Book Review | Indian National Security and Counter-Insurgency: The use of Force Vs Non-Violent Response

 By Niharika Singh Rana
Indian National Security and Counter-Insurgency: The use of force vs non-violent response by Goswami, Namrata (2016)

Internal conflicts within any nation are perceived as an instrument of destruction. It questions the legitimacy and the sovereignty of the State. The Indian state has had to fight and overcome such issues since independence. Some of the most extensive and violent internal conflicts are Northeast Insurgency, Left-Wing Extremism, the Khalistani movement and fundamentalism. Each insurgent group involved in conflict with the state has its aims and aspirations. Recent events in Chattisgarh have prompted a deliberation on the issue of internal security and the state’s approach.  Dr Namrata Goswami’s book “Indian National Security and Counter-Insurgency: The use of force vs non-force response” is a vital read. The book was published in 2016 by Routledge (London and New York), but it evokes pertinent issues regarding contemporary internal conflicts. The author has formulated her analysis of the State’s response through extensive field research. The book focuses on two main conflict areas; the insurgency in the Northeast region and Left-Wing Extremism, popularly known as Naxalism in the ‘Red Corridor’.

The objective of the book is to analyse the Indian state’s response to various Internal Security issues. The book is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with a different conflict. For instance, Chapter 1 is dedicated to introducing the formulation of India’s national security policy and its counter-insurgency practices. Chapter 2 looks at the Naga insurgency and highlights the prolonged case of Indian counter-insurgency forces and their operations in the region. Chapter 3 takes up the issue of Assam and Manipur, with a detailed study of ULFA, PLA, and UNLF. The focus is on the absence of effort for peace negotiations. Chapter 4 deals with the Mizo counter-insurgency. It is expounded as a prominent success story of the Indian state in terms of containment of insurgency. On the other hand, Chapters 5 and 6 take up the case of the Naxal insurgency. The Chapters engage with the strategies adopted by the State and the insurgent groups. It deliberates on the ‘limitless goals’ of insurgent groups and ‘State’s limited capacity.’ Lastly, in Chapter 7, the author concludes India’s counter-insurgency experience and asserts it to be a balance between Kautilya and Gandhian philosophy.

The book divides itself into specific case studies of internal conflict. But the overall analysis indicates three significant themes. First, the Psychological Factors include identity, political ideology, ethnicity, culture, history, and coercion. The author analyses these factors to build an argument for why insurgencies survive and generate mass appeal. Second, it analyses the Methodologies Adopted by the State and other National Institutes to deal with Northeast insurgency and Naxalism. It emphasises the ‘National Interest’ and the values that influence the formulation of counter-insurgency policy. Lastly, it outlines two ‘Ideational’ Schools; Kautilya and Gandhian. Furthermore, the author also recommends approaches adopted by the state from these schools for a more robust counter-insurgent response.

The “Us vs Them” narrative is put forth by the author in every chapter. It is a significant driving force for the eruption and continuation of any conflict most prevalent in areas wrapped around the notions of ethnic identity. For instance, the Meitei public sphere is narrow. The group argues that “our identity is different, we are alienated, our rights stand threatened, we have to preserve”. The state, in this context, becomes the ‘outsider’ and ‘exploiter’. For example, ULFA’s claim dictates “exploitation at the hands of New Delhi…not much space available for the people [of Assam]…in national, political, and social imagination”  The author asserts that discourse of the ‘othering’ often due to the negligence of the State results in the struggle for legitimacy.

 Dr Namrata Goswami explains that such conflicts often erupt when people in a particular region or area do not feel the State exists in their interests. She also explains that the disconnect of the masses from the state helps the insurgent groups build ‘Legitimacy’ for their actions. The insurgent groups gain legitimacy by running “Parallel Governments”. The author states that NSCN(IM) offers health services and security to the villagers. It runs “crime suppression departments” and possesses a multi-layered judiciary based on Naga customary law. A similar case is presented to the reader in Naxal affected areas. The “Jan Adalats” dispense justice when the state is either unresponsive or delaying/denying justice. The author highlights that such services invoke a social and cultural allegiance amongst the masses. She states, “social connections, control mechanisms, living in similar circumstances, a shared vision of how things can get better, a sense of empowerment, interests and at times fear and intimidation.” The book lays down comprehensive arguments and attempts to answer why and how insurgent groups acquire mass appeal and support.

The second theme is the Response of the Indian state on the Issue of Internal security. The response mechanism of the state, as the author states, includes several formal and informal agencies. National institutions responsible for formulating and exercising policy include; the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet Committee on Security, the National Security Council, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Indian Military apparatus. The non-formal agencies include indigenous mediators. The case of Mizoram, wherein The Mizo Church, led by Reverend Zairema, took up a leading role in mediation as early as 1968.

On the other hand, the Indian State is in a constant dilemma regarding its response mechanism since the groups engaged in violence are civilians. The book tackles the ongoing debate on “Minimal Use of Force and Proportionality”. The author provides comprehensive data on security measures undertaken by the Indian State. For instance, she mentions “Operation Rhino I” and “Operation Rhino II” undertaken by the Indian Army against the ULFA in Assam. In addition, it mentions the incorporation of “Indian Reserve Battalions” with an estimated cost of Rs 20.75 cr per battalion have been sanctioned for the Naxal-affected State. On the other hand, the State has established “surrender policies” and “socio-economic” measures such as the Planning Commission set up in 2006 to study the root causes of Naxalism. The author suggests that the Indian State utilises force as a strategic tool to deal with internal conflicts whilst also creating room for dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict(s).

Lastly, the author states that the Indian State’s counter-insurgency policy is drawn mainly from Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Gandhian philosophy of Non-Force. These two ideational philosophies shed light on the engagement and disengagement of force by the Indian State. The Arthashastra is a treatise for conducting war and diplomacy to “strengthen the state’s power, wealth, security.” It offers a strategic perspective to maximise a state’s national security, and the “Use of Force” is justified to maintain internal order. On the other hand, Gandhian philosophy emphasises ‘empathy’ and ‘dialogue’. It states, “transformation in the context, the relationships, and structures from which the conflict sprang, it is critical for the situation to transform itself.” The Indian State’s policy showcases the integration of utilisation of force, peaceful negotiations, and rehabilitation of insurgents to combat the issues(s). For instance, the author provides the reader with the case of the “Andhra Model”, which was used to combat Naxalism. Its key elements include effective surrender and rehabilitation policy, the culture of police leadership, sound knowledge of local terrain, superior intelligence coordination and assessment and development to back police response.

The book paints a vivid picture of the gaps in policymaking. It recognises the shortcomings of the State and makes recommendations. The recommendations on conducting negotiations include four key elements: leadership; the right kind of incentive structure and vision; institutional structures that enable negotiations to succeed; and the right kind of implementation. The author draws her influence from the Kautilya philosophy of “Yoagakshema” and Gandhi’s philosophy of understanding the ‘worldview’ of the opposite side. She creates a confluence between the two philosophies wherein the former proposes that “the King (state) derives his (its) legitimacy from the welfare of people”. The latter ascribes for the State to engage with the “Root Cause” of the conflict. Thus, the author’s main argument is that the Indian State’s policy should go beyond legal frameworks and focus on social and psychological engagements concerning conflict resolution.

On the security front, the major shortcoming noted by the author is that most security measures aim at killing and do not pay any heed to the effective defeat of an insurgency. The main recommendations have four main elements. First is location, which requires identification of rebel group bases. The second is isolation; it requires separating the insurgent groups from their support base. It involves the movement and resettlement of local communities. Third, eradication; is based on sound intelligence and the operational flexibility of counter-military operations. Lastly, the author emphasizes sound knowledge of local terrain. The author notes that utilizing the best force could also prove disastrous and cites the two successive raids by ‘Grey Hound’ on 16 and 29 June 2008 in Orissa’s Malkangiri District. It was ambushed by Naxals and killed 36 Grey Hound personnel. As per the author, the four elements form the pillar of efficient operations undertaken by Security Forces.

The book by Dr. Namrata Goswami is an informative read for anybody trying to understand the essence of internal conflicts. It does discuss the Northeast insurgency in greater detail than the issue of Left-Wing Extremism. Many readers can argue that it does not hold the same relevance due to the inactive status of the Northeast insurgency. It is opined that this book has a greater significance in providing the reader with a framework to understand: Why do conflicts occur, and how do they survive? It dwells deeper and probes the reader to engage with the issue practically and emotionally. There are multiple overlapping concepts and factors, which only lead to the realisation that every conflict, however different, has common factors of sustenance and mass support. The author justifies her recommendations with well-built arguments. Overall, the book is an engaging read for anybody inquisitive about internal conflicts and how a legitimate state deals with them.