How the Naxal Space In Central India Was Regained?
G K Pillai, a former Home Secretary writing in the Bloomberg Quint outlined the contours of the plan that was set into motion in 2009 which led to control of Left Wing Extremism in the country today. Pillai acknowledges that the main battle lies ahead as the main force of the rebels the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) is yet to be dented.
No less then former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had indicated that Naxalism was the foremost security challenge that faced by the country in 2006. This was the first time when the threat was recognized having spread tentacles from the state of unified Andhra Pradesh to other parts of Central India. At its peak the Naxal threat expanded to the states of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand (which continue to be significantly impacted) and pockets of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Pillai says that the first success was achieved in Lalgarh in West Bengal where the State had lost complete control of the political and geographic space to the rebels. It took three years and three battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to regain full control of the areas.
Pillai ascribes, “poor governance and exploitation of the weaker communities by the dominant elites,” as the basic cause for growth of the phenomenon of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) which gained a fillip with the People’s War Group (PWG) based in Andhra Pradesh joined hands with the Maoist Communist Centre based in Bihar-Jharkhand to form the CPI Maoist in 2004.While LWE is the generic term used by the government colloquially it is also known as Naxalism or Maoist insurgency, though the content and form of each of the latter term has different connotations.
The rebels were so much emboldened by the synergy achieved that they portrayed a Red Corridor running from Andhra Pradesh in the south through a huge belt of Central India to Nepal – which was also in the throes of a communist insurgency till 2006.
As the head of the departments of Ministry of Home Affairs, Home Secretary G K Pillai saw the first problem in conjunction with his boss Home Minister P Chidambaram as inadequacy of trained forces which could counter the Naxals.
Pillai recounts, “The inadequacy of the forces could be seen in the fact that the seven left-wing extremism-affected states had just 33 battalions of central police forces while Jammu & Kashmir, at one-tenth the area, had 90 battalions, apart from the army”.
He outlined that that deployment of the Army was considered but ruled out and central police forces, trained and equipped to undertake the tasks after orientation training of six weeks with army units were deployed.
The concept of secure or clear, hold and develop (CHD) was then put into place to gradually expand the grid rather than confronting the Naxals frontally in a full scale offensive.
To overcome the IED menace SOPs were evolved which were to be strictly adhered to and, “every company of the central police forces had a retired sapper – a combat engineer – from the army as an IED adviser”
The plan for development was decentralized with Rs 30 Crore given to each district collector, district superintendents of police and the district forest officer.
Pillai sees the counter Naxal strategy as a work in progress and believes that there is a need for strict, “implementation of the Tribal Land Rights Act and provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution (Administration and Control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes)”.
Pillai also cautions that the main armed group – People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) is still intact and weaning away the people from the Maoists for which a combination of development and meeting the basic needs of the people remains the way ahead.