Red Salute: India’s Maoist Maelstrom and Evolving Counterinsurgency Doctrines

Red Salute: India’s Maoist Maelstrom and Evolving Counterinsurgency Doctrines

Sajid Farid Shapoo

One Mahsud tribesman aptly described to me their tactics as being like that of the hawk. The hawk flies high in the sky, out of danger; he flies round and round until he sees his prey and then he swoops down on it for one mighty strike and when he has got his prey, he does not wait around, he flies off at once to some far off quiet place where he can enjoy what he has got[i].”

It was a usual summer afternoon in the dense tropical forests of Jheeram Ghati (valley) of Darbha Division in Chhattisgarh; hot and humid with thick canopy of trees blocking the sunlight, making it appear already like dusk*. Kiran, along with his other comrades had been sitting on an ambush site for the last seven days. Just a day ago they had received information about some senior members of Indian National Congress, a prominent political party, who would be travelling through Darbha, on their way back from electioneering. The Maoists usually avoid targeting political leaders unless directed by top leadership, the Central Committee. But one name would drive Kiran and his comrades to take matters in their own hand and launch an attack. The name was Mahendra Karma, a former minister in Chhattisgarh Government and the founder of Salwa Judum. Salwa Judum was a pro state, tribal auxiliary defense militia, which few years ago, had become an important part of state’s COIN strategy and tactics. Salwa Judum meaning ‘Purification hunt’ was raised by Mahendra Karma in 2005 by drawing in local tribal youths and surrendered Maoists. Their arrival on the COIN scenario was seen by many as a game changer and the tide had started to turn against the Maoist. There were however large scale accusations of murders, rapes and extortion of local tribals by the Salwa Judum members[ii]. A view upheld by Supreme Court of India, when it banned the Salwa Judum in 2011.[iii] Though the ambush as a part of annual ‘Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign’ of Communist Party of India (Maoist) was originally planned to attack the security forces, the opportunity to target Mahendra Karma, was enough for Maoists to quickly recalibrate their strategy[iv]. On May 25th 2013, Kiran and his comrades attacked the convoy killing around 28 people including Mahendra Karma. To the surprise of Maoists there were other senior party leaders also in the convoy, including Nand Kumar Patel, former Home Minister of Chhattisgarh and Vidya Charan Shukla former union minister, all of whom were killed in the attack.

The attack was perhaps the single most devastating strike that Maoists had carried out against political leaders, killing almost the entire top brass of Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh[v]. The attack was carried by skillful use of guerrilla tactic, first by initiating IED blasts to blow the front vehicles. Once the convoy was immobilized, the insurgents swooped down from the nearby hills firing at the convoy. None amongst the two dozen security personnel accompanying the convoy could react or was given a chance to react[vi].

The Darbha attack, as it was revealed later, was not a pre planned attack on the political leadership. The opportunity to strike at Mahendra Karma, led to a quick yet successful recalibration of the strategy. The attack was planned and executed by the local Darbha Division of the CPI (Maoist). There were around 40 to 50 insurgents aided by around 100 men and women belonging to local tribal militia[vii]. After the attack the insurgents like true guerrilla hawks quickly retreated back into the jungles and left the area. The members of the militia went back to their daily routine. The attack again reinforced certain key strengths of the insurgents which include i) robust and efficient intelligence network ii) devolution of authority to the local committees iii) ability to quickly readjust their strategy iv) extensive support from local tribes and ability to organize them into tribal militia for short term tactical purposes and v) domination of local landscape.

The Darbha attack was an appropriate reminder of why the Maoist insurgency has repeatedly been called India’s biggest internal security challenge[viii]. This paper is an attempt to understand this very challenge. The paper intends to trace back the origins of Maoist movements in India which would help in putting the current stream of insurgency in perspective. This is followed by understanding the current insurgency with its strategy and tactics. Besides delving deep into the COIN strategies adopted by Indian security forces and the raging debates about it, I have also made an attempt to analyze a success model in the form of Andhra Pradesh’s COIN campaign. I have concluded with a brief analysis of the problem.

Guerrilla on the Scene: History of Maoism in India

The early Maoist hawks emerged around the same time when Mehsud tribes were hunting their prey in Kashmir. The initial Maoist strands can be traced back to a peasant rebellion in Telegana in the erstwhile Nizam state of Hyderabad in 1947.In April 1948, a dissident faction of the Communist Party of India (CPI) was responsible for organizing the peasants in the Telangana region and adopted Maoism as both its goal and strategy[ix]. The Telangana movement was a result of acute agrarian stress caused by exploitation of poor peasants and tribals by the landlords (Jagirdars and deshmukhs). The peasants and tribals were perpetually in debt and many committed suicides when the harassment of Jagirdars and Deshmuks became intolerable[x]. This movement laid down the framework of principals and strategies which the future communist insurgencies would also adopt. The CPI, in 1950, laid down the principles insurgency in India which I will discuss later in the paper. Suffice to say that Indian communists very early in their struggle had adopted the Mao’s idealogy of ‘People’s War’ as their mode of struggle. There was widespread violence both by the rebels and the state. The movement resulted in deaths of thousands of tribals and peasants. This movement ended in early fifties partly as a result of strong government action and also the decision of CPI to take part in the first electoral process of the independent India[xi].

Naxalbari Rebellion

In 1967, Communist Party of India (Maoist Leninst) headed by Charu Majumdar, took the cause of agricultural laborers and sharecroppers against the repressive policies of ‘Jotedars’  (nonagricultural landlords) and started an armed insurgency in Naxalbari district of West Bengal. The widespread ideological appeal of the Naxalbari movement, is the reason, why the name ‘Naxal’ has survived till today and is commonly used in addressing the Maoist insurgents. The exploitative policies of these ‘Jotedars’ had resulted in chronic indebtedness of the share croppers and agricultural laborers.  The insurgency with its growing ideological appeal soon spread to other areas including Calcutta (Kolkata) where the university students took the cause of these laborers and started an urban armed insurgency against the state government. The Naxalite movement began to spread both vertically amongst sections of students/educated middle class and horizontally across other states. There were insurgent leaders who aspired to create liberated zones and what they called ‘turning India into little Vietnams’[xii].The aim was to start a prairie fire as envisaged by Mao, which would spread to entire India setting it ablaze with revolutionary war. The success of movement seemed imminent to the communists as one Chinese Newspaper reported in July 1967 “Although the course of the Indian revolutionary struggle will be long and tortuous, the Indian revolution guided by great Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong’s Thought, will surely triumph”[xiii].

How ever the aim and aspirations fell flat as insurgents failed to create a mass support for the movement. The leaders of the movement had assessed that the insurgency, in Mao’s words, would act as a spark which would set the entire prairie in flames[xiv]. The leaders of the movement failed to appreciate that the success of Mao’s movement was predicated on the support of the population.

The government responded with heavy use of force. Leaders of the movement were arrested. The tactics adopted by rebels were anything but guerrilla. These minimally trained revolutionaries were no match to the government forces[xv]. The movement was slowly marginalized and was all but crushed in 1972 by a concerted COIN campaign by West Bengal police with the help of central government. The fire had been doused but embers remained. These embers in the form of Charu’s supporters travelled to other parts of country in a bid to ignite the next prairie fire.

Spreading Prairie Fire: Buildup to the Next Phase

The Naxalbari movement was to inspire future generations of Indian left wing extremist. The ideology of ‘People’s war’ spread to other states. Though the Naxalbari uprising was a localized affair but it “marked an advance for the people of India as the Paris Commune had marked an advance for the world proletariat[xvi].”

Some of the comrades of Charu Mazumdar took the revolutionary ideas of Naxalbari movement with them to Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh and started mobilizing the masses for an impending struggle. These comrades realized the importance of mass mobilization, which the Naxalbari leaders had neglected. They formed a ‘Central Organizing Group’ (COG) for this purpose.  Telangana had a history of left inspired struggles which started with Telangana movement of 1948. There was another communist backed peasant uprising in Srikakulam district in 1960s.  In 1980 Kondapalli Seetharamaih broke away from COG and formed CPI (ML) People’s War Group (PWG). He started amass mobilization campaign which included setting up of ‘Forest Committees’ which would mobilize tribals in the jungle areas and ‘Regional Committees’ for the plains areas. By mid eighties the PWG cadres indulged in large scale violence and started targeting the government machinery.

The state responded with escalating its counterinsurgency operations. The state government banned PWG in 1992. In two years more than 350 insurgents were killed and around 3000 members and sympathizers were arrested. PWG was also marred by internal strife and there was a split in the party with Kondapally Seetharamaiah being replaced by Mupalla Laxmana Rao alias Ganapathy, as general secretary. How ever the low period of the movement was not to remain for long, it would make a comeback few years later and this time more sinister than ever.

Apart from Telengana , the Naxalite movement post Naxalbari had spread to other states mainly Bihar and Chattisgarh. In the state of Bihar, Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) was the most prominent naxal group. The unique feature of naxal violence was attacks on the caste lines. Between 1987 and 1992, MCC killed more than 300 people belonging to upper castes[xvii]. MCC tried to project this caste based violence as class conflicts. It is true that in a highly stratified caste based society of Bihar, the caste invariably reflects the class but not always. What began as a fight for socioeconomic justice, degenerated into inter-caste clashes in Bihar.

Present Phase: The Big Challenge

During the decade of 80s and 90s, left extremist parties always tried to keep their armed component subordinate to the political wing. This had resulted in poor mobilization of armed insurgents. Rampant factionalism within the Maoists in the 90s also impacted their capability. The ‘people’s war’ could be fought only with a properly equipped People’s Liberation Army. The PWG realized this shortcoming and started laying emphasis on militarization of its armed component. The first step towards adoption of Mao’s strategy was taken by PWG in 2000 when they decided to set up a People’s Guerrilla Army. The aim was “to strengthen the political power of the people and to defeat the efforts of the State and the Central Governments to check the revolutionary movement[xviii].”

In 2004 the insurgents took a monumental decision which changed the course of Maoist insurgency in India and transformed it into India’s biggest internal security challenge. The PWG and MCC merged and formed CPI (Maoist) with Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathy as its General secretary. A year before the official announcement of the merger, the Maoists had started coming together and launching attacks on the police and security forces. The convergence of resources and efforts on one hand boosted party’s ability to mobilize the masses and on the other, it enhanced the striking capability of its armed wing. The result was quantitatively massive upsurge in the Maoist violence. In the last 12 years more than 2000 security force members have been killed[xix].

In the year of their merger, Maoist launched one of their most daring attacks in Koraput district of Orissa. A group of 300 Maoist staged a meticulous attack on several government establishments including police stations, the district jail and the office of the Superintendent of Police. The insurgents killed about 30 people and decamped with a huge cache of arms and ammunitions. Some 1100 weapons were looted from the police armory which included AK-47s and Self Loading Rifles thus translating Mao’s idea of “state’s armory is our armory[xx].” 

The Maoist influence has gradually extended over large parts of the country. Addressing the police chiefs of the country on 15 September 2009, the Indian home minister stated that ‘Maoist ideology had its pockets of influence in 20 states across the country, and that over 2,000 police station areas in 223 districts in these states were partially or substantially affected by the menace’[xxi].

Biggest Internal Security Challenge: Various Dimensions

Maoist violence has spread to more than one third of the country. Government data reveals that a total of 802 members of security forces have been killed in various insurgent related incidents in last five years where as the number of insurgents killed by security forces in the same period stands at 494[xxii]. This shows a better kill ratio in favor of insurgents. The number of civilian casualties were 2162 between 2010 and 2015. There were more than 6500 Maoist related incidents in the same period[xxiii]. These are huge numbers. Adding to these grim statistics are the worrying trends of spread of the movement. Maoist activities were witnessed in 203 Districts of 20 States in 2011, the latest government figures of 2015 show Maoist incidents in more than dozen states, which does give the impression that a third of the country’s area is under some sort of Maoist influence. Apart from their traditional strongholds in Central India, Maoists are seriously involved in mobilization activities in parts of Assam, Punjab and the southern states.

Maoist violence over the last decade has witnessed increased sophistication both in strategy and tactics. They have been able to upgrade their arsenal both quality and numbers. Their arms match those of counter insurgents, in fact are similar as majority of these have been looted from the state armories. One dictum of Mao, which his revolutionary followers in India have operationally translated with increasing success is that “state’s armory is our armory”. The attacks as a result have become sinister, well organized and large scale. The targets are not any more the individual class enemies, it is the state itself. The security forces have suffered heavy casualties both in numbers and looting of arms. The insurgency with its vertical and horizontal proliferation is proving to be India’s biggest internal security challenge.

Evolution of Maoist Strategy and Tactics

Very early in their evolution, the Indian communist parties recognized the appeal and applicability of Maoist doctrine to Indian settings. Mao’s ‘Protracted People War’ carried more currency than the Lenin’s urban class revolution.

The present Maoist strategy is based on the doctrinal document, it released in 2004 after the creation of CPI (Maoist). The document named, Strategy & Tactics of The Indian Revolution in emphasized on the efforts build a ‘people’s army’, a critical component of Mao’s “protracted people’s war”[xxiv]. The protracted war, as per the document, would pass through three stages: first the ‘guerrilla warfare’, followed by ‘mobile warfare’, where the guiding principle would be “fight when you can win, retreat when you can’t” and the third stage of ‘positional warfare or the conventional war’, which would be waged face to face with the enemy.

The document underlined that a ‘people’s war’ was inconceivable without a ‘people’s army’. There fore the effort of the party, says Prakash Singh, to build and develop a ‘people’s army’ was to be of vital significance in the revolutionary movement[xxv]. The armed component, People’s Guerrilla Liberation Army (PGLA) was to remain subservient to the Centre Committee(CC), the highest decision making body of CPI (Maoist).  The PGLA  consists of three types of forces:

  1. Main Forces: These include Companies, Platoons, Special Action Teams which could move any where to participate in the war under instructions of CC. Main Forces were supposed to be better armed and include members with political consciousness and superior fighting skills.
  2. Secondary Forces: These are local guerrilla squads, special guerrilla squads, division level Action Teams who will operate in a specific area and target the enemy forces. The aim was to harass and tire the enemy forces by constant attrition.
  3. Base Forces: These are people’s militia which will include tribal militias, which should have the capacity to harass the enemy forces continuously.

On the operational front insurgents have been quick to learn from their mistakes. During the last decade, the insurgents in order to cripple the state machinery, disrupted the train services by blowing up the tracks or by high jacking trains. Having realized that disruption of such essential services was turning public opinion against them, the insurgents in the last 5 years have generally refrained from it. The attacks on railways have dropped from 31 in 2011 to just 1 in first three months of 2016[xxvi].

Changing Maoist Tactics

While guerrilla warfare in form of ambushes and other shoot and scoot methods still dominate their warfare tactics, insurgents over the years have gained considerable operational momentum across various bands of tactical spectrum. The Maoist have achieved high level of precision and sophistication in the use of IEDs and landmines. IEDs have accounted for a large chunk of security force casualty. More than 50 percent of the security force casualty is due to IEDs and landmine blasts. In a recent incident in April 2016, 7 CRPF personnel lost their lives in a landmine blast in Chhattisgarh[xxvii]. The Indian official machinery has acknowledged the improvement in Maoist weaponry and operational tactics[xxviii]. These improved tactics have enabled Maoists to inflicted heavy costs on the government. They have achieved some spectacular successes against security forces using an array of tactics. Maoists have indulged in deliberate attacks in the form of a) Camp Attacks b) Entrapment Tactics b) Mobile Warfare.

Camp Attacks: In the last one decade Maoists have launched audacious attacks on the security force (SF) camps. Most of the attacks have been on the camps which the SFs have established deep in the Maoist territory. Though Maoists have not shied away from attacking jails and district police lines, camps in remote areas have bore the brunt of such attacks. SF camps in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have witnessed a number of such attacks.

Entrapment Tactics: Maoist have been using this novel tactic with fair amount of success. A small incident is used to lure the security forces to rush to an incident side. Any lapse in following the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) is exploited by Maoist to target the forces. In 2000, a party of 30 police personnel including an Additional Superintendent of Police were killed in Chhattisgarh when they were rushing to a site of an alleged Maoist incident. They travelled without clearance from the ‘road opening parties’ and all the members of the party were killed in a landmine blast. In May 2011, a deliberate intelligence was provided to the troops to lure them into a 4 km-stretch laid with a series of mines. Along with the simultaneous blasting of explosives, a multiple formation conventional ambush was also undertaken on the troops.

Mobile Warfare:  Maoist in recent passed have exhibited their ability to engage in mobile warfare. This also has been done to convey their gradual transition towards the second phase of their struggle, the ‘mobile warfare’. Multiple PGLA companies have attempted to undertake mobile warfare tactics on SFs formations. While a paramilitary contingent was encircled in Kanker in Chhattisgarh in June 2011, another para military formation was similarly attacked the same year. These resolute and bold attacks by the Maoists have showed their ability to engage the enemy on a neutral battlefield.

India’s COIN Doctrine and Strategy: Successes and Dilemmas

India has faced insurgency right from the initial years of its independence. It may be difficult to pick a year in the last 68 years, when India was not fighting insurgency in some part or some form. Indian COIN strategies have been dynamically evolving with the context and nature of the insurgency. These strategies have evoked extreme reactions. The appraisal of Indian COIN experience varies from being branded as ‘critical failure’ to one that compliments India of “never having lost an insurgency battle”[xxix]. The ‘baiters’ broadly consider ‘India’s one size fits all’ approach key to its failure[xxx]. Where as the ‘triumph’ group attributes India’s success to its resilience in handling the insurgency movements.

India has been blamed for not having a focused COIN strategy against the Maoists. The experts believe the fact that Maoist insurgency for a long time didn’t threaten the Indian urban elite and was confined to remotest regions of India, explains India’s lackluster approach to this insurgency[xxxi]. It is only when the Maoists started to expand into urban centers and began targeting the political leadership, did India realize the magnitude of this ‘biggest Internal security challenge’. The efforts in countering Maoist insurgency have given a sense that the initial vacillation on part of India was responsible for the growth of Maoists from fringe entities to one directly challenging the state. The problem is still seen as more having socio economic dimensions than a security threat. Once the fruits of development, it is argued, will trickle down to the most deprived and marginalized, the raison de etre behind the Maoist struggle will vanish, thus leaving it rudderless.

COIN Campaigns Against Maoists: Historical Perspective

It is believed that the first wave of Counterinsurgency in Telangana outwardly adopted the classical “double pronged COIN strategy” of strong police action combined with ‘ameliorative’ development measures to win hearts and minds of local population[xxxii]. How ever it is interesting to examine that this rebellion was not even treated as an insurgency by then government. The available material indicates that the government at that time came to view this as peasant rebellion, as British Indian history witnessed many such rebellions[xxxiii].Though communist backed movement envisaged a Maoist like struggle to overthrow the powerful elite , the state response was brutal and followed the path which a COIN campaign takes. The government forces in Telangana resorted to harsh police action against the insurgents and their tribal supporters[xxxiv]. In order to rob insurgents of the local support, the state government tried to forcibly relocate tribals from their forest villages into the ‘state camps’. The idea was to a) minimize the support to insurgents and b) create employment by giving them work at the new infrastructural projects which the state had started. This forcible relocation however failed in both its objectives. It is interesting to note that counterinsurgents all over the world adopt almost similar strategies to contain insurgencies. Decades later French would resort to such relocation of locals in Algeria to blunt the cross border support for FLN from Tunisia[xxxv]. Both the initiatives failed to give any fruitful results. Thousands of tribals died in Telangana as result of this relocation[xxxvi]. The government also raised tribal militias in the form of ‘home guards’ and Village Defence Committees. These local militias were targeted by the insurgents and many were killed. On the other hand, members of these militias became a law unto themselves and killed many suspected insurgents in fake encounters[xxxvii]. Half a century later the neighboring Chhattisgarh resorted to creation of such vigilante group in the form of Salwa Judum which was banned by SC in 2011 on the allegations of human rights excesses against the tribals. It is interested to note how the COIN efforts, despite absence of a declared doctrine, tend to follow a course which seems more like pattern. A lot of similarities in strategy and tactics can be observed when Indian COIN is compared to other COIN models across the world. Colin Jackson calls it a constraint of ‘limited marbles in a pocket”, those can only be juggled in limited number of different ways.

The first phase came to end only when CPI leaders decided to participate in the first general elections after independence in 1951.

Naxalbari COIN: A Kinetic Approach

The Naxalbari movement was crushed by the state government with effective support from the federal government. The government decided to take on Naxalites with full force. The government launched a joint operation by the army and the police, code named Operation Steeplechase, in the bordering districts of West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. The strategy of the security forces was to surround as large an area as possible and seal the routes of entry and exit. The army formed the outer cordon and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) the inner ring. The local police, who were generally accompanied by a magistrate, carried out a thorough search of the area. Suspected Naxalites were arrested while illicit weapons, ammunition, and explosives were seized. Wherever possible, simultaneous action was taken in the neighboring areas thus denying Naxalites any chance to sneak out[xxxviii]. The West Bengal police targeted committed student insurgents either by killing them or arresting them. The ‘fence sitters’ were promised jobs and encouraged to join politics[xxxix]. Some of the insurgents were absorbed as home guards with a monthly salary. These ‘home guards’ acted as valuable informers by identifying other insurgents.

By the end of 1972, almost all the top Naxalite leaders including Charu Majumdar and several others were arrested by the police. Around 8000 naxal members and sympathizers were arrested.

The poverty alleviation schemes of both centre and state governments also veered away sizeable section of rural population away from the insurgents. Many experts believe that state’s extensive and violent measures brought an end to Naxalbari movement[xl]. How ever the inability of state to wipe out the remaining traces resulted in insurgents moving to other states and with them travelled the idea of Maoism.

Present COIN Strategy: Kinetic Redux ?

The Government of India essentially treats Maoist insurgency as a ‘Law and Order’ problem which falls under the purview of Police and Public order[xli]. Police and Public order being ‘state subjects’ in Indian constitution, entails that the primary responsibility of handling Maoist insurgency rests with the individual states. The center can extend assistance in the form of providing financial resources and deploying Central Armed Police Forces, which would essentially be in aid to state efforts. The government website lays down its approach to Maoist insurgency as holistic which involves improving security situation, ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities, improvement in governanace and public perception system[xlii]. A first look at governments stated strategy seems to be a population centric of ‘winning hearts and minds’ but the ground situation reveals a different story.

Various state governments have adopted their own individual strategies, choosing their own path to COIN. The current COIN strategy is state specific with support from the centre in terms of manpower and resources. The strategy translates into increasing the troops presence in the critical areas and then saturate these areas with by maximizing troops presence who then prioritize kinetic action against Maoists[xliii]. The security forces particularly in Chhattisgarh at present are targeting the insurgents without securing the population[xliv]. This has exposed civilian population to collateral damage and abuse during the COIN ops. Such a scenario has increased the Maoist legitimacy and given a fillip to their recruitment.

There is a widespread appreciation that current patterns of insecurity dictate that stabilization must precede development. This is not an unreasonable view, it is obviously difficult to develop territory you do not control and Maoists recognize that development can erode their control. Maoists have targeted 1241 economic targets between 2011 and 2015 including roads, power plants, telephone towers, food storage[xlv] etc. to keep the the population insulated from the relief and developmental efforts. The government, in 2009, launched a massive stabilization cum dominance drive by deploying more than 70,000 Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) across Maoist zones in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa.  This deployment popularly known as “ Operation Green Hunt”, a term coined by the media, was a step towards territorial stabilization which was to be achieved by dominating the area[xlvi]. The CRPF and state forces operate jointly forming concentric circles of responsibility. Once the area is dominated for a considerable period of time, it is believed, would lead to stability in security situation and provide opportunity for implementing developmental schemes. These ‘Clear Hold and Develop’ efforts are continuing with government pouring in more forces.

COIN sans Special Forces

The CRPF has a long but not very successful record of fighting insurgencies. It has been at the forefront of Maoist COIN operations. It is not a specialized COIN force and as result has suffered the maximum number of casualties in the past decade. In December 2010, Maoist ambushed a CRPF patrol in Dantewada killing 76 soldiers of the 62nd CRPF Battalion, the single largest loss of life in Indian COIN history[xlvii]. The drawbacks of deploying a non specialized COIN force in the core area of Maoist operations were evident. The attack also exposed chronic deficiencies in India’s main central forces employed to fight Maoist insurgency.

Amongst the states fighting Maoist insurgency only Andhra Pradesh has a dedicated specialized COIN force, ‘Greyhounds’, created in 1989. Other states have been fighting insurgency with their regular police forces. It is only in the recent years that Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa have raised their Special Forces[xlviii]. It would take these forces some more years to reach the level of Greyhounds and much depends on the level of training and resources provided to them. While Andhra Pradesh has done well in containing its insurgent problem, other states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar are struggling to overcome this tide. The escalation of threat and inability of states to raise properly trained special forces pushed Centre to raise counterinsurgency commando battalions called CoBRA (Commando Battalions for Resolute Actions). Ten Battalions of CoBRA were raised in 2009 and they have been given training in counter guerrilla tactics and Jungle Warfare at Army’s elite Jungle Warfare school in Mizoram in India[xlix]. The Cobra battalions were deployed during Operation Green hunt. CoBRA battalions have shown better performance than other forces in taking on Maoists but their long term efficacy would be assessed in coming times.

Various states have also tried to improvise on the past or existing COIN tools available to counter the insurgents. Chhattisgarh made one such improvisation in 2005, when it decided to raise an auxiliary tribal militia, Salwa Judum, to counter Maoists both militarily and ideologically.

Salwa Judum

Raising a local auxiliary force has been a fairly common COIN strategy. The outsourcing of security responsibilities to auxiliary non-state militias that operate with little oversight, training or accountability, has been resorted to by counterinsurgents all over the world with mixed results. The CIDG in Vietnam, the Malaya Auxillaries, the firqats in Yemen, the Ikhwanis in Kashmir have been part of such COIN strategies. Again a limited marbles syndrome. Salwa Judum “Purification Hunt” in Chhattisgarh was such an effort by the state to push war against Maoists into their own backyards. It was created in 2005 by organizing tribal youth and surrendered Maoists into well equipped vigilante auxiliary tribal militia, who would take on Maoists on their own turf[l]. The creation of Salwa Judum was a step towards the efforts of the state to localize their own forces. It was envisaged that a force comprising of sons of the soil would a) augment the human intelligence networks and b) provide alternative employment opportunities to the tribal youth. Salwa Judum camps were set up to provide refuge to tribal people displaced by Maoists and also act as safe zones. The idea was that Salwa Judum would act as a force multiplier and would help security forces in bridging the cultural gap between forces and the tribals. The members of Salwa Judum provided valuable information to forces. They were at times able to infiltrate Maoist ranks. As a result, government forces were able to inflict heavy losses on Maoists. How ever all this came at a heavy price. The were allegations of torture, extortion and rape against Judum members. There emerged ‘warlords’ within the judum who would vie for control of refugee camps and also the area surrounding the camps[li]. They at time tried to operate independently of the security forces. There were also incidents when Judum members used violence to settle their individual tribal animosities. These local militias if not supervised closely tend to operate within the zones of their own self interest and at times cross purposes with counter insurgent force. The story seems all too familiar. The tribal militia raised by British in Yemen, ‘the firqats’ started working independently fighting their own little war. The allegations of excesses on Afghan Local Police, have made their role controversial[lii].Salwa Judum like CIDG and Malayan tribal militias did act as a ‘force multiplier’ but it came at a substantial cost. Amidst growing allegations of torture, rape and murder, the Supreme Court of India banned Salwa Judum in 2011[liii]. Salwa Judum did create an unprecedented pressure on Maoists in Chhattisgarh and the latter responded by killing Judum members and their families. The allegations of excesses how ever robbed Judum of its credibility rendering an effective COIN instrument redundant.

Indian COIN Dilemma: The Debate Rages

There have been raging debates about the utility of different COIN models in the Indian scenario. Experts believe that Maoist insurgency posturing itself as a ‘people’s war”, mandates a more classic COIN build on the notions of competitive state building to address economic and governance deficiencies[liv].It requires a population centric approach of winning hearts and minds rather then a enemy centric approach of highly kinetic operations[lv].

Some feel that India’s counterinsurgency strategy is strongly influenced by British campaign against the Malayan Communist Party[lvi]. How ever the strategy of winning ‘Hearts and Minds’ has not been at the core of Indian COIN strategy. Even Gerald Templar called “hearts and Minds” “that nauseating phrase I think I invented”[lvii]. The Indian efforts at winning hearts and minds have been put into practice only when the successes were first achieved by kinetic operations.

Indian COIN efforts have invariably preferred trading “hearts and minds” approach with highly kinetic enemy centric tactics. Though insurgencies have been contained but these have not been wiped out completely. One western expert thinks that India has done tremendously well in managing the problem and not allowing them to get out of the hand[lviii]. In spite of substantial drop in insurgent violence, the insurgency is not dead in Kashmir and NE. The population in these areas still remains largely unintegrated, a drawback believed to be inherent with the highly kinetic enemy centric approach.

Indian security leadership feels that an enemy centric approach is best suited for Maoist insurgency, where the fear of population seceding from India is remote. They cite the success of Andhra Pradesh in curbing the Maoist problem with enemy centric drives of kinetic operations. The success Andhra Pradesh COIN campaign without a declared COIN model has allowed experts draw their own lessons from it. Government of India also advocates that other states fighting insurgency adopt the Andhra Model[lix], without really explaining what this model is?

Deciphering Andhra Success

Amidst the grim Maoist landscape of India, one state seems to have charted a completely different course for itself and thus has a different story to tell. A story of success and optimism. The state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) seems to have turned the tide against the Maoists. It is today hailed as the “only success story’ in the Maoist tragedy. AP which in 90s was the hub of Maoist violence has seen a dramatic drop in Maoist related incidents. The total number incidents in 2015 dropped to just 35 as against over 500 in 2005[lx]. AP was the first state to raise a specialized force to deal with the Maoists. The credit for the turn around is generally given to the  elite ‘Greyhound’ force, trained to live and operate in the jungle as the guerillas do, and fight the Indian jungle equivalent of a “bush war”[lxi]. Greyhound was raised in 1989 as a specialized counter Maoist force, to conduct small unit guerilla counter offensive. It is said that AP drew inspiration from the infamous Selous scouts of Rhodesia[lxii]. The force underwent rigorous training and was provided with superior equipment (particularly communications technology). It was able to rapidly deploy and effectively operate in Maoist terrain. The Greyhounds have been extremely effective, but they did not operate in isolation. Their success was possible by forging synergetic relationships with district police and intelligence agencies. The coordinated police strategies improved the intelligence sharing between the security agencies by deploying cross trained regular police units with the Greyhounds. The members of the Greyhounds were drawn from regular state police by following a strict selection process. They were given 60 percent extra salary in the form of risk allowance. They were also provided with subsidized housing, family welfare and other attractive benefits. These additional benefits ensured that Greyhounds attracted the best talent available. They operated in small units for extended periods in remote forests and hilly regions. These small units were given training in local customs and they had to learn local language. This proved to be an asset as these unit members were able to forge bonds with the tribals and villagers. These units were quite akin to “Tribal Engagement Teams” which Major Gant experimented with in Afghanistan[lxiii].

The Greyhounds model is today treated as success story and other states have followed AP by raising their own specialized forces. Merely aping creation of a specialized unit may turn out to be a futile exercise unless the entire institutional environment which contributed to Greyhounds success is not replicated. The success of the Greyhounds was predicated on the robust intelligence sharing cycle between three critical units, Greyhounds, district police and Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB). The raw intelligence collected by district police was further developed by SIB and once actionable was fed to Greyhounds who would then execute it. After the execution, the information gathered in the form of seized documents and arrested insurgents, was passed back to district police and SIB for further exploiting and analyzing it. The arrest of Maoists was followed by sustained interrogation by SIB and the district police would simultaneously verify new information collected from the interrogation, on the ground. By this way the intelligence was reprocessed and again fed to Greyhounds for the next action[lxiv]. While General McChrystal, the newly appointed JSOC commander in 2004, was struggling to put in place the necessary framework for implementation of his Find Fix Finish Exploit and Analyze  (F3EA) strategy, another COIN special force, thousands of miles away, less equipped both technologically and militarily, was implementing his F3EA strategy with sinister precision and reaping rich dividends. It seems that Greyhounds were executing General McChrystal’s plan the way he wanted, only that the battlefield was Andhra Pradesh not Iraq and the insurgents were Maoists not Al Qaeda in Iraq. On many occasions Greyhounds acted as a ‘Direct Action” force by neutralizing top Maoists and conducting raids at Maoists hideouts. These direct actions were well coordinated actions with operational back up support from the local police and SIB[lxv].

A greater focus on the success of Greyhound (which they truly deserved) has led experts to label the AP model as an enemy centric kinetic approach. How ever this success was possible only with a well crafted community development program by the state government. The state government very early had achieved a fair understanding and appreciation of the Maoist game plan.  It conceived various rural development and empowerment schemes. The focus was not on big grand projects with long gestation periods but small captive schemes which could deliver in short duration and thus have an immediate impact. The government between 2004 and2010 implemented various rural developmental schemes like ‘Remote and Internal Areas Development Projects” (RAID), small irrigation projects and health insurance schemes. These developmental initiatives undermined the ability of Maoists to recruit and mobilize new members[lxvi]. At the same time government engaged with Maoists at political level. The political engagement was seen by Maoists as a recognition of the political dimension of their movement. This thaw resulted in a brief ceasefire between Maoists and Government in 2004. The ceasefire period proved to be a blessing in disguise for the state. It was successfully exploited by the police and Greyhounds by infiltrating the cadres of Maoists. For the first time in decades Maoists came out of the jungles. The police and Greyhounds were able to profile Maoists who were earlier unknown faceless entities with only aliases. Many Maoist cadres were lured towards politics and some of them joined political parties. The Government had also come up with an elaborate surrender and rehabilitation package which resulted in surrender of hundreds of Maoists.

The Andhra Government based its COIN strategy on the judicious mix of enemy centric and population centric approaches[lxvii].Analysts believe that ceasefire period, though short, played an important role in turning the tide against the Maoists, when state machinery gathered extensive information about the Maoists which they later utilized with devastating effects[lxviii].

The Greyhound model is viewed as an oasis of success within unsuccessful arid landscape of Maoist insurgency. Yet some experts are leery of the triumphant claims made by Andhra Pradesh as well as the potential to model the Greyhound success. These experts see enough reason to believe that the Greyhounds did not defeat the Maoist insurgents outright but merely displaced them to neighboring states. This corresponds with data that shows Maoist activity surged in neighboring Chhattisgarh as it declined in Andhra Pradesh. Second, the gains in Andhra Pradesh are still new and it is too early to conclude the demise of Maoist activity[lxix].

Conclusion

Individual states facing insurgency had the independence of opting for the COIN strategy best suited for them. How ever the choices were made less on suitability, more on political expediency. The mobilization capacities of insurgents created perverse interests among some political parties to harness these for electoral benefits. There have been reported incidents where politician have asked Maoists to issue diktats in their favor[lxx].

Analysts believe that the extensive influence which Maoist exercise over 120 districts across 12 states is a serious blow to the internal legitimacy of Indian state. The fact that Maoist legitimacy is restricted to the most deprived sections of the society does mandate a serious thinking on part of Indian state to ameliorate the grievances of this extreme end of Indian societal scale. It is their support, though at times reluctant, which has transformed the current phase of Maoist “People’s War” as the strongest and most violent in history.

States have recently started to employ serious efforts to defeat the insurgency. Every state needs to raise special forces and provide them rigorous training in ‘counter guerilla’ tactics and jungle warfare. A Maoist guerrilla can only be countered by a state guerrilla. The operating environment of these special forces has to demonstrate employment of superior tactics to defeat the insurgents. States need to synergize their efforts by launching coordinated operations thereby denying Maoists any space for maneuverability. These efforts need to be supplemented by well crafted development schemes. It is important to segregate the population from the insurgents both operationally and ideologically. The hawks and the doves need to be viewed and treated differently.

The federal/central government should strive to seize strategic initiative by putting in place a well coordinated ‘hub and spoke’ kind of COIN architecture where each state acts as a critical spoke. The central government as a hub would try to harmonize the individual state interests with the overall national interest.

Indian counterinsurgency has to work with a dual objective of defeating the insurgents militarily and fully quell the insurgent impulses. These would need institutional overhauls. The conflict over the distribution of resources can be mended with economic development, but the bigger challenge would be to create a system where the distribution of power is not controlled by the traditional elite.

End Notes

*I reached the site the same night as a part of National Investigation Agency team.

[i] Khan, M Akbar (1975). Raiders in Kashmir. National Book Foundation — Islamabad. Second Edition. Maj Gen Akbar Khan,commader of Pakistani irregular offensive in Kashmir describing mindset of a Mahsud irregular warrior,

[ii] Kumar, Abhishek, and Meghna Pattnaik. "Salwa Judum and Violations of Constitutional Mandates." SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal (n.d.)

[iii]"No More Salwa Judum." The Indian Express. N.p., 13 June 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

[iv]  The Indian Express, May 25 2015, ‘Darbha attack on Congress leaders not Planned’

[v] Talbot, Ian. Modern South Asian History: Politics, States, Diasporas. Yale University Press, 2016.

[vi]  First Post , May 31 2013 , Chhatisgarh Attack Live

[vii]  Indian Express, May 25 2015, ‘Darbha Attack on Congress Leaders Not Planned’

[viii] PTI. "Naxalism Remains Biggest Internal Security Challenge." India Today. N.p., 24 May 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2016

[ix] Kennedy, Jonathan, and Sunil Purushotham. "Beyond Naxalbari: A Comparative Analysis of Maoist Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Independent India." (2012): 832-62. Web

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Gupta, Bhabani Sen. "A Maoist line for India." The China Quarterly 33 (1968): 3-16.

[xiv] Singh, Prakash. "Joint Special Operations University 7701 Tampa Point Boulevard MacDill AFB FL 33621." (2012).

[xv] Sen, Samar, and Debabrata Panda, eds. Naxalbari and After: A Frontier Anthology. Vol. 2. Kathashilpa, 1978.Pg-45

[xvi] Pravat Jana, The Main Danger, Naxalbari and After, Vol II, Pg-143

[xvii] Singh, Prakash. "Joint Special Operations University 7701 Tampa Point Boulevard MacDill AFB FL 33621." (2012).

[xviii] k balasubramanayam,”world is revolution”, The Pionee, August 31,2002

[xix] Government of India website. mha.nic.in

[xx] Singh, Prakash. "Joint Special Operations University 7701 Tampa Point Boulevard MacDill AFB FL 33621." (2012)

[xxi] Times of India, 20thSeptember 2010, www.indiatimes.com

[xxii] http://mha.nic.in/naxal_new

[xxiii] Ibid

[xxiv] www.satp.org. Strategy & Tactics of the Indian Revolution. n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

[xxv] Ibid

[xxvi]  www.mha.nic.in/naxals

[xxvii]  7 CRPF Men Killed in Landmine Blast by Naxals." Http://www.newsnation.in. N.p., 30 Mar. 2016

[xxviii] ibid www.mha.nic.in

[xxix] Rajagopalan,“Force and Compromise: India’s COIN Grand Strategy,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 30:1 (2007)

[xxx] Praveen Swami, “For a Review of Counterinsurgency Doctrine” 13 April 2010, www.hindu.com

[xxxi] Karl, David J. "Is India Ready for Prime Time?." Asia Policy 12.1 (2011): 169-178.

[xxxii] Kennedy, Jonathan, and Sunil Purushotham. "Beyond Naxalbari: A Comparative Analysis of Maoist Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Independent India." (2012): 832-62. Web

[xxxiii] P Singh. The Naxalite movement in India, Rupa ,1995

[xxxiv] NAI, Ministry of state, file 6(9)-h/51

[xxxv] Gortzak, Yoav. "Using Indigenous Forces in Counterinsurgency Operations: The French in Algeria, 1954–1962."

[xxxvi] ibid 32

[xxxvii] NAI, ministry of state file 6(5)-H/51

[xxxviii] P Singh. The Naxalite movement in India, Rupa ,1995

[xxxix] Krishnaji, N.. “Lessons of Naxalbari”. Economic and Political Weekly 15.36 (1980): 1513–1516. Web...

[xl] Oetken, Jennifer. "Counterinsurgency against Naxalites in India." India and Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned. New York: Routledge (2009)

[xli] www.mha.nic.in/naxal

[xlii] ibid

[xliii] ibid 40

[xliv] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/chhattisgarh-bas...

[xlv] www.mha.nic.in/naxal

[xlvi] D’Souza, Radha. "Sandwich Theory and Operation Green Hunt." Monthly Review (2009).

[xlvii] "Troopers or Sitting Ducks? 75 Killed in Maoist Ambush www.dna.com N.p., 06 Apr. 2010.

[xlviii] http://mha.nic.in/naxal_new

[xlix] ibid

[l] Miklian, Jason. "The Purification Hunt: the Salwa Judum Counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh, India. (2009) 441-459.

[li] ibid

[lii]" Human Rights Documents Online, http://primarysources.brillonline.com

[liii] Person and Gyanant Singh. "Salwa Judum: SC Outlaws Tribal Anti-Maoist Force." India today.2011

[liv] Lalwani, Sameer. "India’s Approach to Counterinsurgency and the Naxalite Problem."  CTC Sentinel 4.10 (2011): 5-9.

[lv] ibid

[lvi] ibid

[lvii] Ajai Sahni, “India’s Maoists and the Dreamscape of ‘Solutions,’” South Asia Terrorism Portal, February 2010.

[lviii] Staniland, Paul. "Counterinsurgency and Violence Management." The New Counter-insurgency Era in Critical Perspective.  Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. 144-155.

[lix] www.mha.nic.in/naxal

[lx] ibid

[lxi] Singh, Prakash. The Naxalite Movement in India. Rupa, 1995

[lxii] ibid

[lxiii] Gant, Major Jim. "Tribal Engagement: The Jirga and the Shura." Journal Article| June 6.6 (2010): 39am.

[lxiv] Sahni, A. 2007. “Andhra Pradesh: The State Advances, the Maoists Retreat.” South Asia Intelligence Review Week Assessments & Briefings. Vol. 6, No. 10. www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/6_10.htm

[lxv] Chadha, Vivek. "Left Wing Extremism—Challenges and Approach." For India (2012): 93.

[lxvi] Mazumdar, Arijit."Left-Wing Extremism and Counterinsurgency in India: The ‘Andhra Model’." Strategic Analysis (2013)

[lxvii] ibid

[lxviii] ibid

[lxix] Gupta, Tilak D. "Maoism in India: Ideology, Programme and Armed Struggle." Economic and Political Weekly (2006)

[lxx] Naxal Diktat-vote for our candidate. http://www.outlookindia.com/newswire/story/naxal-diktat-vote-for-our-can...

 

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Comments

This is one of those "National Security Issues" that has somehow evaded the world's attention if not for the longitivtiy but for the sheer destruction caused by it. Sajid does a fantastic job of condensing this complicated topic and encompassing the essence of the struggles, failures, successes and recommendations for the way forward. Sajid's views come not just from an academic point of view but a view of a practitioner as well as someone who has been on the ground and being part of the machine that had to respond to this threat. Thank you for the wonderful writeup.

The detailed and in-depth writing that starts with tracing the Indian Maoist history to the current policy decisions of the government, this is an exceedingly well researched paper. The analogy of the hawk hunting for its prey aptly sets the tone of this article - a story of the Naxalite movement in India, the tactics used by the insurgents, the COIN strategies of the Indian security forces and the analysis create a thorough understanding of the Maoist Movement in India.

Given the scale of causalities suffered by both civilians and the security forces and the seeming inability to stop this covert warfare in the recent past, I have been looking to understand the genesis of this movement in India, the role of the local population and the counter by the state. This article by Sajid Shapoo, an innate storyteller, makes a technical piece of writing such as this, a valuable and enlightening read!

Very informative and comprehensive