover the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) on a priority basis.
Administrative Hurdles in Dealing with Left Wing Extremism:
a. Poor infrastructure, lack of communication and shortage of trained manpower are key problems in fighting with Maoists.
b. Due to lack of infrastructural growth, there is clear absence of routine administration in these areas which allows Maoists to run camps, collect taxes and extort money from all industries and infrastructure companies working in their area. Thus, Maoists conduct a virtual parallel government. The Dandakaranya region straddles different states. It gives the Maoists a distinct advantage.
c. Interstate boundaries are fissures which are being exploited by Maoists. There is poor coordination among various state police forces. The interstate injunctions are the worst affected.
d. There is also lack of professionalism and proper understanding between central forces and state police.
e. Differences in policies of state governments regarding surrenders, talks and policing strategy are also exploited by the Maoists. Pressure in one state allows easy movement into another. It happened during Operation Greyhound which was very successful in Andhra Pradesh.
It had almost eliminated Naxalites in the state but they made an easy escape to adjoining states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha. Had the operation been supported by all these states at that time, naxalism would at least have been eliminated in the Dandakaranya region.
f. Besides this, since many rebels are recruited from among the tribals, they have a built-in advantage over the security forces. Even though government forces outnumber the rebels and have greater resources at their disposal, they frequently fall prey to devastating attacks in remote areas.
g. The state police is poorly equipped and trained and is short of manpower, while the central forces apparently lack commitment and motivation.
The Way Forward to Fight against Naxalism:
Naxalism is not merely a law and order issue. The phenomenon of naxalism is directly related to under-development. It is not a coincidence that the tribal areas are the main battleground of left wing extremism today. Exploitation, artificially depressed wages, inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under-developed agriculture, geographical isolation, lack of land reforms, all contribute significantly to the growth of the naxalite movement.
All these factors have to be taken into consideration as we evolve solutions for facing the challenge. History tells us that masses do not want to associate with non-violent people. They are generally peace loving. It is only due to circumstances that they are forced to adopt a path of violence.
Naxalism is not the problem; rather it is the symptom of a problem. Why doesn’t Naxalism flourish in the markets of Gujarat, the fields of Punjab or in the IT parks of Gurgaon and Hyderabad? Why is Maoist ideology succeeding in Nepal when it is failing in China? The answer is obvious.
In the places that left wing extremism succeeds, people are relatively poor, they face oppression from various segments of society, and the government is indifferent to their plight with little prospects of things getting better in the future. Left wing extremism fails when the reverse is true.
To eliminate naxalism, it is not enough to eliminate their leaders, imprison their rank and file or arrange for mass surrenders of men and weapons. You do all of that and you can still fail; new leaders will rise, the cadres will return and weapons are easy enough to get.
To truly eliminate naxalism, we must undercut their raison d’etre, their reason for existence. While their methods may be abhorrent, most of their goals (apart from overthrowing the government) are not. Therefore, the government must fulfil their goals for them. If they have nothing to fight for, they will not fight.
Electricity and running water are virtually non-existent in remote areas of the Red Corridor. The absence of basic necessities has produced opportunities for the naxalites to provide services to local residents, such as irrigation systems. The infrastructure that does exist has long been a target of the naxalites – power plants, schools, and phone and rail lines have all been attacked.
This gives credence to the central government’s assertion that security needs to be established before development can come. This is a contentious issue among affected states, which argue that the naxalites would be able to attract fewer new recruits if basic needs are met on a more acceptable basis.
The fight against naxalism has to be long and persistent. There must be multi-pronged composite strategy to deal with it. Developmental initiatives should follow security forces’ action closely. Otherwise, success of security operations will not sustain for long.
We can broadly divide the strategy as follows:
1. Development Strategy:
The following steps should be taken to wean away the masses from the influence of naxalism:
i. Special focus on political security and accelerated socio-economic development in a holistic manner
ii. Better infrastructure like roads, electricity and communication in core naxal areas
iii. Political parties must strengthen their cadre base in naxal areas so that potential youth can be weaned away from the path of naxal ideology
iv. Affirmative action by state
v. Decentralization and participative democracy
vi. Coordination among different departments of state to ensure holistic development.
vii. Coordination between police and different state departments
viii. Coordination and implementation of schemes of different central ministries, especially the Integrated Action Plan for 82 districts and Road Requirement Plan for 34 districts.
ix. Coordination and implementation of various development schemes, flagship programmes and distribution of titles under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, in left wing extremism affected states.
2. Security Strategy:
Those who are hardcore ideologues and whose only purpose is to overthrow the state have to be dealt sternly with the policy of bullet-for-bullet. We have to wean away peace loving common people from the hardcore naxalites as these people do not want development. They use underdevelopment and governance deficit as a means to achieve their selfish goals. Operation Greyhound of Andhra Pradesh has shown a professional way to handle the naxal menace.
Some broad points of security strategy are given as follows:
i. Professional dominance by security forces
ii. Primacy of state police at all levels augmented state police strength, up gradation and capacity building of local state police
iii. Increasing the number of security forces in the strongholds of the Naxals
iv. Local police infrastructure should be developed with more thanas, chowkis, posts and battalions. Thanas and chowkis should be strategically located and well-functional
v. Modernization of weapons and technical equipment
vi. Improvement of communication systems and electronic surveillance systems
vii. Special training to police personnel
viii. Formation of specially trained special task forces on the pattern of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh
ix. Special emphasis on strengthening of local intelligence units of the affected states
x. Since it is an inter-state problem, the states should adopt a collective approach and pursue a coordinated response to counter it
xi. Promote local resistance groups on lines of ‘village defence committees’ (VDC) in Jammu and Kashmir
xii. Inter-state police coordination, especially in Dandakaranya region
xiii. Better command, control and coordination between state and central forces
xiv. Tightening of control on availability of explosives
xv. Posting of competent and motivated police officers in LWE affected areas and subsequent incentives for choice postings and suitable reward packages.
3. Psychological Operations:
The following measures should be implemented:
i. Effective and persistent psychological operations must be launched to delegitimize the movement
ii. Media and public perception management
iii. Administration to engage with public at large, civil society, NGOs to restore people’s faith and confidence in the government machinery
4. Other Measures:
The following measures should additionally be implemented:
i. Cutting financial support to the naxal movement
ii. The doors for peace talks should always be open
iii. There should be genuine attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people
iv. Time-bound conviction of arrested cadre must be ensured through vital reforms in criminal justice system
v. Effective surrender and rehabilitation policy ensuring proper safety and care of their families
vi. Better adherence to the law legislated for protection and development of tribals
5. A Few Success Stories in the Fight against Naxalism:
i. Story of Sandesh (Bihar):
Sandesh block in Bihar has seen gradual elimination of Naxalites. Sandesh comes under Bhojpur district. There are 11 panchayats under the block. A grassroots’ view of the end of naxal dominance in panchayats of Sandesh block would be illuminating. Naxalism in Bihar started from two blocks of Bihar. Sandesh was one of them. The other adjoining block was Sahar. The most important factor which proved instrumental in dismantling naxal dominance was the Panchayat elections initiated in Bihar.
In the panchayat elections of the year 2000, six panchayats had Maoist mukhiyas. The second panchayat elections were held in 2006. It was the first important signal of the growing unpopularity of Maoists in the villages. It also created a significant distance between the Maoist leaders and the local community.
The process of social cohesion against the Maoists started in many panchayats of Sandesh block. This new attitude of the social order forced sympathizers of naxalites to mend their ways or leave the villages. Social pressure forced many naxalites to switch over to farming and shed off their association with naxal outfits. Gradually, Sandesh block grew relatively free from naxal violence.
ii. The Aasdwar Project in Jehanabad (Bihar):
There are many initiatives started by the Bihar government to curb naxal movement in Jehanabad district which remained in the news for naxal violence for more than two decades. One such is the Aasdwar Project in Jehanabad district. The scheme is currently underway in five Naxalite affected panchayats of the district. These are Sikariya, Sewanan, Mandebigha, Surungpur-Bhawanichak and Jamuk, all in Sadar block.
Villages under these five panchayats are witnessing a flurry of development activities on a war footing. The state government has come out with a liberal package of welfare schemes under Aasdwar, including construction of cement lanes, drains, chaupals and link roads worth Rs. 29 crore. Other works include construction of buildings for schools and Aanganwadi centres, culverts and individual toilets.
The government has also taken some affirmative action in respect of forest rights (Forest Act 2008), displacement (R&R Policy), livelihoods (NREGA), etc. The people, at large, seem to have embraced the state’s Aasdwar programme in a big way. So, as this case study amplifies, Naxalism can be defeated and eliminated by the process of development and a new social order but the change has to come from within.
iii. AP Greyhounds Model:
Andhra Pradesh had shown a model for controlling naxalism. Though the ‘Greyhounds’ naxal fighting force was its main element, infrastructure development and effective surrender and rehabilitation policy have also proved effective. The model was so successful that all the Naxalite leaders were forced to leave Andhra Pradesh and try new hideouts in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
Key elements in the Andhra Pradesh model:
i. Effective surrender and rehabilitation policy
ii. Culture of police leadership
iii. Infrastructure development
iv. Sound knowledge of local terrain
v. Grass roots involvement in anti-Naxal operations
vi. Incentives to police for good work
vii. Superior intelligence, coordination and assessment
viii. Operations based on local intelligence