Combating Left Wing Extremism
Ajit Doval, KC - Former Director, VIF

Does Left Extremism really pose a threat to India’s security or is it something that media has hyped for want of better stories? After all, they don’t stand for secession, do not question India’s territorial integrity and apparently are not working as proxies of powers hostile to India. They, at best, want a regime-change, albeit through violence, which many others would also vote for. Or is it merely the problem of hunger and poverty that needs a soft approach. These and many other nuances notwithstanding, the straight answer to the question is – Left Extremism poses a very serious threat which is real and has to be fought with total resolve. Any obfuscation, in the name of nuanced and calibrated response would lead to delayed and hesitant response, increased costs and prolonged agony. Naxalites use violence to achieve their political objectives targeting innocent lives and thus fully meet the definition of terrorism. Let India’s principled position that ‘Core issue’ argument does not justify terror be diluted for the Naxalites – it has serious implications. But let us examine why it is really a high potential threat.

Firstly, they seek to bring about the change through violence and annihilation of arbitrarily decided class enemies. In-built in the package is destruction of all that the free India stands for – democracy, rule of law and the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. More importantly, if hypothetically, the ‘revolution’ succeeds and the new dispensation becomes tyrannical, oppressive and corrupt, which exercising absolute power it is bound to, how one get rids of it. Backed by might of a totally politicized state apparatus - army, police, judiciary all included it will become unchangeable except through a bloody civil war or foreign intervention. Fortunately this is a remote threat.

There is a second factor of which there is relatively lesser public awareness. The Naxalites feel no ideological compunction in aligning with and supporting forces adversial to India’s security interests. In the name of supporting nationalist minorities, they support secessionists in Kashmir, insurgents in Northeast, LTTE in Sri Lanka and CPN (Maoists) in Nepal. Charu Majumdar, their role model, opposed India during Bangladesh war and supported Pak military repression in the then East Pakistan. Of course, the support for Chinese aggression in 1962 is an old story. So much for their ideology of supporting peoples movements against oppressive regimes. Similarly, in the name of class war, in Bihar and Jharkhand, they indulge in worst form of caste violence. They have a self serving definition of ‘have nots’ and exercise ruthless violence against the poor, landless and tribals who do not support them. The massacre of tribals belonging to Salwa Judum is illustrative. Over 90% of civilian victims of their violence are poor whose right to live can not be subordinated to the Naxalites right to kill. Under the thin veneer of their revolutionary ideology lies a ruthless ambition for absolute power in pursuit of which they are prepared to sacrifice all that is good for the country and the civil society.

But it is the third factor which makes the phenomenon most worrisome. It is a scenario that the ‘revolution’ does not succeed – which it never will - but continues to gather strength, engulf new areas, militarize itself and make large areas of the country non-governable. They stun to submission the poor and the deprived and the state is unable to provide protection or even undertake schemes for their socio-economic upliftment due to vitiated security environment. They are able to collect taxes, dispense rough and ready justice, distribute government lands and siphon crores of Rupees from developmental funds to finance their misadventure and the government remains a helpless spectator. Naxalites have a vested interest in perpetuating poverty to conserve and expand their constituency. One only has to see to believe the magnitude of their dominance in areas of their deep entrenchment. And it is not a small area but running into thousands of square kilometers; one Punjab getting added to it every two years. This will seriously erode India’s state power, weaken it internally, retard its economic growth, prevent social and economic upliftment of the poor and downtrodden and make political process hostage to politics of violence. This is the real danger.

Taking the trends of last 5 years, if we build a model of security scenario for the year 2010 it would present a bizarre picture. Over 260 districts in India’s hinterland, covering nearly half of India, would be naxal affected where the government’s writ does not run. If we add to this the insurgencies in North East, militancy in J & K and the scourge of Islamic terrorism, India’s overall internal security landscape will present a frightening specter. The strength of left wing armed cadres would soar from existing 7,500 to over 16,000 with backup support of thousands of ‘revolutionary’ militia, well trained and motivated. The arsenal of sophisticated weapons may be in the range of 12,000 to 15,000 weapons. Jan Adalat,s where spot justice is dispensed, extending up to beheading of people, may increase from the present 3 per week to one every day. Collection of taxes and levies estimated to be in the range of Rs.70 crores per month, with more money pouring in, may soar to over Rs.150 crores per month. This money power in economically backward and inaccessible tribal areas can cause havoc. With as little as 25% of this money, they may have the liquidity to sustain a guerilla army of 75,000 persons paid Rs.5, 000/- a month. There will be no dearth of able bodied unemployed youth falling prey to this a temptation. In this backdrop, visualize the specter of Indian security forces thinly deployed in the countryside in platoon and section strength facing murderous crowds in thousands, many in the crowd equipped with automatic weapons. The force in self defense will either over-react leading to unacceptably level of civilian casualties or will be disarmed and possibly lynched. It is noteworthy that despite sizeable army presence and over two-third deployment of paramilitary forces domination of countryside in the tiny Kashmir valley and six worst affected districts of Punjab proved difficult. The force levels that will be required to dominate even the existing Compact Revolutionary Zone will be mind boggling.

For the response, first of all we should doctrinally accept it as a problem of terrorism and decide to deal with it as such. The Prime Minister should call an all party meeting and build a consensus against providing any space to the naxalites for electoral gains or political appeasement. Proactively invoking Article 355 of the Constitution, legislations should be enacted empowering the centre to suo moto deploy central forces in badly affected areas. The state governments may be informed that provisions of Articles 365/352 could be invoked in the eventuality of breakdown of constitutional machinery if they fail to control the problem.
The number of policemen available for per one lakh population in all the naxal affected states is amongst the lowest and much below the national average of 123 – Bihar (56), Chhatisgarh (92), Jharkhand (74), Orissa (92), Uttar Pradesh (88), West Bengal (97), Karnataka (97). This situation should be corrected immediately and minimum of 150 policemen per 1 lakh population must be made available to the affected states. More important than the numbers is qualitative upgradation of manpower involving better selection, improved training and quality leadership. Except in Andhra Pradesh, police forces in most of the naxal affected states have poor mobility, archaic communications, inadequate weapons and lack the expertise to fight terrorism. These need to be urgently addressed. Special equipment for jungle warfare including air reconnaissance support, sensors, night vision devices, etc. should be made available. Intelligence is the critical component of all covert conflicts. Operational capabilities of state intelligence, right up to the police station levels must be built for undertaking tactical operations. Concerted efforts to choke their sources of finance and channels of procuring weapons also deserve high priority. If required, more stringent laws on the subject should be legislated.

A concerted effort should be made to access the affected population to disabuse their minds of false and misleading propaganda carried out by the naxal leaders. The local and national media, think tanks and NGOs operating in the region could be leveraged for the purpose. These are only some illustrative policy ideas which need to be converted into finely worked out action plans with well defined responsibilities; time bound deliverance and accountability for failure.

The writer is former Director of the Intelligence Bureau

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