How India can defeat Naxal terrorism in Chhattisgarh

The terrible loss of 22 Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) jawans in Chhattisgarh is a grim reminder of the grey zone warfare ongoing since decades. In the early 1980s my father was the additional collector of Kanker, now the ground zero of the insurgency. And we made two visits there and the surrounding areas; how peaceful it was, with visits to scenic places thrown in. Peaceful? Or so we thought. When the insurgency exploded in our face a decade or so later, I asked him how it had reached such a stage.

His reply stunned me when he said that they had kept reporting to the government that the writ of the state was being weakened slowly and that a parallel administration of sorts was taking place, but no one took any interest. And sure enough, by 2010 when PM Manmohan Singh called it the “biggest internal security challenge facing our country”, the situation had spiralled out of control. Governance had failed and so had the government’s deterrence.

The doyen of deterrence theory, Thomas Schelling had written in 1966 that “brute force of adversaries cancels each other but pain and grief do not.” Herein lies the crux of what hurts someone and has a positive follow-on effect, and what does not. In a counterinsurgency operation, winning hearts and minds of the locals is important but for that to be sustainable they must believe in the power of the state.

While successive governments in the past two decades have strived towards that, the results on ground have obviously not been sufficient. The pain and grief that an insurgent would feel and understand is the loss of grassroots support; and the grassroots support can be weaned away from him only if the locals are sure that the government security machinery is present 24×7 to protect them.

The dense jungles and poor road connectivity in that area preclude an omnipresent deployment of security forces. Here, technology must be utilised copiously for gathering intelligence, making plans, deploying forces and executing operations. During the past decade, UAVs of the IAF and NTRO have been deployed sporadically for this task. With the easy availability of cheap tactical level drones, the CAPFs have them now.

It is indeed surprising that with all the tall claims of ‘techint’ capability of our forces, this latest massacre of 22 bravehearts took place. Questions must be asked and people taken to task else such killings will continue at regular intervals. Remember, after the biggest loss of 76 CRPF killed in 2010, 27 CRPF jawans died in June 2010, 6 CISF in May 2012, 9 policemen in May 2011, 25 CRPF in Sukma 2017 – the list is sickening and is but a random narration.

This writer was the Asst Chief of Air Staff looking after IAF’s transport and helicopter operations when, on April 6, 2010, that massacre of 76 CRPF jawans took place. Helicopters were drafted in to ferry the dead back to Jagdalpur and AN-32 transport aircraft to fly the coffins to the native places of the jawans.

Never was there a ghastlier sight than to see the cargo hold of three AN-32s full of national tricolour covered coffins of those brave jawans. The reactions that time were many. The home secretary said, “There was some failure … we should not have lost so many jawans … our resolve against the naxals has strengthened further.” The home minister said, “I am deeply shocked at the loss of lives.” Change the names of the personages now but the words would be similar. They, however, do not bring back the dead.

Let’s go back to Schelling who said that in any conflict, perceptions are more important than actualities on ground. Everyone in the environment must have the ‘perception’ that, besides capability, the State also possesses the requisite ‘will’ to carry out its threat – this perception can get established only through resolute demonstration of that will, repeatedly and every time an occasion arises.

For this demonstration, the policeman on the frontline in the dense Chhattisgarh jungles (as elsewhere too in the Red Corridor) must be supported with the full might of the nation’s technological capability: persistent ‘stare’ through drones, techint through cyber and other resources and of course, the all-important humint, human intelligence. Humint would only come if the locals are sure that the State has the upper hand. The circle is, thus, complete – the government, therefore, needs to review its strategy to demonstrate that it is the one that is calling the trump.

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