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The Deception of 'Policy'
Ajai Sahni

The gibberish about 'policies', 'SOPs', the centralization of responses, the transformation of 'tactics', 'terrorists', and other such twaddle, is nothing more than a diversion, an attempt by bankrupt politicians and force commanders to direct attention away from the awful crisis of capacities that undermines India's security and all dimensions of governance. It is not the Maoists that hold India hostage today, but the enduring venality, the incompetence and the collapse of imagination of the country's leadership.

"Ajai Sahni, “The Hostage State”, April 30, 2012

Decades into the Maoist insurgency, it is, indeed, astonishing, that it is nigh impossible to arrive at an objective, consistent and coherent assessment of this crisis on the basis of official statements. And if assessments are incoherent, the confusion and fragmentation in policy, strategy and tactics can only be greater. Indeed, it is confounding that a country that has encountered and engaged with insurgencies for over six decades now, and with the Naxalite or Maoist movement for all of four and a half, should have failed to arrive at any ordered understanding of the nature of the problem and the contours and priorities of a solution.

Indeed, a review of the official discourse and projections in recent years would suggest that there is far greater enthusiasm in the struggle for power and control on internal security issues between the Centre and the States, than there is for any sustained confrontation with the Maoists by the Centre or the States.

As the Union Ministry for Home Affairs (UMHA), in particular, makes a determined bid to augment its powers, blatantly pushing at constitutional boundaries, we see assessments and prognostications constantly tampered with and transformed. In September 2010, well after the farce of the Centre’s “massive and coordinated operations” against the Maoists had produced the tragedy of Chintalnar – where 76 Security Forces (SF) personnel were massacred on April 6, 2010 –, and a succession of lesser disasters before this, the then Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, claiming dramatic successes, declared that the SFs had “regained control” over more than 10,000 square kilometres from the Maoists! (It is not clear when the Maoists had ‘established control’ in these areas). No concrete evidence was provided to back this claim, and, by all indices, the Centre’s “clear, hold and develop strategy” had been an unmitigated failure, with Maoist depredations, SF reverses and the loss of civilian lives, all, escalating substantially. In the midst of rising chaos and manifest loss of control, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, had, in July 2010, declared, “The Government was confident that the problem of left wing extremism would be overcome in the next three years.” However, instead of any visible effort to intensify its counter-insurgency (CI) campaigns – which had been spearheaded by central forces between late 2009 and April 2010 – operations came to a virtual standstill, with the bulk of deployed forces essentially hunkering down into a posture of passive defence.

By February 2011, Chidambaram had scaled down the official assessment, again without any apparent basis in visible transformations on the ground, declaring that “a kind of stalemate” had been reached. Abruptly shifting responsibility from the Centre, he added, “The State governments concerned cannot claim any major advance, nor should we conclude that the CPI-Maoist has gained the upper hand.” The SFs remained in the grip of operational stasis into 2012, and the Maoists chose to de-escalate as well. Fatalities in all categories declined, with the total dropping from 1,180 in 2010 to 602 in 2011 (all data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal, unless otherwise mentioned), even as the Maoists were forced by a continuous loss of leadership cadres – the result of sustained intelligence work, overwhelmingly by the Andhra Pradesh Police Special Intelligence Branch (SIB), though often backed by the Intelligence Bureau and Police organisations in other States – to reassess their plans to “extend the people’s war across the country” and to deepen their “work in urban areas”.

By February 2012, Chidambaram was again declaring qualified victory, arguing that that India was ‘winning command’ over mineral rich areas where Maoist attacks had blocked off billions of dollars in potential investment. “Albeit slowly,” he said, “we are gaining control of the situation.” There was no evidence of any significant operational successes over the preceding months.

By this time, however, the National Counter-terrorism Centre, with a significant usurpation of powers of intervention in the States, was being cooked up by the UMHA, and prognostications quickly began to take on an air of stridency, to justify expanding powers for central agencies. “There was indeed a decline in the number of incidents and the number of casualties,” Chidambaram stated in April 2012, “However, I must caution you that behind these figures lies a more worrying narrative – which is the spread and the reach of some adversaries, and their success in augmenting their weaponry and their military capabilities.” Declining fatalities in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected Districts, he warned, “may give a false sense of assurance, but that is not the true picture.” Claims of operational ‘successes’ that were earlier boasted about, began to be watered down.

In recent months, the security forces have made bold forays into hitherto forbidden territories such as Saranda Forest and Koel-Sankh in Jharkhand and Abuj-maad in Chhattisgarh. However, the results remain sub-optimal, especially in areas under the control of Area or Zonal Committees operating in Bihar-Jharkand-North Chhattisgarh, Andhra-Odisha and Dandakaranya. Jan Adalats and military training camps continue to be held with impunity. Economic infrastructure and so-called police informers continue to be targeted. Extortion is rampant.

By May 2012, with his bid for the NCTC in a virtual shambles, Chidambaram had reportedly concluded that “India is fighting a losing battle against Naxalism”, and that “States like Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were not cooperating in the fight against Naxalism and their chief ministers were not helpful...”

Astonishingly, it was discovered, at this stage, that the Government’s “two-pronged approach” was securing “outstanding success” in its developmental “prong”. “The Integrated Action Plan launched in November 2010, with an outlay of Rs. 3,300 crore over two years, has been an outstanding success”, we were told. Curiously, Chidambaram simultaneously conceded that “our capacity to execute the plans is not commensurate with the nature of the challenge.” Worse, anecdotal evidence from the field indicated that the ‘developmental strategy’ to counter Naxalism was riddled with corruption, incompetence and an absence of accountability, with little of the monies actually reaching projects and intended beneficiaries. No comprehensive review of the implementation and impact of IAP has yet been attempted, though the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had been asked in May 2011, to carry out a ‘special audit’ on the performance of the project. The status of the CAG assessment is presently not known. However, reports regarding a CAG audit of the IAP and Backward Region Grant Fund projects in the Sonbhadra District of Uttar Pradesh, fairly far off from the Maoist core areas where a physical audit would present greater challenges, indicate that that most projects were not completed in time, the quality of work was poor, there was duplication of projects, the tender process had been skipped in some cases, financial reporting was faulty, and a number of procedural irregularities were noticed.

In the meanwhile, there has also been a tendency to manipulate or fudge data, to support the varying assessments of the Centre. The UMHA’s January 2010 ‘monthly report card’, for instance recorded 1,125 Maoist-related fatalities in 2009. Just months later, however, UMHA’s Annual Report 2009-10 inexplicably brought this figure down to 908. 217 people had, miraculously, been brought back to life, presumably by the UMHA’s ministrations. Similar manipulations have regularly characterized claims on police-population ratios. Speaking at the All India Conference of Directors and Inspectors General of Police at Delhi on September 16, 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that the Police-population ratio for the country was 145 per 100,000. The reliable Crime in India report, published annually by the National Crime Records Bureau, subsequently noted that, as on December 31, 2009, the ratio was, in fact, 133 per 100,000. NCRB data indicated, further, that this ratio remained the same, at 133, as on December 31, 2010. Nevertheless, the UMHA informed Parliament in March 2011, that, as in January 2011, this ratio was 174 per 100,000. The enormity of this distortion becomes clear from the fact that, given India’s population of over 1.2 billion, for each digit of augmentation in the ratio, at least 12,000 personnel need to be added to the existing Force, without adjusting for natural attrition. An increase of 41 in the ratio between December 31, 2010, and January 2011, would consequently require the recruitment of at least 492,000 personnel, without adjusting for attrition.

Naturally, as the Centre wrote hectoring letters to the concerned State Governments on their failure to deal effectively with the Maoists, the States responded defensively by attacking the Centre’s failures, and blocked off key initiatives that appeared to erode the State’s constitutional mandate and expand that of the UHMA. When the UMHA upbraided Jharkhand for its ‘ineffectiveness’ in dealing with the Maoists, for instance, a stung Chief Minister Arjun Munda argued, defensively, that the UMHA was “maligning the image of the State Government” and “playing politics over such a major issue”.

Why is all this important? And does it not even more deeply underline a need for a ‘national policy’ against the Maoists? Clearly, as long as perceptions remain fragmented and polarized, no coherent or coordinated effort to confront the Maoists is possible.

The intuitive appeal of such an argument is great, but entirely misdirected. For one thing, no national policy, even if one is articulated, has any possibility of successful implementation, as long as the mistrust between the Centre and the States persists and this can only deepen in current circumstances, where the UMHA is making a concerted bid to transgress constitutional boundaries to arrogate greater powers to itself, and where it has used every deception and stratagem to build a case, not for greater effectiveness in CI, but merely for greater control and centralization of responses. Far more significantly, however, such a bid for power is being made in the absence of effective capacities for its efficient utilization.

The reality is, central security and intelligence agencies are, at present, no better endowed to deal with the Maoist menace than are the States – and structural impediments ensure that capabilities are not being developed at a pace that would radically alter this balance in the foreseeable future. The UMHA is constantly harping on institutional form, not operational capabilities and competence. The whole idea of a ‘national policy’ has, in fact, become code for greater centralization, not an effective consensus on what needs to be done, given the real contours of the problem, and the objective imperatives of a  cooperative and coordinated ‘solution’.

It is, moreover, fairly easy to demonstrate that the Centre does not, in fact, have the solution to all of India’s internal security problems in general, and to Maoism in particular, and that it has acted, at least on occasion, with as little wisdom as the worst responding States. Indeed, the CI record of at least some States is much better than that of the Centre – an obvious and recent case in point is Andhra Pradesh, which was the heartland of the Maoist movement till the mid-2000s, but where the rebels were quickly decimated by a well conceived and dramatically well managed campaign of intelligence led operations in 2005-07. Andhra Pradesh suffered as many as 508 Maoist-related fatalities at peak in 1998, 320 in 2005, but just 33 in 2010, and 10 in 2011.

Crucially, the turnaround in Andhra Pradesh occurred within the same context of Centre-State relations, the same distribution of power, the same institutional framework, and the same absence of a ‘national policy’ and ‘national consensus’ (as well as of a National Counter Terrorism Centre and National Investigation Agency) that are the focus of the chattering classes today.

Indeed, much of the policy debate on the ‘Maoist challenge’ and on CI, remains mired in counter-productive debates on the most irrelevant variables and concepts, much of which only confers oblique legitimacy  to the extremists, evolves an apologetics for their relentless violence, and paralyses state responses. Most of these arguments derive from faith, not fact. Thus we have the interminable harping on ‘root causes’ and ‘developmental solutions’, and a meaningless and contra-factual polarization between the ‘hearts and minds’ and the ‘law and order’ approaches.

The reality is, development is, quite simply, not a CI strategy at all. That development is desirable cannot be contested – but it is desirable of itself, not because someone is holding a gun to the Government’s head. Unfortunately, moreover, it is not something that can be ordered off a menu card, and served quickly on a platter. The time frames of development and CI are, quite entirely, irreconcilable. Crucially, moreover, you cannot develop what you do not control. Indeed, the Indian experience even now demonstrates that the Government is failing spectacularly in its developmental duties in areas fully under its control, where no Maoist activities and violence are in evidence. Delivering development to the areas under Maoist disruptive dominance is an obvious pipe dream, and would be laughed out in any rational discourse. As Cherikuri Rajkumar aka Azad, the CPI-Maoist spokesman who was killed in June 2010, once noted,

In recent months, the security forces have made bold forays into hitherto forbidden territories such as Saranda Forest and Koel-Sankh in Jharkhand and Abuj-maad in Chhattisgarh. However, the results remain sub-optimal, especially in areas under the control of Area or Zonal Committees operating in Bihar-Jharkand-North Chhattisgarh, Andhra-Odisha and Dandakaranya. Jan Adalats and military training camps continue to be held with impunity. Economic infrastructure and so-called police informers continue to be targeted. Extortion is rampant.

Even if the developmental enterprise is to be intensified in areas of present Maoist disruption, moreover, it must be abundantly clear that this can only be possible after a degree of stable and enduring SF dominance has been restored. As one commentator rightly noted, “you can argue about whether security is 10 per cent of the problem or 90 per cent of the problem, but it’s the first 10 per cent or the first 90 per cent.”

The truth is, neither the Centre nor most of the States have the capacities to effectively implement either the ‘developmental’ or the ‘law and order’ ‘solution’ at present. These may be emotively powerful idioms in a polarized discourse, but they have no relevance unless issues relating to the necessary resource configurations and objective circumstances of their application are settled.

India’s multiple crises of capacities have been repeatedly written of elsewhere, by this writer, but a quick overview of the most significant numbers is useful here. The Police-population ratio, at 133 per 100,000 in end 2010 (and perhaps just marginally higher now) compares adversely with Western ratios of well over 200, and up to 500, and a UN recommended ratio of about 222 for peacetime policing. India has a judge to population ratio of 1.4 to 100,000. The Law Commission had recommended, in 1987, that this be raised to at least five. The US ratio is 11 judges to 100,000 people; China has 17; Germany has 25; and Slovenia has 39. Clearly, capacities for security and justice administration are abysmal. Civil administration (the ‘bulwark’ on which the ‘developmental solution’ is to be constructed) is as bad. The US Federal Government, based on a philosophy that the ‘least government is the best government’, employees 840 personnel per 100,000 population; the Indian Union Government – with a finger in every pie – employs just 257, with 44 per cent of these in the Indian Railways alone, as far from a ‘core governance’ function as you can get. In the US, State and Local Governments employ 6,841 employees per 100,000 population. In Bihar, this number stands at 457; in Uttar Pradesh, 801; in Chhattisgarh, 1,174; in Odisha, 1,191. 93 per cent of all Central and State Government employees are in the Class III and Class IV categories, and contribute little to the delivery of core administrative services. These are just numbers, and the less said about the quality, competence, capabilities and integrity of this rudimentary administrative setup, the better.

What we need, today, is not a ‘national policy’, nor, indeed, a ‘national debate on policy’; we do not need to rewrite Centre-State relations and the distribution of powers in the Constitution of India; we do not need sham institutional impositions such as the National Counter Terrorism Centre. What we need, rather, is a relentless focus on the nuts and bolts of capacities and capabilities in existing institutions of intelligence, policing and governance; in the absence of these, all our ‘polices’ and ‘strategies’ remain nothing more than slogans.

[Published in Defence and Security Alert, June 2012]





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