As mentioned by others on this blog, on April 6, 76 members of a contingent of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) met a gruesome death at the hands of resurgent Maoist guerrillas in Dandewada in the north Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Two days earlier, the Maoists had killed another 11 police personnel, in Koraput, in the coastal Indian state of Orissa.
The brutal massacre of the CRPF personnel has finally caught the attention of the Indian political elite as well as the populace at large. The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, has promised to wipe out the Maoist menace within the next two to three years. Public sentiment, for the most part, also favors a quick, decisive end to the threat that the Maoists, popularly referred to as the Naxalities. Ironically, the chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Marshal P.V. Naik, has publicly expressed his reservations over the use of airpower on the grounds of its sheer lethality.
There’s no question that India must forge an effective strategy to end the Maoist problem, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has identified as the single most important internal security problem facing the country. The question, however, is how best to go about it? Despite India’s extensive experience with both class-based and ethnic insurgencies, strategies that may have worked in the past may not be the most appropriate ones for tackling this uprising.
Unlike in the past, the Naxalites are spread across a range of states, as mentioned by Rajeev on this blog, they command significant support amongst India’s marginalized and hapless tribal population and they are well-armed. Two out of three of these features of the insurgency are salient: their cross-border ties and their popularity amongst the disenfranchised tribal communities. The first makes it difficult to forge a coherent, national strategy because each state in India’s federal structure is responsible for maintaining law and order. Their ability to mobilize the genuine grievances of the tribal population ensures that a mere military solution will only postpone the day of reckoning and may even aggravate matters in the immediate term.
Thanks to these structural features of the insurgency, no quick fixes are available. Forging an adequate response to this rebellion will require fashioning a concerted national effort, cooperation amongst affected states to improve policing and avoidance of any reflexive or precipitate actions. One can only hope that India’s policymakers both at national and state levels will display such sagacity.