Review of Naxal Threat and Policy
On May 18, 2012, the Home
Minister Mr P Chidambaram he held a meeting with the Directors General of BSF,
CRPF, ITBP & CISF to review the situation in LWE-affected States. As per Indian Today the Home Ministry indicated
concern on lack of adequate proactive action by states like Orissa,
Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. There is resistance from these states in launching
offensive operations and it is felt that the Army may have to be deployed as it
does not take orders from the State administration and conducts operations
based on the ground situation. While the government has been following a two
pronged strategy for containment of Naxalism there are emerging concerns over
lack of an effective direction. Thus evolution of standard policy and effective
implementation has been found wanting.
Requirement of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was
highlighted with challenges emanating for coordination particularly between
central and state forces in Orissa. “We would like to highlight the limitations
of the SOP followed by the central paramilitary forces which is hindering
operational efficiency. Unless the SOPs are suitably revised, the central
forces cannot deliver the desired results,” the state’s director-general of
police, Manmohan Praharaj, said in a letter to Union home secretary R.K. Singh.
Eight battalions of the CRPF and five of the BSF are currently deployed in the
Maoist-affected areas of the state.
high profile kidnapping incidents the Orissa government and the police have
come under some severe criticism for poor conduct of anti Maoist operations and
lack of enough offensive component in the same. These operations are being
compared with that in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand where it is perceived that
major success has been achieved by police forces both the central and the
state. Handling of the hostage crisis, where two Italian tourists and one
Member of the Legislative Assembly were kidnapped was also seen by many as
providing the Maoists more leeway and greater advantage than a similar incident
in Chhattisgarh. There is no doubt a need for review of operations and special
skills such as negotiations by the State government rather than taking the
issue in a defensive response to the Centre by examining the current weaknesses
and attempting to overcome the same. Capacity expansion is no doubt one of the
major challenges that are faced by state police in countering Naxalism and a
synergistic model of centre state deployment would have to be evolved for this
Against this background the
Central Government is planning to consult state Governments to evolve an SOP to
deal with hostage situations arising out of frequent abductions by the CPI (Maoist).
"We must take a
practical view of having mediation and negotiations ... Mediation is a part of
every government ... Even Israel does it as it released 1,000 prisoners to get
one soldier ... but, one should know where and how to draw the line," home
minister P Chidambaram said replying to a short notice question in the Rajya
reports indicating that the Naxals are likely to increase the counter terrorism
component of their campaign given that the scope for militancy has been
constrained over a period, evolving such a policy should assume priority.
The issue of negotiations for the
release of hostages has always been contentious as there is no standard
response even internationally. Thus countries as the US which have a strict no
negotiations policy have been doing so clandestinely in the past out of the
public glare. Israel’s reaction to free 1000 rebels in exchange of one soldier
is one of the extreme cases where a hard line state has given in to demands by
The extra ordinary mileage Maoists could draw from the
kidnappings in Orissa and later in Chhattisgarh also highlighted one of the key
areas of gap in capacity of the states to handle such a crisis. India is a soft state and has not
developed capacity for launching special forces operations against terrorist
groups for hostage release. This has left the government with
only one response negotiations. Yet even in this states have adopted a
different approach with Orissa as was seen in the recent past having given in to
the rebels almost anything that they asked for including release of large
number of hard core Naxals whereas another state Chhattisgarh has been able to
make maximum gains without giving too much to the rebels. The approach adopted
by Chhattisgarh government thus needs scrutiny.
The overall principle adopted by Chhattisgarh was to keep
the lines of communications open, appoint a strong team of credible negotiators,
and establish a transparent system of negotiations involving a wider spectrum
including opposition parties. This ensured that the Chief Minister or the
government was not directly responsible for the negotiations and expanded scope
for putting pressure on the Maoists. More over what was possible was clearly
established during the talks and cases of rebels or supporters who were not
involved in major acts of violence were cleared for bail, whereas those who
could not be pardoned indicated at the very outset. Some lessons from negotiations
carried out by the Chhattisgarh government indicate the following:-
(a) The state governments chose to negotiate instead of
mounting an armed operation.
(b) The Chhattisgarh government did
not release any Maoist prisoners before the hostage was released by the Maoists.
(c) The Chhattisgarh government set
up a cabinet sub-committee to oversee the negotiations which also included
critics of the government. Kedar Kashyap, a minister from Bastar, home minister
Nanakiram Kanwar and two former home ministers, Brijmohan Agarwal and Ramvichar
Netam who were critics of the Chief Minister formed part of the negotiating
directions group. This inured the Chief Minister from any direct criticism as
opposed to Orissa where Mr Navin Patnaik the Chief Minister was seen as leading
the negotiations himself.
(d) The opposition was also made a stake holder in the
process of negotiations.
(e) Negotiators acceptable to both
sides were selected by the government after due consideration to ensure that
the government view was also factored in.
(f) Government interlocutors
proposed a four-step plan: release collector, government to set up an empowered
committee to review all cases of tribal in jail; committee to be established within
one hour of the hostage being released; and to start work immediately.
(g)The Maoists were offered a
transparent process with public disclosures at each stage.
(h) As post incident action, grievance
of the Maoists of indiscriminate arrests and jailing of innocent tribal after
every encounter was addressed.
In other policy issues, Home minister P Chidambaram on May
1, 2012, held a meeting with Chief of Air Staff and Defence Secretary regarding
deployment of helicopters in the LWE-affected States. Media reports indicated
that the meeting was held to resolve issues of perceived reluctance of the IAF
to provide support during operations against the rebels. The cabinet committee
on security (CCS) had tasked the IAF for support operations. State police and
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) however complained that the IAF SOPs are hindrance
to active support particularly in casualty evacuation. Jharkhand DGP GS Rath was
reported by the Hindustan Times, "The air force is too protocol-oriented
and not accommodative enough. Finally, two state pilots rose to the occasion
and precious lives were saved." In a written reply to the Hindustan Times
the IAF clarified that it, "continues to carry out successful operations
despite the lack of infrastructure. There have been instances of aircraft being
hit by offensive action but this does not deter the air force. There has never
been any reluctance in carrying out any mission that has been tasked through
the appropriate channel". [Based on Hindustan Times Report]
Indian Air Force adopting SOPs that require specific actions on the ground for
carrying out helicopter support operations which possibly were not possible by
the police there have been differences that were raised to the Home Minister.
The basic challenge for the Air Force choppers is landing on helipads which
have not been fully cleared thereby resulting in fears of possible Naxal fire.
Given that there have been a few incidents in the past of firing on IAF heptrs
resulting in injuries to airmen; the IAF could have become extra cautious. But
missions such as casualty evacuation from an ambush site for instance would
have to be undertaken given impact it has on the morale and motivation of
ground troops. At the same time precautions to avoid the Naxals bringing down a
heptr and gaining a major boost to their militancy campaign would have to be
undertaken. This dichotomy would denote challenges in coordination of helicopter
operations in these areas.