Catchphrases aren’t strategies
For the past year, the
Ministry of Home Affairs has issued repeated statements regarding its
'strategy' against the Maoists, encapsulated in the oft-used catchphrase
'clear, hold and develop'. Here's the result: 76 dead at Chintalnar,
another 44 at Chingavaram, at least 110 at Sardiha, and no less than
377 civilians and security personnel killed in numerous 'lesser' Maoist
attacks (excluding the three named) since the launch of the Centre's
'massive and coordinated operations' in November 2009. All this should
be ample evidence that catchphrases are not strategies.
There has been a pervasive
proclivity to use the word 'strategy' rather loosely, to cover every
jumble of aspirations, intentions and, often, fantasies. But 'strategy'
has no meaning unless it incorporates a long-term perspective; a realistic
and accurate assessment of the challenge; a clear definition of objectives;
a quantified assessment and acquisition of resources required to secure
the objectives; and a planned deployment of these resources within timeframes
imposed by the conflict. If there is a disconnect between objectives,
tactics, resources and ground conditions, there is no strategy.
That is the reality of
the arbitrary event — media-and politics-driven initiatives of the past
months. The Centre's vision and objectives could not be reconciled with
the forces and resources available and deployed, and the succession
of operational and tactical reverses that have resulted are a direct
and inescapable consequence of this strategic infirmity.
It must be clear, consequently,
that the Centre's current initiatives have failed — inevitably and abysmally
— and will have to be abandoned. Retreating into a defensive shell is,
however, not an option. Nor will desperate entreaties for negotiations
with the Maoist leadership serve the state's purposes. A strategic shift
is imperative, and must reconcile objectives with capacities. The state
cannot currently restore authority over vast tracts across which the
Maoists have established their disruptive dominance, and no useful purpose
can be served by attempting to target the Maoists in their present 'heartlands'.
If there is an attempt simply to concentrate available the forces against
identified command centres, these will simply dissolve to relocate elsewhere,
even as diversionary violence escalates exponentially — tactics that
have already been demonstrated to devastating effect.
The immediate tactical
emphasis must be on intelligence-led and narrowly targeted operations
seeking out the leadership, rather than dissipating the forces on chasing
cadres. The state must seize and hold, not territory, but the initiative
that it has long relinquished. Intelligence will be the key here — and
there have been numerous successes on this plane, including the arrest,
surrender or elimination of much of the top Maoist leadership. This
is the thrust that must be strengthened enormously.
Before we set out to 'recover'
Maoist strongholds, it is essential that we secure our own. Two-hundred-and-twenty-three
of the 636 districts in India are now categorised as variously affected
by Maoist activity, though just 90 of these experience recurrent violence.
There must be a clear determination to contain the Maoists on their
peripheries, to engineer their expulsion from areas in which their influence
is nascent, and ensure that they are not able to expand into new areas.
This requires, first, a
complete reorientation of existing Police Forces, with the largest possible
proportion of the State Police operationalised — that is, retrained,
equipped and mandated to deal with the Maoists. Only through genuine
Police reforms and dramatic augmentations in general policing capabilities
— something no one seems to want — can the state stem the rising tide
of Maoist disorders. Eventually, a final showdown with the Maoists in
their current areas of strength will be necessary, but this is best
deferred till the massive capacity augmentation necessary to create
the conditions for victory has been completed.
Finally, before it struts
about airing nonsense about 'developing' Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Dantewada
and Bastar, let the State demonstrate its honest intent and, crucially,
the capacity to deliver good governance in the areas unambiguously in
( Published in Hindustan
times, May 30, 2010)