Maoist threat: Deploy the Babus, not army

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 27, 2010 10:19 hrs

Confronted with
the Maoist menace, an incompetent civil administration is making a mountain out of a molehill by suggesting induction of the military.

Maoist-controlled areas cannot be compared to the LoC in Kashmir or the Northeast.

The security threat posed by the Maoists to the Union is relatively small when weighed against the externally supported insurgency and terrorism faced by the army in Kashmir and the Northeast.

On the borders, there is direct support for terror both in terms of creeping invasion by Islamic fundamentalists that results in demographic changes, as well as infiltration of fundamentalists to equip and train the local sympathizers to subvert the civil administration.

Couple this with the military threat posed by China and Pakistan directly. If the military dilutes its vigil on the volatile borders, the Union of India will soon lose major chunks of its territory.

Protecting the country against this constitutes the primary role of the army.

Now, the known external support to the Maoists is very little, possibly because their activity is centered in the interior of India. They are more of a ragtag bunch that largely fight with weapons looted from the police armoury, or are country-manufactured.

Due to the civil administration’s abdication of authority, they successfully manage to loot police stations for weapons, attack jails and free inmates, and run armament factories.

These concessions, conceded by force, amount to dereliction of duty by the civil administration.

In the military such negligence would invite immediate court martial.

The clamour by many to bring in the Army and the Air Force to resolve the Maoist threat ignores the key question: Is the threat posed gigantic enough to warrant deployment of the army? Or has the civil administration taken to calling in the armed forces whenever its ineptitude is beyond redemption?

Take the Commonwealth Games. The deadlines and the resources required to host the event were well-considered at the time of bidding for the Games. But with barely 60 days left, we are not prepared. There was no threat posed by the Maoists, the Northeast insurgents or the terrorists to disrupt the preparations.

Yet the civil administration flounders despite a well-defined objective, and demands induction of 300 military personnel. The same civil administration that allowed millions of tonnes of wheat, procured at the taxpayers’ expense for distribution to the poor, to rot in the rains.

A state within the Union creates a ‘counter insurgency’ school for the police without basic facilities like a firing range and skilled officers to train personnel. Two batches pass out and are declared ready to take on the Maoists.  

If the CRPF or the state police personnel remain unskilled, untrained and underequipped, and led by incompetent officers, casualties are bound to be high.  

The Maoist threat is rated as ‘biggest’ to the Union not because the Maoists are better armed and financed than the Jihad Factory on our borders but due to the threat from within that disrupts the growth of the nation.

A nation that lacks harmony within is incapable of handling external threats.

In somewhat similar circumstances, the Chinese conquered Tibet and the Maoists are poised to capture Nepal. With the American-led Western Forces slated to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011, the defence of India’s borders will demand extra military muscle.

Nevertheless, India’s potential to outmanoeuvre both its adversaries is immense, provided it is governed efficiently.

In the first place, if the civil administration, which implies the Executive, had been moderately competent, delivered justice, been responsive, enforced the ‘rule of law,’ and not allowed territories to gradually slip into the hands of the miscreants, the problem would not have arisen.  

But the state, true to the prevalent culture of ‘logic of convenience’, abdicated its responsibility by distributing arms to the locals to fend themselves in the garb of ‘Salwa Judum’.

The common man, out of fear, is forced to support the Maoists, in the absence of protection from the legitimate local administration. The Maoists are made to look very tall due to the ineptitude and callousness of the administration.
Just as the poor decisions in 1962 by the military and the political leadership made the Chinese look very tall. The historical truth is that the Chinese have never won a war.

The second key question: In the near future, will we ask the Indian Army to take over the running of the Municipality, Commonwealth Games, health services, policing, and Kerala (which is emerging as a terrorist hub), besides tackling the Maoists who control almost 40 percent of the Union’s territory? Or will we take strong corrective measures to set right the civil administration, which is practically falling apart?  
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Our adversaries are aware that the Union of India is as strong or as weak as its army. They will be delighted to see the Indian Army diverted from its primary external role to resolve the internal strife.

Such diversions will help the 42 terrorist training camps running in PoK to shift to Srinagar. In any case, the Army is already overstretched thanks to a huge shortage of officers.

Two beefed-up army divisions with integral air element are adequate to dismantle the Maoist infrastructure within a year.

The civil administration estimates this will be done in seven years.

This sevenfold magnification is illustrative of the level of incompetence the Union has acquired since Independence.

The third key question: “After the army brings the situation under control- what next?”

Once the army manages to neutralise the threat, will the civil administration fulfil its responsibility and relieve the Army to go back to its primary role?

The idea behind the induction of the Indian Army in the Northeast and J&K was to resolve the adverse situation and thereby create conducive environment for the political process to start.

This was an enabler, but the civil administration spurned the gains. The Civil Administration in Kashmir, and not the army should carry out ‘Sadbhavana’ movement. The Indian Army initially met many reverses, but persevered, and finally got on ‘top-of–the-situation’.

However, the civil administration till date fails to take charge. The result is that the Indian Army finds itself in a quagmire.

This is one of the many reasons why the army should not get deployed to resolve the Maoist problem.

The civil administration will never ever gear up to make itself accountable for its primary task.

The only scenario that would justify Army’s deployment is if the Maoist threaten to territorially split India from inside. Otherwise, panic buttons are being pressed unnecessarily.

The final question: How to resolve or minimize the internal security threat to avoid a divided house while confronting the two external threats along the border?

The lopsided Indian pacifism may be good for an individual’s soul but has proved to be suicidal for the nation’s security.

The wobbly Civil Administration has been in withdrawal mode for decades, with its influence shrinking on the external periphery as well as within.

They leave their posts in the interiors and hide behind fortifications,  preferably in the state capitals or in New Delhi. The Maoists or similar forces occupy the vacuum.

Military thinking

To overcome the ‘withdrawal’ culture of the state, the need of the hour is to inject an offensive orientation into the civil administration and the political class.

This requires an import of military thinking and skills to create the necessary administrative ability to positively influence and dominate the ground.

Notwithstanding the bureaucracy’s apathy towards the armed forces, because of the burden of pacifism, such skills can only come from the military.

First, to reclaim the situation in favour of the state, the army should make the Maoist affected districts as the area of annual training at the division level. Two division level exercises, conducted for forty-five days each in turns, for a period of one year continuously, will make an enormous difference.

The army by its sheer presence will facilitate restoring the Union of India’s writ in the affected areas.

In case the military is fired upon, it will fire back to defend its assets and carry on with the exercise, without getting involved in the nitty-gritty of local administration.

It may be underscored that the military is the decisive instrument between ‘existence of state’ and anarchy. Military power, therefore, needs to be employed intelligently and must be given a free hand to do its job ruthlessly.

The military, wherever deployed, keeps its eyes and ears glued to the ground to gather local intelligence for its own security. This intelligence can be shared with the civil administration to counter the Maoists.

The army can easily dismantle the Maoist bases located inside the thick forests by its sheer presence while conducting military exercises.
Large-scale army exercises are hugely beneficial to the local economy. Moreover, they instil confidence in the local people and authorities.

Next, the paramilitary, police and administration (such as District Magistrates) can move in.

The civil administration should expand outwards in the interior of the districts on the ‘hub and spoke’ principle.

In the second phase, to leverage the impact of the army presence, the civil administration should simultaneously handpick a team of officers known for their integrity and ability, to be inducted in the affected areas.

The truth is that the army can only create an environment conducive to civil governance. If the bureaucracy cannot supervise, insurgency will reappear.

Third, the militarisation of the Indian mind, particularly in the civil administration, is essential to restore a balance between extreme form of pacifism and action.

The BSF was raised by military officers initially and did well. The Assam Rifles (Paramilitary) officered by Army is effective in the Northeast. It is the operational wing of the NSG, on direct deputation and officered by the army, that delivered in Mumbai 26/11.

Therefore, the need to propagate military skills in the civilian sector is essential. This will equip the civil administration to deal with the internal armed threats and govern with efficiency.

Whenever the civil set up choose to be militarized, it succeeded in neutralizing the threat—KPS Gill during the insurgency in Punjab and the Greyhound Commandos of Andhra Police delivered.

The lateral induction of military personnel into the civil administration will yield multiple benefits. First, it will keep the military young, which is an operational necessity. Second, it will bring military skills and ethos in the IAS, IFS and Police and Paramilitary.

The turf wars to keep the military authorities at bay by the civil set-up must stop if they want to ensure that the writ of the Union runs throughout the nation.

Putting a retired Major General in the advisory board of the Unified Command to tackle the Maoists is neither here nor there.

The soldiers’ colour service in the army should be reduced to ten years from seventeen and they should be inducted subsequently into the Paramilitary and the police. This would beef up the police force too.

The police and the paramilitary should get at least a hundred new recruits from each state trained every year for the next five years at the nearest Army Regimental Training Centre along with the army recruits.

Similarly, at least a hundred police, Paramilitary and IPS officers should be trained with the Officer Cadets in the Officers Training Academy every year. This manpower should form the nucleus of the Armed Police Constabulary, both in the states and the Centre in future.

In the short term, a Lieutenant General, seconded to the Home Ministry from the Army, should head the CRPF. He must be allowed the freedom to induct retired military officers and soldiers on attractive terms of service to make the CRPF fighting fit on a ‘war footing.’

In pacifist India, unfortunately, decision-making on a ‘war footing’ translates into forming a committee - an endless endeavour - followed by a GoM!

We need to learn the art of ‘flat decision-making’ to face the internal and the external challenges.  Decisions must be quick, bold, fair and accurate.

The biggest threat to India today is from Indians, and not the Chinese or the Pakistanis. Just, efficient and firm administration is the foremost necessity. Otherwise, India may soon become a replica of the failed state, Pakistan.

Bharat Verma, a former Cavalry Officer is Editor, Indian Defence Review, frequently appears on television as a commentator, and is the author of Fault Lines and The Indian Armed Forces.

Also read:  Maoists feed off our corrupt state | Maloy Dhar on how not to fight the Maoists |How Andhra whipped the Maoists | Hamlet and the Naxals | Five steps to fix the Naxals | Complete coverage: the Maoist Menace

Article Courtesy Indian Defence Review

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