From Green Revolution to Red Revolution

International Terrorism Monitor--Paper No. 329

Global Geopolitics Net
Thursday, January 03, 2008

Copyright © B. Raman - South Asia Analysis Group

By B. Raman

This feature article was originally published on the SAAG web site in four parts. Here all four parts are included.

Part I

Shri K. S. Subramanian, a distinguished officer of the Indian Police Service, had served in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) as an Assistant Director from 1967 to 1972 and in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of the Government of India as the Director of the Research & Policy (R&P) Division from 1980 to 1985. He had also served in the Tripura Police. He is an acknowledged expert on political violence in India. He has recently published a well-researched book on "Political Violence and the Police in India", which has been brought out by the SAGE Publications of New Delhi.

2. He covers in his well-edited and lucily-analysed study the functioning of the Indian Police System, the Intelligence Bureau and the MHA particularly in dealing with violent movements arising from economic and social causes. His analysis of the Naxalite violence since its inception, the inadequacies in the way it is being handled and a possible strategy for the future should receive the well-merited attention of our Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers of the States and the policy-makers at a time when there has been an upsurge in Naxalite violence right across our tribal belt in Central India. Addressing a meeting of Chief Ministers at New Delhi on December 20, 2007, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, reportedly expressed his concern over the continuing spread of Naxalite violence and stressed the need for the formulation of an appropriate strategy to neutralise what he reportedly described as a virus by paying attention to both development and effective security in the affected areas.

3. Any exercise to modify our present strategy in order to make it more effective in future has to be based on an objective analysis of the lessons learnt by us in the past. Unless the exercise pays attention to past lessons, we will continue repeating the same mistakes. Subramanian's book could make a valuable contribution to such an exercise, if it is taken seriously by our policy-makers.

4. Some of the salient points of the conclusions of Subramanian are given below as a starting point of this note on the Maoist (Naxalite) problem:

* The main official sources of information on the Naxalite problem are two--- the State Governments and the IB. The official reports are often biased or partial and self-serving.
* The IB is a police organisation with limited capacity for an objective analysis of complex social issues. Its reports, invariably classified, cannot be subjected to objective scrutiny in the MHA and have to be accepted at face value. The IB also provides information directly to top politicians such as the PM and the Home Minister in the form of signed or unsigned or oral reports on situations of considerable delicacy and complexity.
* When the R&P Division existed in the MHA, it produced many useful reports on complex issues such as agrarian violence, communal violence, students' unrest, separatist movements, the language agitation etc. But it could never be successfully institutionalised mainly because the IB, which had been functioning as the main reporting agency of the Ministry, perceived it as a threat to its information monopoly. A prolonged war of attrition over the future of the Division began, which resulted in its eventual winding-up.
* The report on the "Causes and Nature of Agrarian Tensions" prepared by the Division in 1969 in the wake of the emergence of the Naxalite movement differed sharply from the IB analysis on the subject. It was a pioneering exercise, which examined the agrarian roots of the Naxalite movement. It warned that the Green Revolution could turn into a Red Revolution if appropriate land reforms were not undertaken. It produced a follow-up report on agrarian tensions in 1972.

5. The wake-up calls of the Division had little impact on policy-making even in the MHA on those responsible for maintaining law and order. According to Subramanian, the Naxalite movement was brutally suppressed by police action by 1972. Citing Shri T.C.A. Srinivasavaradhan, former Union Home Secretary, Subramanian writes: " As one former Home Secretary puts it, excessive preoccupation with peace and order at the cost of law and justice had proved costly, with the objective socio-economic conditions behind agrarian violence being ignored. "

Part II

According to K. S. Subramanian (please see Part I), in the years after independence, the Union Home Minister and the Home Secretary wore two hats. They were responsible for the maintenance of law and order and internal security in the country. At the same time, they were the chief protectors of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes (dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes (adivasis), who constitute the majority of the population in the areas now affected by Maoism, euphemistically called Naxalite violence or left-wing extremism. In the second capacity, it was their responsibility to ensure that the various constitutional and legal provisions for the protection of these most underprivileged of the underprivileged sections of the Indian society were implemented and that they were protected from atrocities and excesses by the so-called upper castes, landlords, money-lenders, forest contractors etc. There was even a Civil Rights Cell in the MHA to underline the importance of its role not only as the upholder of law and order, but also as the protector of the civil rights of the people. This ensured that policy-formulation on dealing with Naxalite violence paid equal attention to law and order and allegations of social and economic injustice towards the dalits and the adivasis, which contributed to the Naxalite violence.

2. In subsequent years, the second responsibility in respect of the protection of the dalits and the adivasis was taken away from the MHA and entrusted to two newly-created Ministries for Social Justice and Empowerment and for Tribal Affairs. As a result, the MHA became a purely law and order Ministry and the maintenance of law and order became the driving force behind policy-making without the moderating influence previously exercised by its additional role as the chief protector of the welfare of these people. He points out that in the various strategy sessions on Maoist violence convened by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister since the present Government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh came to power in 2004, the views of the MHA have prevailed. The Ministries for Social Justice and Empowerment and for Tribal Affairs have had little say in policy-making. They were not even invited to some of these strategy sessions.

3. To quote Subramanian:

* "When the Naxalite movement had first emerged in the late 1960s......, the MHA was not just a law and order Ministry, but was also responsible for the important subject of the development of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It formulated the Special Component Plan for the SCs and the Tribal Sub-Plan for the STs. The Ministry was also responsible for the subject of violence against the SCs and STs and took vigorous steps to contain the violence by organising co-ordination of measures by state governments. A Civil Rights Cell was in position to monitor the trends of violence and prepare reports for the Cabinet and the Parliament. The MHA was then a strong and powerful Ministry in charge of governance and the development of the SCs and the STs."
* "Subsequently, the new Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry for Tribal Affairs have come up and the subjects of the development of the SCs and the STs and the violence against them were transferred to the new Ministries. The MHA was reduced to a purely law and order agency. That is why the annual report of the Ministry for the year 2005-06 focuses more on Naxalite violence, but is eloquently silent on the increasing 'atrocities' against the SCs and the STs. A juxtaposition of the two patterns of violence should help the Ministry to look at the Naxalite violence in the right perspective and help formulate suitably-designed policies to deal with both patterns of violence."
 "It is noteworthy that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister have acknowledged the special constitutional responsibility of the Central and State Governments with regard to the development and protection of the SCs and the STs. The increasing 'atrocities' and crimes against these communities by members of the non-SCs and non-STs(my comment: the so-called upper castes) in the Naxalite-affected areas is an important issue, which both failed to mention. Further, no representatives from the Union and State Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment or from the National Commission for the SCs and the STs were present at the meetings convened by the Central Government with the State Governments to consider the strategy and tactics to be adopted to deal with the Naxalite violence." ---

Part III

An allegation often levelled by non-governmental analysts of the Maoist (Naxalite) insurgency is that one of the causes for the spread of Maoist influence in the tribal areas of central India is the anger among the members of the depressed classes due to their perception that the law and order machinery is sought to be misused against them when they try to ventilate their grievances against those exploiting them---whether they be rich land-lords, forest contractors, money-lenders or the so-called upper caste Hindus. According to them, it is this anger, which has over the years driven a large number of tribals into the waiting arms of the Maoists, who have been exploiting their anger for organising a Maoist revolution in the tribal areas, in the hope of thereby achieving political power through the barrel of the gun and not through the ballot box.

2. In this connection, there are two interesting incidents narrated by Shri K. S. Subramanian, which came to his notice, when he served as Director in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) between 1980 and 1985. To quote him:

* "A particularly violent series of incidents of agrarian violence occurred in the central Districts of Bihar in the early 1980s, resulting in the killings in police 'encounters' of a number of the rural poor innocents. The Press was full of the details. This led the Government of India to set up a central team of officials, including this author (Subramanian) led by the then Member-Secretary, Planning Commission, to visit the State for a first-hand assessment. On arrival in Bihar, the team met the aggressively self-confident District Administration proud of its record of maintaining order at the cost of many innocent lives. It took the District officials a while to come to grips with the fact that the purpose of the team was not to appreciate 'their good work', but to evaluate their success in implementing the declared policies of payment of minimum wages, protection of civil rights, distribution of government waste land among the poor---all impeccably constitutional tasks. The record did not stand up to scrutiny."

* "The State Police reported the number of deaths in police action as 12 persons, all of them 'Naxalites'. The IB, the main reporting agency of the MHA, repeated the figure. There was a gap between the figures reported in the Press and those, which the Government departments came up with."
* "A meeting was later called in the Union Home Secretary's room to discuss the Bihar situation. The Chief Secretary of the State frankly admitted that the number of persons killed in the violent incidents was near 60 and that none of them was a 'Naxalite'. Most were members of a local peasant organisation fighting for social justice under the Constitution and other laws of the land. The minutes of this meeting were classified 'Top Secret', since the matter under discussion was 'Naxalite Activities in Bihar', a top secret matter for the IB!"
* "In another series of violent incidents in the Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu during the same period, which also came up for discussion in the MHA, it was found that most of those similarly killed in police 'encounters' were innocent persons, whose crime had been to demand minimum wages, social dignity and civil rights. The police officer in charge of the district, when confronted with this information, maintained that since the 'Naxalites' did not believe in the Constitution of India, the State Police were not obliged to adopt strictly Constitutional methods in dealing with them. He later walked away with a Police gallantry medal."
* "The MHA, which in words accepted that the social base of the Naxalite movement originated from legitimate rural poor concerns, was, however, ineffective in preventing the misuse of police powers to suppress the so-called Naxalites. It was possible for the Ministry to have advised the State Governments concerned to deal with the socio-economic issues underlying the movement and address the ideological issues politically. However, the immediate issue became one of law and order."

3. Subramanian concludes as follows:

* "The recent experience of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh highlights the information gap in the Ministry. While the intelligence reports on the situation in the State focus exclusively on the law and order and security angles, the reports emanating from concerned citizens, former civil servants and journalists tell a different tale from the perspective of the victims of violence. The Government's response is essentially guided by classified intelligence reports. A more realistic appraisal is possible only if the MHA creates its own sources of information rather than depending exclusively on the reports of the IB."

* "Former Home Secretary Srinivasavaradan (in 1992) had suggested that considering the multiplicity and complexity of the social conflicts emerging in the country and given the inadequacy of the existing information base in the Government, the MHA should consider setting up inter-disciplinary study-cum-action groups of scholars, civil servants and social activists to go into conflict situations and produce reports for the Government. The priority given to peace and order at the cost of law and justice has led to the re-emergence of a crisis situation in the MHA."

4. The Maoist (Naxalite) movement has two dimensions---- the socio-economic and the internal security. Both are equally important. Subramanian's book provides a valuable insight into the socio-economic dimension and the inadequacies in addressing it. I will be commenting on the internal security dimension in the next part.

Part IV

The anger of the poor in the tribal areas in central India arising from their unaddressed grievances for many years has been systematically exploited by Maoist elements to start a Mao Zedong-style peasants' revolution. Mao's Thoughts of the 1960s and 1970s, which were discarded in China after 1978, form the basis of their ideology. Their objective is not limited to the removal of the economic and social grievances of the rural poor. It has become increasingly political, namely, the capture of political power through the barrel of the gun by following Mao's strategy of capturing power in the villages and then surrounding the cities with the "liberated' villages. For this purpose, they have been organising the hard-core of a People's Liberation Army (PLA) by motivating and recruiting the angry rural poor and arming and training them.

2. While Mao is the source of their ideological inspiration, they are influenced in their strategy and tactics not only by the experiences of the peasants' revolution in China before the Communists captured power, but also by those of the Shining Path Guerillas of Peru and the Maoists of Nepal. Till 2004, Maoist activities in different parts of the affected belt were led by the Maoists' Communist Centre and the People's War Group (PWG). The two merged in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The insurgents have since then been operating under the leadership of the CPI (Maoist).

3. The areas worst-affected by the Maoist activities are 10 districts of the State of Jharkhand, seven districts of Chhatisgarh, six districts of Bihar, five districts of Orissa, two districts of Maharashtra and one each of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh--- making a total of 33 districts across eight States. Sporadic activities have been reported from other States too, but these have not yet assumed serious, insurgency-like dimensions.

4. It has been estimated that the CPI (Maoist) has so far recruited and trained about 15,000 persons and armed about 10,000 of them. What one has been facing is a classical rural insurgency of the Nepalese model and not urban terrorism of the jihadi model inspired by Al Qaeda. There are many differences between the Maoist insurgency and the jihadi terrorism in Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir (J&K):

* The Maoist insurgency is largely confined to the rural areas in the tribal belt in central India. It has so far had no significant support in urban areas. The jihadi terrorism is largely confined to urban areas with very little support in the rural areas.

* The Maoists are organised in the classical pattern of the pre-1949 PLA of China---- with military-style formations capable of acting in large or small groups, with a hierarchial command and control. The jihadis follow the cellular structure---with their followers divided into a number of secret cells, with each cell having a small membership. The jihadis do not have a hierarchial command and control.
* The jihadis, who keep changing their base of operations from State to State, do not seek territorial control. Control of territory and administering it as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) does it in Sri Lanka and as the Maoists have been doing it in Nepal and Central India, would require a large force of motivated and trained cadres. None of the jihadi organisations has it. The Maoists seek territorial control in the rural areas. They have already been able to establish their writ in the areas controlled by them.
* The jihadis have been increasingly using improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The use of hand-held weapons, while still prevalent, is becoming less frequent. The Maoists use effectively hand-held weapons and land mines. Use of sophisticated IEDs has been rare among the Maoists.
* The jihadis are well-funded and well-equipped thanks to the assistance from the intelligence agencies and jihadi organisations of Pakistan and Bangladesh and the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia and sections of the Muslim diaspora abroad. After China stopped exporting revolution in 1979, the Maoists have no longer been in receipt of funds and arms and ammunition from China. They now depend on extortions from rich land-lords and forest contractors for their fund collection and raids on police stations, govt. armouries etc for replenishing their stocks of arms and ammunition.
* The jihadis have been increasingly using the Internet, the mobile telephones and other modern advances in science and technology to strengthen their communication and operational capabilities. The Maoists are yet to master the use of S&T. Moreover, in the rural areas inhabited by illiterate or semi-literate tribals, where they operate, there is not much scope for the use of modern advances in S&T.
* While the jihadi terrorists kill civilians indiscriminately, the attacks of the Maoists on civilians are more targeted----against those whom they look upon as their class enemies or exploiting classes such as landlords, forest contractors and money-lenders as well those collaborating with the security forces against the Maoists.

5. The Police forces of different States continue to face serious difficulties in controlling the spreading fire of the rural insurgency of the Maoists. There are many reasons for this. The first is the fact that the Maoists, who have taken to terrorism-cum-insurgency on ideological grounds, have genuine root causes for doing so---the continuing pockets of abject poverty, particularly in the tribal areas across central India, and the failure of the State to implement an effective programme for the economic development of the tribal areas. As a result of these root causes, Maoist leadership enjoys some popular support.

6.The second is the understandable ambivalence of the political leadership in dealing with Maoist insurgency and its reluctance to authorise the security agencies to use the same methods against the Maoists as they do against the jihadi terrorists. This ambivalence arises from the fact that large sections of the elite and the public, which do not approve of Maoist methods, have nevertheless a strong empathy for their ideology and objectives.

7. The reluctance of the State can be attributed to the differing background of the two kinds of situations. Jihadi terrorism is to a large extent foreign inspired, foreign funded and foreign trained and armed. It is being used by Pakistan as a weapon to achieve its strategic objectives against India. Many foreign mercenaries ---mainly Pakistanis--- are involved in it. Counter-terrorism as applied against the jihadi terrorists is seen by the political leadership and the intelligence and security agencies as part of our continuing confrontation with the Pakistani Armed Forces in order to maintain the secular character of our pluralistic society.

8. The Maoists, on the contrary, are sons and daughters of our own soil, who feel neglected by the State, the political leadership, the governmental agencies and the better-off sections of our society and abandoned to the clutches of abject poverty and misery while the rest of the society is marching forward towards increasing prosperity. Their ideology---Maoism--- is not native to our soil. But, this has caught their imagination since our own political leadership and elite have not been able to place before them an alternative ideological model, which would end their perceived economic and social marginalisation.

9. The indigenous character of the Maoist insurgents/terrorists and the absence of the involvement of foreign mercenaries come in the way of the professionalism of our rural police, which has to be the cutting edge of our counter-Maoism strategy. They also come in the way of the success of our intelligence agencies in collecting rural intelligence comparable with their success in collecting intelligence in the urban areas. The rural police constables, who have to be in the forefront of the counter-insurgency campaign against the Maoists, often come from the same social and economic milieu as the Maoists. One cannot blame them totally if this comes in the way of their performance.

10. Fears caused by the ruthlessness of the methods used by the Maoists and the reluctance to operate against them caused by the fact that they are products of the same mileu as the Maoists should at least partly explain the hesitation of the people of the affected areas to come forward to join the police force in the required numbers. This is despite the prevalence of large-scale unemployment in these areas and the attractive emoluments offered to the police personnel volunteering for duty in the insurgency-affected rural areas.

11. According to a briefing of the media given by Mr.V.K.Duggal, the then Home Secretary of the Government of India, on March 31, 2006, ("The Hindu" of April 1, 2006), there were 17,000 vacancies of Constables in the State of Bihar, 6,000 in Andhra Pradesh and 1,000 in Jharkhand. He did not explain to what extent these vacancies were due to the non-availability of candidates with the required minimum qualifications and to what extent due to the reluctance of the local people to serve in the Maoism-affected areas.

12. The intelligence agencies find themselves handicapped due to two reasons. Firstly, the Maoists have not been using modern means of communications to any significant extent .Extensive use of modern means of communications, as the jihadis do, increases the vulnerability of the terrorists to detection and neutralisation. When they avoid the use of modern means of communications, the flow of technical intelligence (TECHINT) is sparse.

13. Counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency against the Maoists is, therefore, much more dependent on human intelligence (HUMINT) than counter-terrorism against the jihadi terrorists. Urban sources do not have much hesitation in reporting to the Police on the activities of suspected terrorists---whether indigenous or Pakistani nationals. The large urban population strengthens their anonymity and gives them protection against reprisals by the terrorists. In the case of the largely rural Maoist terrorism/ insurgency, the villagers have often a reluctance to report against their co-villagers. Moreover, in thinly-populated villages, the advantage of anonymity is weak and there is less protection for village sources against reprisals by the terrorists/ insurgents.

14. How weak is our intelligence capability against rural Maoist insurgents would be evident from the fact that in recent months the Maoists have operated successfully in large numbers, with the assembling of the insurgents in such large numbers and their moving on the road towards the targets remaining undetected and unthwarted. In one incident in the State of Bihar on November 13, 2005, about 1000 armed Maoists reportedly raided a jail and rescued their comrades detained there. It is difficult to say how much of this was due to the absence of intelligence and how much due to the complicity of sections of the police personnel.

15. Our Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is largely an urban-based organisation, has very little capability for preventive intelligence collection in the rural areas. We have to depend on the rural police for this purpose. The ability of the rural police to collect intelligence depends to a considerable extent on its mobility (patrolling) and its relationship with the village communities in the affected areas. Fears caused by the frequent use of landmines with devastating effect by the Maoists and the failure of the States to provide the police with adequate mine detection and clearing capability have affected the mobility and rural patrolling. This has also an impact on police-community relationship. A police force, which is not able to remain in regular touch with the villagers, cannot collect much worthwhile intelligence.

16. The inability of the State to deal with the Maoist insurgency-cum-terrorism effectively so far can be attributed to the absence of a mix of political and operational strategies. The political strategy has to identify and address the root causes of the spreading Maoism. While the spread is alarming, it is not yet out of control. There are still large areas in the tribal belt where the people are not supporting the Maoists and are observing law and order. The State has so far failed to undertake a crash development of these areas, which have not yet been infected by Maoism, in order to prove to the people that they can achieve their justified economic and social objectives through peaceful means, without having to take up arms against the State. Simultaneously, there has to be an improvement in rural policing and intelligence collection in order to thwart the efforts of the Maoists to bring these areas too under their sway.

17. The areas, which have already come under the effective control of the Maoists, need a different strategy, with the emphasis more on the professional and operational aspects of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency than on the political and economic. The objective is to wrest control of these areas from the Maoists. This would be possible only through expanding and strengthening the police presence in the areas, creating in the IB and the intelligence wings of the Police an improved capability for intelligence collection in the rural areas and strengthening the capability of the police and the para-military forces to counter the modus operandi of the Maoists such as their devastating use of landmines.

18. Concerned over the spread of Maoist terrorism and insurgency, suggestions are increasingly being made for giving the police a military edge through training in jungle warfare techniques etc. We should definitely improve the technical capabilities of the police in matters such as mine-detection and neutralisation, but we should not militarise the methods of operation of the police.

19. The growing interest in some of our officers----serving and retired---in the highly militarized British and American methods of dealing with insurgency and terrorism needs to be curbed. The former British occupying power in Malaya used and the current American occupying power in Iraq uses highly militarised methods. They were/are operating against foreign nationals in foreign territory and had/have, therefore, no qualms about the kind of methods they were/are using to suppress the insurgency-cum-terrorism.

20. Our Police and para-military forces are operating in our own territory against our own people. We have to temper effectiveness with self-restraint. We had to use the jungle warfare methods in Mizoram and certain areas of the North-East in the 1960s and the 1970s because of the involvement of Pakistan and China in keeping the insurgency sustained in those areas. We cannot unintelligently use those methods in our tribal heartland in Central India. Modernisation of the police forces' rural counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capability, yes; but, militarisation, no.

21. While dealing with the Maoist insurgency, we have to make a distinction between the poor people who have legitimate causes for anger against the State and against those whom they perceive as the exploiting classes of society and the Maoist ideologues, who are trying to exploit this anger to achieve political power through the barrel of the gun. The ideologues must be made to realise that they cannot achieve their objective by using the rural poor as their cannon fodder. The State has to act firmly against them. At the same time, it is important to prevent the rural poor from letting themselves be used as the cannon fodder of the Maoist ideologues. This is only possible through appropriate anger containment and reduction measures. Unless they perceive the State as the protector of the poor and exploited classes and not of the exploiting classes, it would not be possible to wean them away from the Maoist ideologues.

22. A comprehensive strategy of anger containment and reduction on the one side and better counter-insurgency and security in the rural areas on the other is required. This strategy has to be worked out centrally with inputs from the affected States and co-ordinated in its implementation from the Centre. Such a comprehensive strategy is presently lacking.

23. In 1983, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, ordered the bifurcation of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and created a separate JIC for assessing all intelligence relating to internal security. The new JIC for internal security played an important role in monitoring Naxalite activities and advising the Government on how to deal with it. This bifurcation was strongly opposed by some sections of the national security managers on the ground that it was not possible to make a division between internal and external security. When Rajiv Gandhi took over as the Prime Minister in November, 1984, their arguments prevailed and the bifurcation was undone. In the light of the increase in the activities of the Maoists and the threat posed by them to internal security, it might be useful to re-examine the advisability of having a separate JIC for internal security.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat. Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:

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