Home Meeting the Naxal Challenge | Seminar

Meeting the Naxal Challenge

June 11, 2010
By Centre for Land Warfare Studies


The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) organised a seminar on “Meeting the Naxal Challenge” on 11 June 2010 at the CLAWS Campus. Shri Prakash Singh, former DG BSF, chaired the seminar. Shri E N Rammohan, former DG, BSF, Brig B K Ponwar (Retd), Director, Jungle Warfare and Counter Insurgency School, Kanker, Chhattisgarh, Shoma Chaudhury Managing Editor, Tehelka Magazine spoke on the subject. Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia, AVSM**, YSM, VSM, GOC-in-C Central Command, delivered the valedictory address. Selected officers from the armed forces and eminent experts participated in the seminar.

Welcome Address:  Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), Director, CLAWS

The Director welcomed the participants to the seminar. He began by stating that the seminar aimed to go beyond reiteration of the ground situation existing in various states and would look into the realm of possible solutions.  Recent events have shown the true face of Naxalites as extortionists, bandits and terrorists who have a stated aim of overthrowing Indian democracy by force and imposing their brand of totalitarian rule over the country. It is important to understand the nature of retardation factors in realising the goal of security in the Red Corridor. Some of the issues which need to be dealt with are:

• Centre/State relations in relation to problem resolution.
• The triangle of governance, development and security.
• Methodology of employing security issues.
• A possible role for the Armed Forces.

Shri Prakash Singh

The Naxal problem is not best described by the Prime minister’s statement of it being the ‘biggest security challenge’. Rather, it can be considered a ‘major security challenge’. It is important to look at the bigger picture. Islamic terrorism is clearly one of the greatest internal security threats, which has the capacity to destabilise the nation over a period of time. Naxalism is without doubt a serious threat, but backed by the Indian government it can be tackled in the long term. There are some inherent problems in the way the Naxal threat has been tackled:

• Fighting an unconventional threat by conventional means.
• Deploying strategies without a common purpose or a common goal.
• The essence of area domination is not clearly understood. The Ministry of Home Affairs talks of sending forces across 12 states and calls it ‘area domination’.
• Ineffective response to the asymmetric challenge.
• The blunder of politicising the police forces and paramilitary forces.

There are particular problem with the way paramilitary forces function. For almost 15-16 years, while the paramilitary forces have expanding, they have remained ineffective in dealing with any internal threat. Police stations in critical areas remain unmanned. Expansion should not be undertaken by central forces but by the concerned states. It is important to consider that 150 battalions are sufficient but unfortunately, the government has recklessly expanded the force without adequate resources or leadership. Owing to these lacunas, the police force of the country is being questioned in terms of its effectiveness. The Indian government ignored the Naxal threat in the past and at times underestimated it. Two such occasions were in the early 1970s when Charu Majumdar died in police custody and in early 1980s when Andhra Pradesh embarked on effective Counter insurgency operations and seemingly resolved the problem. Unfortunately, their efforts abated the movement in their own state but spread it across to other un-affected neighbouring states.

Such a pattern was also evident in Manipur, when the enemy bounced back after a period of time. The internal security problems in India are by and large due to our own inefficiency. Every decade has been a victim of a new problem:

• 1950s- Turbulence in North-East region
• 1960s- Naga issue
• 1970s- Problem in Assam
• 1980s- Separatist movement in Punjab
• 1990s- The Kashmir insurgency
• Present- Maoist indigenous terrorism

On an average, 12000 security force personnel are trained annually, but the country remains inefficient in utilising the manpower.

Shri EN Rammohan

The issue of Naxalites has haunted us for long. The topic was dealt with in 2006 at United Service Institution of India and then discussed in the Intelligence Bureau seminar. The reports may have reached the Prime Minister but unfortunately, there was no response. A competent force is needed to ensure unbound security of a nation. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) conceived in 1962 is a perfect example of one such force which guards the border and fights behind enemy lines, an illustration of guerilla warfare.

Whenever an insurgency springs up, it is important to determine the root causes and take action accordingly. There would be a requirement of use of military force as the spread of insurgency reflects a failure of the civil set-up. Left wing Extremism is a result of economic and social discrimination. Particularly, the movement has two facets that were responsible for its rise:

• Leftist leadership.
• Perceived discrimination against the people of the particular area.

History is dotted with examples of class (in case of India, caste) division that has resulted in Leftist movements. The uneven class distribution is not only seen in our nation, but was present in Russia before their Red revolution, and continues to be persistent in China. The basic issues of the Naxal movement are the issues of land, forest produce and minerals. Historically, tribals were left out and isolated when they failed to integrate in the Hindu social order. In the caste hierarchy, it was the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who owned land. The tribals were marginalised and remained landless and their dialect remained rustic without any effort being made to understand or embrace it. These marginalised people were tilling the land of the landowners but they only got one third of the produce which was barely enough for their survival.

In 1946, it was the CPI that started working with the backward classes and tribals to get them a better deal from the landowners. When such movements tried to change the status quo by force, the police forces perforce had to maintain the law and restore the status quo. This pushed the poorest sections of society into the Naxal fold. The tribals who lived by gathering forest produce were grossly underpaid for their products. They too were helped by the Naxals to get a better deal. Now, with the discovery of minerals in these areas and the impact of indiscriminate mining has pushed the tribals deeper into poverty.

It is important to trace similar events in history. When the white man went to the then North America, the Red Indians were pushed into reservations. Importantly, there was a clause which stated that in case oil or other precious resources were discovered in these reservations, then it would belong to the Red Indians. Australians have similar provisions for the aborigines who have been granted reservations by the government. Therefore, as a possible solution, the tribals could perhaps be given the right over the minerals which are found in the land they lived in for millienia.

Appropriate legislation and its effective implementation will also wean away the local population from the Naxals. In Kerala, domestic servants are protected from abuse and discrimination by law, wherein domestic servants work through a union. In Kashmir, land laws give rights to the cultivator. Such efforts need to be directed towards the protection of tribals and backward classes in the Red Corridor. Protecting the rights of the adivasis is the key to success against the Naxals. That is the challenge for the leadership of the state.

Brig BK Ponwar (Retd)

Naxalism is not a mere police or military problem. It is a revolt of the deprived and dispossessed. People want the basic amenities of life and they want good governance. Unfortunately, many state governments and their administrations have lost credibility on this score. The national belief in India is that if you allow sufficient time for something, it will take care of itself. Most regrettably, this will not happen with the ideologically and militarily strong Naxal movement. Thus an “Orchestration of a Politico-Military-Socio-Economic-Psychological Counter Naxalism Campaign” has to be executed in a five pronged approach addressing the Naxal Military arm first.

While the nation was focusing on J&K and the North Eastern States, the Naxal movement has spread over one third of India and their most effective weapon remains the IED. Over 4500 lives have been lost in the past five years to ‘Red Terror’. In the current year, 629 casualties have been reported in the Red Corridor as against 158 in J&K and 157 in NE States. Naxal violence has spread across 321 districts of the country, most violent being the Bastar Sub Division an area of 39,000 Sq km; equivalent to Mizoram, Tripura and half of Manipur. We now have some areas where only the writ of the Naxals run and the state is conspicuous by its absence.  Abujhmarh is a case in point.

There are a number of recommended strategies that can be employed to counter the Naxal menace. The resolution process requires an immediate establishment of Indian authority in the guerilla zones for which the police has to be re-oriented for combat, specifically in counter terrorism and jungle warfare. In doing so, the police should carry out a creeping re-occupation of the guerilla zones. As the areas get secure, socio-economic activity must follow and political leadership must reassert itself. Simultaneously, a mass psychological warfare campaign needs to be launched to wean away the population from Naxal influence. Modernisation of the police not only in terms of weapons, equipment, communications and technology but in regard to modernising the ‘policeman’ in his mental, physical and psychological re-conditioning is required to meet the Naxal challenge. It is only after military, political and population pressure that the Naxal leadership would come to the negotiating table and ultimately join the democratic process.

State Response Mechanism is an aspect that needs to be highlighted. In all the Naxal affected states, a state level coordination committee needs to be formed under the Chief Minister with all the security force heads in the state. Additionally, there is a strong need to appoint socio-economic related state secretary and local area/sub area representatives for combat training advice. The committee should meet at regular intervals to address all the Naxal issue at the state level. Moreover, a state operational group can be constituted under the DGP to coordinate operations within the state and neighboring states. All Naxal affected IGPs/SPs and CPMFs in the state should come under this group.

To implement the strategy, all facets - political, economic, diplomatic, military, psychological have to be addressed conjointly in order to bring normalcy in the Red Corridor. The Naxal movement has a very strong influence on the political activities in the state. The political process should include:

• Chief Minister should be the Chief Coordinator. This move would prove to be effective and would ensure unified command in the State.
• The political will of all the political parties needs to be focused on the resolution of the conflict.
• Local MLAs/MPs are required to get involved to solve the ethnic situation and participate in development projects.
• Terrorist outfits have to be encouraged to come over ground and join the mainstream of democracy by participating in elections.
• Ensure free and fair elections.

In regard to the economic sphere, lop-sided development or lack of development is to a great extent responsible for the underdeveloped situation. Isolation and backwardness is another reason why unemployed youth take up guns and get engulfed by terrorism. Small scale cottage industries specific to the requirement of the people need to be opened, tourism should be encouraged and communications need to be improved to facilitate development.

 The state government must resuscitate and revitalize its institutions in terms of education, health care, public distribution system and employment opportunities.  As part of the psychological campaign, the following could be considered: -

• Attractive surrender and rehabilitation packages.
• Psychological campaign needs to focus on the might of the security force of the nation and highlight that terrorist organisations are no match.
• Mass communication through village level meetings, posters, newspapers need to be carried out to portray the benefits of the peace process.
• All agencies to work jointly to achieve the desired end state.

The Military arena should deal with the problem through four important steps. The first of these is synergised operations. Next, operations should be based on small teams operating from Company sized bases which have been established on a deployment grid. All operations must be launched with specific intelligence inputs. Thirdly, the security forces must establish good rapport with the local population so that intelligence inflows are forthcoming. They should work alongside the civil administration to facilitate economic development.  And fourthly, counter revolutionary movement like the ‘Salwa Judum’ in Chhattisgarh can pay handsome dividends and should be encouraged.

All uniformed forces of the state must be trained to sustain and support operations. The state has established a Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College at Kanker (North Bastar), where police personnel from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra and Orissa and recently the CRPF too have got training pertaining to guerilla warfare. Certain additional measures which could prove helpful are: - 

• Seminars and Capsules must be regularly held to improve awareness and interaction. 
• Higher level coordination of operations and logistic support needs to be carried out at the state and IG/ DIG level. At the operating level, armed police must operate under their own commandant and not under the local SP or SHO.
• All police stations in affected areas must have adequate manning strength with both defensive and offensive operations capability.
• Entry into Abhujmarh- Entry into the region by virtue of the ground has to be led by security forces followed by political, economic, social and psychological activities. In a similar manner, other states should also venture to clear and establish government authority in the Naxal dominated areas.

The Indian Army can contribute to the counter Naxal operations by undertaking the following tasks:

• Training the security forces in numerous aspects of operations.
• Offering advice and engineering assistance.
• Undertaking combat exercises in affected areas and by deploying the Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles in a combat role.
• Training in terms of offensive counter Naxal operations.
• Restoration of Salwa Judum in the villages.
Other recommendations include:
• Effective Command and control of the security forces.
• Grid deployment and assigning area of responsibility and the establishment of headquarters in the vicinity.
• DIG/IG responsibility.
• Raising specific CI/CT battalions.
• Establishing Offensive and Defensive forces.
• Army leadership.

The Naxal movement has survived for around 100 years in rural India. It cannot be put down by force by anybody as long as injustice, hunger, lawlessness and high handedness prevails. We in the armed forces need to be prepared to fight terrorism in all its manifestations. Otherwise, we will end up training all our lives for a conventional war which may never occur – or fight the war on terror all our lives for which we were never trained.

Shoma Chaudhury

The Maoists have been carrying a political ideology that is based on a political philosophy. They have a solid political base and appeal in the masses. They have become a political force in India.  It is necessary to know the nature of the problem.  There are numerous reasons for the Maoist movement and their movement cannot be suppressed with the use of force. The army is seen as a protectionist force of the state.  While the Maoists often resort to violence, they generally abjure from violence against the civilian population as the civilian population is their support base. The Maoists openly question society, social strata and economic disparities and are perceived by their supporters to be fighting for social justice. The government’s stand on these issues is not clear and is often ambiguous.

The Naxal movement will continue and unless the issues are resolved we may head towards civil war. It is a fact that under any political dispensation not a single directive had been issued by the centre to the tribal areas in the last 60 years.  Salwa Judum forced the people to vacate their villages. The police forces have been known to commit torture, violence and rape on a hapless population and when such cases are reported, even an FIR is not registered. As a result the people are alienated. The security forces must bring a sense of security to the affected civilian population that could help in restoring faith in the system. Unfortunately, we lack political consensus on how the issue should be handled.

It is necessary to think over tribal rights. When the government acquires traditional tribal lands and gives it to large corporations for mining, the local people are displaced. And these people left with no means of livelihood will fall prey to Maoist influence and rise against the government.

Force used by the security forces in response further alienates the people and sets of a vicious chain reaction.  The government must realise the magnitude of the problem and look into these issues in their totality along with proper rehabilitation plans. The victims and the deprived people do not have access to police and judiciary. And police highhandedness further alienates them from the state. As of now, about 600 villages have been vacated in Dantewada. The people need to be resettled back in their villages as a first step towards restoration of normalcy. This has to be followed by an effective justice delivery system and proper socio-economic development. It must be remembered that the Maoists are a political force that is best contained by weaning away their support base, which is the people.


• The importance of training police personnel in such operations was emphasised as was the issue of equipping the forces to fight terrorism.  Training should be adequate and proper.
• Raising new organisation and unit is not the solution of the problem. Existing forces must be used.
• India is in three-front situation - China, Pakistan, and the Maoists. Basically, it is a proxy war by China. Political consensus must be arrived at and the writ of the state should be established in all Maoists affected areas.
•  Land reforms are urgently required. Socio-economic problem is the root cause of the Maoists movement for which the issue of forest rights, mining, land and socio economic development must be addressed. There would be a need to amend the Indian Forest which is a colonial legacy.

Valedictory Address: Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia, AVSM**, YSM, VSM, GOC-in-C Central Command

In the valedictory address the Army Commander gave out the broad overview of the Naxal affected areas and the causative factors leading to the growth of Naxalism and outlined measures which could be undertaken to stem and finally turn the tide against Naxal violence.


• Most people feel that the state has not been able to handle the Naxal problem. Interacting with the states, one realises that they have done their homework well and are working effectively towards the correct direction with the right intentions.

• The Naxals have not yet established any direct links with any external actor as perceived by many. The alleged links have not been proven and therefore should not be considered as gospel.

(Report compiled by Dr. Shah Alam, Research Fellow and Aditi Malhotra, Research Assistant, CLAWS)

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