Maoist Trends in India: A Combination of Mass and Mine Warfare
Former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, while addressing a day-long meeting of Chief Ministers, including six of the Naxalite affected states, on April 13, 2006, observed: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”On January 21, 2021, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane said that 'left-wing extremism' is one of the biggest challenges before the Indian state. It seems, in the last 14 years, there has not been any phenomenal shift in the position of the LWE in India’s list of national security challenges.
Although the central government undertook many periodical counter Maoist operations –like operation green hunt, Prahar-I & II, SAMADHAN, etc. -- and developmental schemes with the coordination of Maoist affected states with some visible success; the rebels still retain the ability to strike on the state forces and infrastructure in some parts of central India. Some Maoist attacks undertaken in 2019-20 indicate that the military and resource strengths of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) have gone down. Still, its political campaign has mostly remained unaffected. Most importantly, it has retained fraternal linkages with like-minded groups worldwide and is open to having a ‘united front against the Indian state with such like-minded groups within and outside India. These tactics of the CPI-Maoists might intensify conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and North-eastern parts of India in particular, thereby strengthening religious extremism and leading to other civil unrests like class and caste violence in future.
April 4, 2021, Maoist attacks on the security forces in Chhattisgarh indicated the dominance of the rebel groups in the Bastar region. Twenty-two security force personnel were killed and 31 others injured in the incident between Jonaguda and Tekalguda villages along the border of Sukma and Bijapur districts in the Bastar region. After taking stock of the situation, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the sacrifices of the security personnel will always be remembered for taking this battle to a “decisive turn”. This incident took place within 10 days after the Maoists attacked Kanhargaon and Kadenar villages in Narayanpur district, where five District Reserve Guard (DRG) personnel were killed and 13 others injured as the rebels blew up the bus in which they were travelling.
Claims and Counterclaims
Despite brutal recurring attacks on the security forces by the Maoists in their stronghold areas in different parts of central India, the Union Home Ministry data indicates that the state has, in fact, regained much geographical and administrative control over those regions which were earlier under the Maoist control. The claim is substantiated as the number of incidents dropped consistently since 2011. According to the annual report 2019-2020 of the Ministry of Home Affair, Government of India, there has been an overall 41% reduction in violent incidents (1136 to 670) and 49% reduction in LWE related deaths (397 to 202) in 2019 as compared to 2013. In comparison to 2018, the year 2019 saw a decline of 19% (833 to 670) in incidents of violence and 15% in the number of resultant deaths (240 to 202).
In addition, in 2019, LWE violence was reported from 241 police stations in 61 districts spread across nine states compared to 291 police stations in 58 districts spread over nine states in 2013. As the reports suggest, the major Maoist related violence was limited to only 30 districts with 83% of the total incidents.
On the contrary, the Maoists claim that it is a tactical retreat for readjusting with the current situation like bringing changes in tactical counter-offensive campaign-TCOC, extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines, opening up of urban front, reducing the platoon strength, more leadership role to women and tribal, shifting to newer regions, etc. Although the Maoist leaders have accepted unequal revolutionary developments on several occasions due to counter-revolutionary schemes by the state, the party has attempted to motivate the cadres by highlighting the Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) in the last 20 years. While assessing its failure, the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the CPI-Maoist found that the party, especially the cadres, failed to follow the rules of guerilla war and secret methods of functioning. The party also failed to update in changing the class struggle programme and adopting proper tactics in the class struggle. Since operation Prahar and SAMADHAN (S-smart leadership, A-aggressive strategy, M-motivation and training, A-actionable intelligence, D-dashboard-based KPIs (key performance indicators) and KRAs (key result areas), H-harnessing technology, A-action plan for each theatre and N-no access to financing)have caused maximum damage to the movement in crucial 30 districts, the CMC has advised the cadres to enhance mass base, expanding mass organisations, adhering to utmost secrecy, taking up Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) in guerilla zones and protect and preserve armed guerillas to defeat these counter-revolutionary operations. The CMC emphasized mine and sniper warfare for not allowing the state forces to operate in an organised manner.
Going by both the government and Maoist sources, the Maoist related violence and their geographical spread in India have shrunk drastically. This phenomenon is perhaps not new in India ever since the Maoist conflict started in 1967. Historically, the movement has seen the trend of recouping and regrouping after a phase of decline. For example, the Maoist revolution was limited to a few pockets in the late 1970s and again in 2004 after ‘operation steeplechase’ and strong action by the Andhra Pradesh government after the failure of peace talks. On both occasions, the Maoists had reemerged with newer tactics.
Therefore, the declining trend from 2011 onwards is a remarkable achievement for the state once again. The current achievement results from some successful counter Maoist operations, mostly dominated by military measures. These measures were essential in the areas where the Maoists were preventing state-sponsored development projects. Since the Maoist conflict in India originated and sustained due to governance issues and unequal development, and state failure to provide justice to the most deprived sections of the society, the state must emphasise development issues in the districts that witnessed low-intensity Maoist activities. The current declining trend will consolidate if the state takes a balanced policy between military and development measures instead of addressing the issues as only a law and order problem.
[The brief is part of South Asia Conflict Monitor, May 2021]