by Somnath Mukherjee
This headline in the Indian Express today caught my attention. Andhra Pradesh recorded the lowest ever fatalities in recent memory as a result of Maoist violence. Press reports are often half baked, so a its always good to refer back to more rigorous sources. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) is perhaps the best on the matter. Surprisingly, SATP confirms the view – the total number of non-Maoist fatalities in AP in 2011 is 6, and no police/paramil fatalities. For a change, the media is carrying the right facts.
Here is where the praise stops though. The article goes on to ascribe the success of anti-Maoist capmpaign to the Greyhounds, the elite police formation in AP. Unfortunately, this is the party line bought hook, line and sinker by most politicians and policy makers as well – terror threats need to be combated using “special” forces. However, had that been true, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, with their long experience and experiments with “special” forces like Koya commandos and salwa judum would have had the same success. Or for that matter, West Bengal, whose police forces are “special” only in their sheer inexperience and lack of capacities even by Indian standards, would not have seen such a drastic fall in 2011 from the previous couple of years.
The reasons therefore are more complex than the potency of a special force.
At a combat level, the decisive cutting edge comes from intelligence and basic policing capacities. AP has invested persistently in setting up a first class intelligence network against the Maoists, with the State Intelligence Bureau at the helm of that effort. The potency of this network has enabled it (for now) to mask the inadequacies in capacities endemic to police forces all over the country. Absent this, no number of “specials” can do the job, as the Greyhounds themselves discovered in the Balimella incident, where 33 commandos were killed by the Maoists.
At a different, and more strategic level, tackling Maoism (or any insurgency) is a political challenge. Combat forces can soften up the underground and remove the more virulent personalities from the equation, the final solution has to be always political. The exaggerated operations of the Maoists in West Bengal in the last few years had a lot to do with the large scale rural disaffectation with the ruling CPIM cadres. Incidents like Nandigram provided fertile ground for the Maoists to breed violent actions against state (and quasi state CPIM) elements. The transfer of power post elections to Mamta Bannerjee has given an immediate outlet to people’s grievances, and the results are therefore visible in the numbers. Maoism is still alive in WB, but has a much harder job at hand. It is upto the state government to not let the situation drift.
The lessons for states like Jharkhand and C’garh are clear. There are no short cuts possible, disastrous attempts like Salwa Judum worsen the issue. Political action and policing capacities need to be built up in order to defang the Maoist threat.