Naxalite Problem

Author: Lieutenant General KM Seth, PVSM, AVSM (Retd)

Period: January 2005 - March 2005

Naxalite Problem

Lieutenant General KM Seth, PVSM, AVSM (Retd)

INTRODUCTION

The ‘Naxalite Problem’, till date has not found favour for serious discussion, primarily because it has never been treated as an issue which deserved national attention and was treated as a socio-economic problem or at best a law and order problem of the concerned state government. Unfortunately, the threat to internal security from Naxalites has acquired dangerous proportions and can no longer be wished away. Today they also resort to killings, kidnappings, abduction, extortion, improvised explosive device (IED) blasts and destruction of property. They have developed linkages with other terrorist organisations like the Maoist (Nepal), United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka for training and procurement of modern weapons. There are reliable reports that in one of our neighbouring countries, top leadership of People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), recently met under the aegis of an intelligence agency. It is alleged that they are also developing links with Turkish and Philippines terrorist organisations. The developing threat from Naxalites has very serious security implications for the country. 

As it is, India has been a major victim of externally sponsored insurgencies and terrorism for the last four decades. We have suffered and bled patiently and have taken huge human casualties, which could exceed 13,000 uniformed personnel and 53,000 civilians during the last 25 years. Inspite of raising our voice at all international forums, seeking extradition of terrorists involved in some of the major ‘terrorist strikes’ in our country, we have failed to get any favourable response or worthwhile support from the international community or from the countries directly or indirectly supporting such activities. Inspite of committing bulk of our para military forces and a sizeable segment of the Army, we are no where near resolving these problems. 

All of us have been involved in maintaining ‘National Security’ i.e. the integrity and sovereignty of the country, which, in the current environment is threatened by internal as well as external threats. The dividing line between internal and external threats is getting blurred with every passing day, since the possibilities of armies of any country invading other’s frontiers are rather remote. Instead, the external threat has acquired new form in which it is being replaced by cross border terrorism, global terrorism, illegal infiltration and migration, narco terrorism or even the looming threat of biological and nuclear terrorism. These together with prevailing internal environment in the country, pose a serious threat to our security. 

Ever since we attained independence, our porous borders have been exploited by neighbouring countries, through illegal infiltration, cross border terrorism, smuggling of arms and explosives, narcotics trade and counterfeit currency. Since early 1950s we have faced insurgency in our North Eastern States (Map 1). Some of them are still raging. Since 1989 we are facing serious cross border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J and K). As far as the Naxalite problem is concerned its origin dates back to 1967, which had a roller coaster ride ever since, but has, during the last few years, particularly after the perceived success of the Nepali Maoist movement gained momentum and has spread its tentacles into 157 districts covering 12 states of the country (Map 1). Into this picture if we add various militant organisations providing young men to various ‘sleeping cells’ of Al Qaeda (Map1), the very face of our country looks scary. But this happens to be the factual internal environment and we all have to brace up to resolve these issues as early as possible.

LEFT WING EXTREMISM
 

Genesis

Left wing extremism, which is commonly referred to as ‘Naxalite Problem’ commenced in 1967 from a small village Naxalbari (Silliguri division of West Bengal), which was extensively reported even by the then Peking Radio as the “Peasants Armed Struggle” by the revolutionaries of the Indian Communist Party. Naxalbari uprising was spearheaded by Shri Charu Mazumdar, who is now accepted as their founder. Around the same time i.e., 1967-68 Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh (AP) was engulfed by Srikakulam uprising by the farmers, which became the flash point for the start of Naxalite movement in AP. Large number of educated young men and women who got attracted towards the revolutionary ideology and philosophy of Mao and Marxism joined the movement. The movement in West Bengal was swiftly controlled using the Army, Central Para Military Forces (CPMF) and West Bengal Armed Police and through pragmatic and successful land reforms. However, in AP the movement, witnessed regular ups and downs, depending on the attitude of the respective governments. The spread and steady growth of the Naxalite movement in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhatisgarh, Maharastra, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand is due to the exploitation and oppression of Dalits, Adivasis and landless people by feudal agrarian system with strong interface of caste and class. It is a pity that mine owners, contractors and forest mafia are using Naxalites to extract money from the corporate world, big companies, merchants, businessmen and even government officials. It is assessed that between PWG and MCC they are able to collect between Rs 500 to Rs 700 crores annually. This provides easy source of money to Naxalites, to buy arms and manage their affairs. Apart from the easily available money, the total absence of developmental activities including virtual absence of healthcare, drinking water, electricity, roads, tracks and educational facilities have further alienated the people living in the interior areas from the Government machinery. This opportunity was quickly seized by Naxalites to discredit the capability of the Government and failure of the parliamentary democratic system of governance to bring succour to the poor and deprived. All this helped Naxalites to spread and get control over the people through Jana-Adalats, organising petty developmental and cultural activities. Their stated aim and objective is to “bring about social and economic change through armed revolution and establish revolutionary democracy.”

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Very little is known or documented about the Naxalites. They do not belong to any particular religion, or community, but largely are Dalits and Adivasis or are from the marginalised sections of the society. They are led by people totally indoctrinated by the teachings of Mao and Marx. They have organised themselves on the pattern of classical communist governance system and have rejected the parliamentary system of governance and capitalist philosophy. As shown in Figure 1, they have a 21 member Central Committee, and a seven member Politburo with three Regional Bureaus i.e., Central, North Eastern and South Western which provide them the ideological support and guidance. As far as their armed wing is concerned, they have zonal committees, each of these have few divisions (company equivalent) and Dalams (platoon equivalent). At village level they have what is known as ‘Sangam’-these are over ground active supporters who are ideologically committed to their cause. In addition they have large number of frontal organisations like All India People’s Revolutionary Front and a very effective propaganda outfit.

A total of 39 left wing extremist groups are known to exist, of which PWG and MCC are two main groups, accounting for more then 85 per cent of the violence in the country. On 15 October 2004, they announced merger of their two major groups, PWG and MCC into one entity i.e. Communist Party of India – CPI (Maoist), a dangerous signal because this would lead to increased and coordinated violence. As of today their overall strength could be put to approximately 20,000 under grounds (UGs), 50,000 over grounds and more than a lakh in frontal organisations. Their armoury is reported to comprise approximately 900 AK-47 rifles, 200 light machine guns, 100 grenade firing rifles, 2 inch mortars, thousands of .303 rifles, self loading rifles and 12 bore guns with a huge quantity of explosives at their disposal.

Demands of the Naxalites

What do the Naxalites want? There is no doubt that their ideology is anti-democratic and against our constitution. A resolution passed by the Central Committee of the PWG, in 1980 gives some indication towards this:

Homogenous contiguous forested area around Bastar Division (since divided into Bastar, Dantewada and Kanker Districts of Chhatisgarh) and adjoining areas of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, East Godavari Districts of AP, Chandrapur and Garchehiroli district of Maharastra, Balaghat districts of MP, Malkagiri and Koraput districts of Orissa would comprise the area of Dandakarnaya which would be liberated and used as base for spreading peoples democratic revolution.

 

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Dandakaryna and Abhujmadh

The heart of this so-called Dandakaranya area is the thickly forested area of ‘Abhujmadh’ which is approximately 10,000 square kilometres – larger than the state of Tripura. Bulk of this i.e. 7,000 square kilometres falls in Chhatisgarh and remainder is contiguous area in Maharastra. This entire area of Abhujmadh till date has not been surveyed either by Survey of India or through any revenue survey. Nearly 20,000 tribal families live in this area, in 237 villages in a most primitive manner with virtually no basic amenities. There are no roads and tracks in this area. The Naxalites treat it as a totally liberated area. It is reliably learnt that more than a dozen training and logistic camps belonging to both the major groups i.e. PWG and MCC are located inside. Abhujmadh area is extensively used by Naxalites for their Central Committee and Politburo meetings and is really the ‘nerve centre’ of all Naxalite activities. This area of Abhujmadh needs to be sanitised at the earliest, then surveyed and opened by launching aggressive developmental activities and brought under control through effective governance. This effort is beyond the reach of the State Government and would require specialised forces, equipment and air effort to have any chance of success where even the British Empire did not dare to extend their administration, who only went to the extent of declaring this in one of their Gazetteers, an area suitable for settling ‘Refugees’. 

Spread of Naxalites

A new challenge to our national security is fast emerging on the country’s horizon in the shape of Naxalite problem, its phenomenal growth and spread into 12 of our states. It defies justification. They seem to be drawing their inspiration from the Maoist uprising in Nepal, which has provided them new zeal and motivation to replicate the same in India. They are becoming more and more belligerent in Central and South India. The Maoist of Nepal and their ideological brothers PWG and MCC seem determined to carve out what they call “Compact Revolutionary Zone” (Map 2) extending from Nepal through Bihar and then to Dandakarnaya regions extending upto Tamil Nadu to give them access to the Bay of Bengal as well as the Indian Ocean. This corridor has dangerous potentials and must never be allowed to be established. The recent merger of two biggest and most powerful Maoist rebel organisations, i.e. PWG and MCCI into CPI (Maoist), and merger of their guerrilla armies into a single entity as ‘People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army’ (PLGA) is a sign of things to come. At the time of merger announcement on 15 October 2004, Shri Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramkrishna (PWG) and Ganapthy (MCC) the two topmost leaders stated their objective:

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The merged outfit will build a powerful revolutionary movement and will continue it’s fight against social repression, inequality in South Asia and spread its views in the entire world.

To give an idea of their current reach and strength which the two, i.e. PWG and MCC have independently demonstrated through violent incidents, i.e. ambush of Shri Chandrababu Naidu, former Chief Minister (CM) of AP by PWG and daring raid by MCC on the Armed Police armoury at Koraput District Headquarters in Southern Orissa on 6 February 2004, in which they took away nearly 500 rifles, 35 stenguns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition and major communication equipment. On 5 January 2005, they killed the Superintendent of Police (SP) Munger and six policemen and took away their weapons. Between them during the period 1960 to 2004, through approximately 17,000 Naxalite violent incidents and 143 landmine blasts, they have claimed approximately 5,820 lives of which 2,565 are Naxalites, 2,722 civilians and 527 policemen. This growing monster must be checked before it is too late.

ROAD AHEAD

We need to approach the problem of Naxalism in a holistic manner. Any attempt to apply the template either of J and K or North Eastern states is bound to be doomed. The very nature and causes are totally different from those which have given rise to this new problem. For instance, in North Eastern states, Nagaland, Assam and Manipur are seeking sovereign status due to their hurt psyche and ethnic identity consciousness. Whereas in J and K, it is altogether a different story. The Naxalite problem is being spearheaded by ideologically indoctrinated leadership wherein land reforms and developmental issues affecting Dalits and Tribals are at the centre stage. A pragmatic approach for land reforms can play a significant role as was evident in West Bengal where their successful implementation virtually extinguished the Naxalbari uprising between 1967 and 1971. The redistribution of agricultural land in China, South Korea and Japan was 43 per cent, 32 per cent and 33 per cent respectively to ensure equidistribution of land to tillers. Compared to this only 1.25 per cent of the cultivable land was redistributed during the last five decades in India. This leaves a lot to be desired in coming years. As would be evident that Naxalite problem does not have any issue peculiar to any specific state, it should, therefore, be tackled through a unified approach under common directions and guidelines, which need to be framed with the active participation of all the affected states who can then pursue it individually in accordance with their socio-political and economic compulsions. A move, towards this approach has already been made by the Home Minister, when he held a meeting of all the Chief Ministers of affected states on 21 September 2004 at Hyderabad. All the states have been advised to initiate peace talks on the pattern of AP with necessary assistance from the Central Government to modernise their police force to meet the emerging challenge. This has been followed by meeting of the Directors General of Police and Home Secretaries of affected states in Chhatisgarh at Raipur on 8 January 2005 to work out ground level operational coordination. 

Peace Talks

After the new Government in AP was sworn in, the PWG demanded unconditional talks and lifting of the ban on their organisation. In early part of June 2004 the Government of AP extended an invitation for talks and simultaneously ordered stopping of combat operations by the police. Naxalites responded by announcing a ceasefire for three months which the government reciprocated. Subsequently, a 12 year ban on the PWG was lifted in July 2004, and peace process commenced with the announcement of emissaries from both sides. Differences on carriage of arms by Naxalites threatened the peace talks but finally AP Government permitted them to carry arms during direct talks. Government of AP invited leaders of PWG and Janshakti for direct talks from 15 October 2004, and assured them safe passage with the status of state guests. Three top leaders of PWG and two of Janshakti came over-ground on 12 October 2004 at Guntur District.

General Secretary of the CPML-PWG, Shri Ramakrishna made some significant public announcements immediately after he came over ground, which clearly gives out the mind set of CPI (Mao):

…Talks are with a purpose to force the Government to address the pressing problems of the people, we do not believe that suffering masses can be liberated through negotiations.

                                                      and

…Capturing power and liberating people from the clutches of exploitative capitalists ruling classes. Using the Dandakaranya regions (declared by Naxalites as the liberated zone) as a lever we will liberate the people of this country to establish people’s rule.

I do not wish to comment on these statements since the talks have not formally broken down, though the State Government has not extended the ceasefire which expired in December 2004. Most of the items included in the agenda relate to welfare and development of the deprived people, no one can fault these and every chance must be given for the talks to succeed. The items included in agenda are:-

(a)

Land distribution and development of agricultural sector.

(b)

Self reliance.

(c)

State to be free from the influence of World Bank policies.

(d)

Restoration of democratic rights of the people.

(e)

Social justice to the Dalits.

(f)

Equal rights to women.

(g)

Autonomy to the tribals.

(h)

Resolution of all problems of the minorities.

(j)

Creation of Telangana state.

(k)

Development of coastal Andhra and Rayaseema region.

(l)

Prohibition in the state.

(m)

Improvement of education and health facilities.

(n)

Eradication of corruption.

Naxalism is based on rejection of path of parliamentary democracy. They are committed to armed struggle to lead the revolutionary movement aimed at securing land for the tiller and establishment of egalitarian society with economic independence. Some stiff and populist statements must be viewed as strategic pronouncements for political manoeuvring to create political space during the talks. During the four days of talks, the main issues discussed revolved around the following :-

(a)

Redistribution of land around Hyderabad.

(b)

Withdrawal of cases against PWG extremists.

(c)

Withdrawal of awards on the head of leaders of PWG.

(d)

Release of all political prisoners.

The cease-fire has not been extended and there are indications of resumption of operations by Andhra Police against the CPI (Mao), as well as in the immediate future resorting to violence by the Naxalites. The offer of second round of talks by the Government of AP on 19 January 2005 has been rejected by the Naxalites in view of the encounters and operations by the ‘Grey Hounds’ of Andhra Police against them. This has put the Andhra Government and Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TSR) its coalition partner in an awkward situation. 

Action Plan

The following steps are recommended:-

(a)

Ongoing peace talks in AP must be given full support and minor irritants need to be ignored.

(b)

Such peace talks are utilised by undergrounds to consolidate and arm themselves. Although this aspect merits consideration but at the present juncture, should be subjugated to the overall need for talks to succeed. However, security forces should be free to operate in self-defence and to curb open defiance of law.

(c)

Successful outcome of these talks will have a positive outcome in all other states since the leadership and aims and objectives are the same.

(d) Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar should initiate sincere efforts for peace talks to forestall any adverse fallout of current talks by engaging the Naxalites simultaneously.
(e) However, if the talks fail, we must be fully prepared to take on this problem with speed and resolve to check their growth and eventually force them to come to terms with the establishment. For this contingency plans must be prepared to include :-
 

(i)

A multipronged strategy to combat the Naxalite problem at political, psychological, socio-economic and military levels.

(ii)

Lack of development breeds and fuels insurgent movement. Inspite of opposition by Naxalites, developmental activities like construction of roads to open up interior areas, provision of drinking water, electricity, basic health care and effective distribution system of daily needs must be launched at priority in all 157 affected districts simultaneously in a fixed time frame and with independent monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance.

(iii)

Speedy and pragmatic implementation of land reforms.

(iv)

Modernisation of state armed and normal police force, including provision of protected vehicles to counter threat of land mines.

(v)

Simultaneously, Abhujmadh area must be sanitised by launching integrated operations under a unified command, whose jurisdiction should be restricted within the geographical boundaries of the area of Abhujmadh. A central task force should be placed under this unified command to clear up the entire area within a specified time. The launching of this operation should, however, await the outcome of the AP-CPI (Maoist) talks.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Naxalism today symbolises terrorism in a form which has not yet received any concrete definition. People call Naxalites a group of extremist with no belief in parliamentary democracy and in our constitution. Coming together of the two major Naxalite groups under one banner of CPI (Maoist) is a very significant and dangerous development. The phenomenal speed with which Naxalism is growing and has already spread to 12 States and 157 districts has serious implications for our security concerns and needs to be addressed at priority.

———————————————————————-

Lieutenant General KM Seth, PVSM, AVSM (Retd) is a former Adjutant General. He is currently the Governor of Chhatisgarh.

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