This inability of Indian states to cooperate against the Naxals betrays what Schaffer calls the ‘uncomfortable seam between the federal government and the states when it comes to internal security.’ It should be the job of the central government to help unify the actions of the states into a coherent national policy.
But that’s legally complicated in India. ‘That’s the nature of the Indian Constitution,’ Sunil Dasgupta, a professor at the University of Maryland, tells The Diplomat. ‘The constitution says that law and order is the function of the state or province and not the central government and so the states have to respond [to the Naxalite threat].’
Even during the terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008, ‘you didn’t see a take-over of the law-and-order apparatus by the national government,’ Dasputa points out.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Weapons of Choice
Not only does the strictly state-based approach to defeating the Naxals preclude a coherent national strategy, it also means that the Naxals—who aren’t restricted by legal considerations—can adapt faster to a changing military environment. Indian police lack the resources, training and leadership of the army. They just can’t keep up with their Naxalite opponents.
The Naxals have speedily adopted many of the tactics and weapons being refined by Islamic insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, Improvised Explosive Devices—the biggest killer of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan—are the Naxals’ weapon of choice.
‘IEDs not only threaten the safety of our men, but also considerably hamper the speed of operations because the security forces, fearing IEDs, usually walk in the Maoist-prone areas as they do not have the latest mine-protected vehicles, which can guard from such threats,’ Indian Intelligence Bureau Chief Ajit Doval told defence reporter Manu Sood. Doval called for India to buy US-style Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armoured trucks, each costing around $1 million.
But there’s no process in place, and no money, to buy the trucks and other bomb-defeating equipment for the police. ‘The Indian government and the security agencies have lagged behind in developing a doctrine to fight the IED threat of the Maoists,’ Sood concluded.
Katoch dismisses the equipment debate. ‘Equipment is not the issue,’ he says. ‘Leadership and training is. We already have a successful example of handling Naxals.’ That is, the improved governance and economic development paired with sustained security operations that allowed Andhra Pradesh to diminish the local Maoist threat. States just need to adopt and adapt that basic model.
For his part, Dasgupta says he believes the Andhra Pradesh approach is already taking root in other states, despite the communication ‘seams’ that Schaffer identifies. Ironically, increasing violence is actually proof of that, Dasgupta claims. ‘Any rebellion will have greater violence when government begins to contest their levels. So I think what you’re seeing is a function of the government trying to contest the Naxals.’