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The Winning Quotient: Air Power? The Naxals are not Viet Cong

The MHA's anti-naxal strategy requires an orbital jump. The suggestions that are currently doing the rounds - including the use of air power, of the Army, and the whole idea of 'jungle warfare' - are coming from people who are completely uninitiated in the field. Just like 'crony capitalism', the MHA is now getting trapped in 'crony securityism' - strategies are not being decided by the best minds, but by those who secure access through connections.

The issue of responsibility has been entirely muddied. The MHA says the principal responsibility lies with the State governments, since law and order is a State subject. But this is immediately belied when the Home Minister constantly makes statements to the Press regarding the strategy to counter the Maoists and the 'coordinated operations' that the Centre is backing across four States. He has often criticized State Governments, sometimes with reason and sometimes for political purpose.

Naxalism is largely a State problem, and to deal with it, the States must raise their own Forces, must have total control, and must work through their DGPs. It is crucial that allocated resources are not diverted to other uses, as has often been the case. Of course, I do not discount the role of the CPMFs, but this is an additional resource, and should not be projected as the main operational Force, as is currently the case.

When I was in Chhattisgarh, my basic concept was to strength the local Police; increase their numbers; give them the wherewithal. Very little of what I had recommended has yet been implemented. Even today, the number of State Police personnel involved in anti-Naxal operations is abysmal. While I was there, there were about 500 Chattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) personnel deployed for CI operations. Today, that number has gone up to about 2,000. Such a tiny Force is meaningless, considering that the Bastar Division alone, the densely forested tribal area which is the heart of the insurgency, covers as much as 39,114 square kilometers. The present DGP has been pushing for change, but there are many defects in the system, and everything is obstructed. Even constables' transfers are decided in the Secretariat. Simply demanding that the DGP do a good job without giving him the authority or the wherewithal is counter-productive.

Various proposals, such as the use of the Air Force, are downright wrong. Of course, I had asked for UAVs in Chhattisgarh, and despite various institutional frictions, they had been used to some effect in CI operations. However, to think that this is a war that can fought with hi-tech devices and helicopter gunships is just plain wrong. I remember the former Deputy Prime Minister wanted helicopter gunships to be used in J&K, but I said, 'don't do itů don't read magazines and watch movies and start imagining things.'

Everyone is talking about 'jungle warfare', as if this is some Vietcong type of operation. These are small groups engaging in ambushes and using IEDs. This is far from the kind of warfare we saw in Vietnam. Our strategies and tactics, our equipment and our training have to be tailored for the kind of conflict our Forces are confronting, not some stereotype we have read of in books.


(Published in Deccan Chronicle, April 15, 2010)





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