Hamlet and the Naxals

Source : SIFY
Last Updated: Fri, Jun 19th, 2009, 17:19:55hrs
Hamlet and the Naxals
`India is facing two major threats to its internal security. Terrorism and Naxalism.'
- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day address to the nation, August 15, 2008.
`The Naxal insurgency is escalating, and if it continues at this pace will, in the course of time , get totally out of control.'
 -  Lt General JFR Jacob, (retd) former Eastern Command Chief, Governor of Goa and Punjab and administrator, Chandigarh
Sify.com gained access to a letter sent by General Jacob  to the  authorities urging the government to use the military,  as was done on the orders of Indira  Gandhi  in October 1969 , to deal with  the renewed Naxal  insurgency in West  Bengal.
We reproduce below an edited version of his recommendations in the public interest.

The March of Naxalism

The Naxal movement was born in the little thatch hutted village of Naxalbari in north Bengal around 1967.
The movement spread and soon became a serious threat to governance in the state. As the police could not handle the situation, then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi took a pragmatic decision in October 1969 to use the  army.
Army Chief Sam Manekshaw and secretary to the goverment Govind Narayan met me in Fort William, the Eastern Command Headquarters. They told me that since the police were unable to handle the Naxals ,the army would have to do so.  I told Manekshaw that it was not the army`s job,  and that the police should try harder.
Manekshaw then said that that  the police were unable to deal with the situation,   and therefore  Mrs Gandhi had directed that the army should be given the task, and that I  was to be put in charge of the operations.  
I  then informed Manekshaw that though we had 20 Infantry  Division near Naxalbari,  we did not have sufficient troops south of the Ganga.  I asked for two more divisions.  Done, said Manekshaw, adding that he would be good to  me and also allot the 50 Para Brigade.   I then asked for orders in writing. Manekshaw replied that there could be nothing in writing,  no publicity and no records were to be kept.  Govind Narayan concurred.

By the end of 1969, 4 and 9 Infantry Divisions as also 50 Para Brigade were moved into West Bengal.

We were fortunate that the Naxalite movement was in its early stages and that their cadres were not
well- equipped.  Our major concern then was the attempts by  the movement to infiltrate the left wing trade unions. We took preventive action and deployed troops in sensitive factory areas. Troops were also deployed in the Mofussil areas.

Unfortunately, one of the founders of the movement, Charu Mazumdar, who was coming around to the negotiating table, died in police custody in July 1972.

Intensive military operations were conducted,  and by mid-1971, the Naxals were driven out of West Bengal.  During this period two elections were held and the army was deployed right down to polling booths to ensure free and fair polling.

Today, the Naxal insurgency has spread to cover a large swathe of the country, from the Terai right down to the south. The state governments with their  police and paramilitary forces have not been able to deal with it.  There is not enough coordination between the various states. The insurgency is gaining momentum, and the situation is one of increasing concern.

The insurgency is spreading from the forests and mofussil and tribal areas to small urban areas. It is soon likely to spread to towns and cities. In certain areas,  the Naxals have infiltrated government institutions. The modernisation of their weaponry, their intensive training and their intelligence gathering capability is proceeding at a fast pace.  They have links with other organisations, like the Maoists in Nepal and Bhutan and other insurgents in the north east.  Pakistan`s ISI is also likely, in case they have not done so already, to seize the opportunity to collaborate with them.
The Naxal pattern of operations is also likely to change - from the rural areas to industries to urban complexes. They are already infiltrating  trade unions and government institutions. They are likely in future to increasingly target infrastructure . Possible targets are the electricity distribution system [pylons, capacitors] road and rail communications, telephone radio relay, mobile phone towers and mobile and government institutions. They are already targeting prominent politicians and officials.
The army and air force had earlier been used in the 1920's to deal with the Moplah Revolt. The air force was used by the British against the Faqir of Ipi in Sind in 1940. The air force was also used to bomb Mizo rebel camps,   while the army was used in West Bengal against the Naxals.
The army is currently involved in counter insurgency operations in  Jammu and Kashmir as also in the north east.  These are precedents to employ the army and air force to conduct anti-Naxal operations.

There are two factors required to keep an insurgency going - firm bases and lines of supply for money, arms and ammunition. The firm bases are in the forests, the mofussil areas, and are now spreading to the towns. In some areas, the Naxals are running a parallel government and are collecting `taxes.` They are obtaining weapons by seizing them from the police and paramilitary, and explosives and detonators from the mines. With such access to sources of money, weapons and explosives,  the insurgency will continue to escalate.
Yet the government (both at the central and state level) as well as the armed forces, are not in favour of using the military to counter the Naxals.   But are we prepared to let the situation escalate further?

Shakespeare's Hamlet is the tragedy of procrastination.  Hamlet knew what he had to do,  but kept on putting it off.  Let future generations not say that we are the Hamlets of our age.

- Lt Gen JFR Jacob,  PVSM [retd]

Editor's note on  Lt Gen.  Jacob's credentials in tackling terror and insurgency
  • Lt Gen Jacob is  not an armchair warrior. He has dealt with terrorism and insurgency over a period of many years.
  • As a young major, he took part in intensive counter insurgency operations in Sumatra 1945/1946.
  • In 1969, he was responsible for  setting  up the army counter insurgency school in Mizoram.
  • He  was in charge of anti-Naxal operations in West Bengal – 1969-1971. The then chief minister Siddharta Shankar Ray used to say:  'Jake and I , we broke the Naxals.'
  • In 1974/1975  the army  intercepted two Naga gangs going to China [Jacob camped at Mokochong to conduct operations]. The army  attacked their bases and got the insurgents to sign the Shillong Accord in 1975.  Twelve years of peace followed.
  • He oversaw  operations in Mizoram and got the hostiles to the negotiating table in Calcutta. [ Calcutta Conference ] (1978)
  • On the other side of the coin,   he  was responsible in setting  up the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini in April 1971,  and oversaw their operations.
  • In October 2007, He was invited to speak to the American military, State Department and CIA at Capitol Hill. The lecture was broadcast live .  The US Marine Corps subsequently requested permission to incorporate parts of the talk in their counterinsurgency doctrine.
By the same author:  A Himalayan Blunder | 1971 War: Izzat and lessons unlearnt   |  An Indian Homeland Act | Time to protect the Thunder Dragon  | What the Dragon won`t forget