India is giving off some heavily mixed signals. Maybe this is by design, in which case deception must be significantly taken into account, but the Naxalite rebellion’s explosion over recent years suggests disorder outweighs order.
The Maoists greatest advantage may not be poor, rural India, but New Dehli’s ego. Hopefully, for its own sake and the region’s, India is portraying a false front to disguise its upcoming operations. Otherwise the Red Corridor will continue to grow until one day, very much like Moscow, the Maoists strike at Indian cities and erupt the war.
This fate could still be avoided with the proper strategy, but waiting isn’t an option.
On the political front India appears genuinely willing to negotiate with Maoist officials, so long as they lay down their arms. This demand has ensured no actual movement in the diplomatic tract, and Maoist leadership isn’t exactly in a position to respond.
India’s real intentions might also be the opposite, but it is comforting nonetheless that Home Minister P Chidambaram keeps his private line open.
“We have invited them for talks after they abjure violence,” he told reporters after landing in West Bengal to survey the battlefield. “If they really want development, if they really want to solve problems of the people, they are welcome to talk. I have said we can talk about anything in the world. (They should) just give up violence.”
A wise strategy to offer an open invitation, whether the Maoists accept or not, since military force would have a more destructive effect anyway. At least when utilized alone. But it is also clear that some force is required when paired with political engagement and economic/social reforms - and that force must be effective.
Perhaps the lack of non-military operations has caused a military delay. It can’t be because India still underestimates the Naxalite insurgency, which is surging because of previous underestimating.
“No,” announced Chamberlain after meeting with local security officials, “we are not contemplating military action against Naxals and state police, state armed police and paramilitary forces alone will be deployed to fight the Naxals. Naxals are cowards. Why are they hiding in forests?”
Because they are guerrillas, and guerrillas thrive on the trivialization and pride of their enemy, capitalizing with a guerrilla’s most basic weapon - surprise. And if they were weak, how come Chamberlain himself admits recent security operations have yielded mixed results? It seems India hasn’t learned the full lesson yet, whose military officials are out in force to keep themselves above the fray.
As if the insurgency is beneath them.
Possibly the reason why Chamberlain rejected army assistance, new Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh recently said the armed forces are already `assisting' central paramilitary and state police forces with training and logistics. But they don’t want to be directly involved in the counterinsurgency against Naxalism.
"The Naxalite problem is a law and order problem, which is a state subject,” he said after being sworn in on Wednesday. “It stems from certain issues on the ground, be it of governance, be it of administration, be it of socio-economic factors. Since it is not a secessionist movement, I think our polity is astute and wise enough to know the implications of using the Army against their own people.”
To a point Chamberlain and Singh’s assertions are logical. The conflict does stem from politico-economic factors and they don’t want to use a hammer to swat a fly. Nor do they want to dignify the Maoists with their highest force, which could encourage them as much as terrify them.
But that point ends with the claim that the Naxalites haven’t formed a secessionist movement. Not only is their declared goal a separatist state, Indian intelligence even links the Maoists to their counterparts in Nepal and elements of the LeT. This insurgency is both international and secessionist in nature, and to deny so is either posturing or naivety.
India is too intelligent to be naive, but intelligence also gives birth to pride. Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, who took over as chairman of the chiefs of staff on Tuesday, said afterward that the armed forces don’t want to become involved in the conflict.
"If the scale (of the Maoist rebellion) becomes so big that the police and paramilitary are unable to handle it, then only will the government decide if the armed forces are to be involved,'' he said.
Well, the rebellion is so big that the police and paramilitary forces are unable to handle it. And after all, isn’t it an army’s duty to protect the state? Why can’t local, regional, and national forces work together? That would be real counterinsurgency, not this limited division of forces.
The reality is that India’s heads of its armed forces would be keeping quiet if the Naxalites weren’t getting out of control; they’re responding to pre-existing pressure. A state by state ad-hoc approach to the insurgency has resulted in failure, and New Delhi must soon adopt a national strategy whether it wants to or not. Decide and plan what to do now, not later, because there is no time to waste.
Eliminate the small before it becomes big.
If the Maoists believe they can triumph over local security forces and anti-Naxalite militias, they’re only compulsion will be to expand their territory, not negotiate the future of it.