Why our Naxal strategy is such a lethal pipe dream | india | Hindustan Times
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Why our Naxal strategy is such a lethal pipe dream

The idea of 'dominance' and the slogan of 'clear, hold and develop' will have to be deferred, says Ajai Sahni.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2010 23:14 IST
Ajai Sahni

The Government of India has no strategy to fight the Maoists. Nor have any of the States worst affected by Naxalism — bar Andhra Pradesh.

Picking up catch-phrases from the international counter-insurgency discourse — such as 'clear, hold and build (or develop)' — doesn't imply that any coherent strategic perspective exists. A strategy is a function of an adequate resource configuration designed to secure quantifiable objectives. Without appropriate resources, all that you have is a pipe dream — not a strategy.

Worse, these are lethal pipe dreams. It is the falsehoods that are projected as 'strategies' in Delhi and Raipur that have resulted in 75 CRPF personnel being killed near Chintalnar in Dantewada.

As usual, a flood of commentary blames 'intelligence failures', 'lack of coordination' and 'neglect of standard operating procedures'. In a situation of strategic infirmity, it is only a matter of time before tactical and operational deficiencies or errors translate into debacles like Chintalnar.

The Centre has been boasting of 'massive central paramilitary forces (CPMF) deployment' in 'coordinated operations' across the worst Naxal affected States, as part of its 'clear, hold and develop strategy'.

It is useful to look at the numbers. Less than 60 battalions of CPMFs are currently allocated across the six worst Naxalite-affected States. On the ground, this yields less than 24,000 personnel in actual deployment (400 men per
battalion). These states cover an area of 1.46 million square kilometres and a population of over 446 million. CPMF personnel are backed by tiny contingents of the state police, mostly indifferently trained.

In Chhattisgarh, the Counter-terrorism and Jungle Warfare College has trained more than 5,000 state police personnel since 2005, but only a fraction of these have actually been deployed for counter-insurgency (CI) operations. If you try to locate the various central and state CI units deployed across Maoist-affected areas on a map of Chhattisgarh, you will find small, isolated, indefensible pinpoints in a vast area of administrative darkness.

Tiny units (a company strength for the CRPF, often much less for the state police), with no specialised training, no fortification, little chance of reinforcement, and even less familiarity with the environment they are operating in, are simply abandoned to their own devices. The only challenge for the Maoists is to find the opportune moment at which these are to be overrun, one by one.

If you concentrate the Force at hand, vast areas would be abandoned, even as the Force is attacked on its peripheries; if you disperse the Force, it is vulnerable everywhere.

The Bastar Division alone, spanning 39,114 sq km, over half of it under dense forest, would swallow up the 23 CPMF battalions and handfuls of state police forces currently deployed across Chhattisgarh, without yielding the 'dominance' that is sought even in this area.

The truth is, we do not have the capacity to 'clear'. We do not have the capacity to 'hold'. And, crucially, we do not have the capacity to 'develop'.

'Development' is not something you order off a menu card. At least six of Chhattisgarh's 18 Districts are categorised as 'marginally affected', and another four as 'not affected' by Maoist activity. If 'development' is so easy to procure, who is preventing the State from transforming these districts into hubs of industry and modernity? If the State really imagines that it can 'clear, hold and develop', the dark heart of Abujhmarh, why is Raipur such a dirty, disorganised little shantytown?

The idea of 'dominance' and the slogan of 'clear, hold and develop' will, at least, have to be deferred. There should be an attritional campaign against the Maoist leadership, instead of dissipating Forces chasing cadres or attempting to 'hold' territory; swift intelligence based operations, targeting Maoists in their own peripheries; and efforts to block off avenues of Maoist expansion, including curtailment of United Front activity.

Some of these would be far more realistic. At the same time, the state must acquire and deploy the capacities necessary for an enduring solution to this escalating conflict.

As for 'using airpower', 'calling in the Army', and other manifestations of current hysteria — the decision to keep these out of the conflict is impeccable.

The author is executive director, Centre for Conflict Studies