Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described the Maoists insurgency as the biggest internal security challenge since Independence, but ground reality is that the government seems to be losing the war.
In an exclusive interview with Biplob Ghosal of Zeenews.com, former military intelligence officer and ex-Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer, RSN Singh gives a detailed view of the growing Maoists’ network and the government’s incapability to tackle the menace.
At present, RSN Singh is associate editor, Indian Defence Review (IDR) and also member of Centre for Land Warfare Studies an autonomous think tank on strategic studies and land warfare in the Indian context. He has authored books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective, The Military Factor in Pakistan and The Unmaking of Nepal.
Biplob: Is the government winning the war against Maoists?
Singh: Not really…I am not even sure that the problem is contained because I went to ground-zero and interacted with the administration officials in Danetwada, Jharkhand and Latehar and the impression that I got was that it is far from being contained. They were very candid in saying that despite their best efforts, new areas were coming under Maoist influence.
So, I asked them about the time frame in which this problem could be resolved. The officials said they were very sceptical and were not even sure that it could be resolved in 10-15 years. I think in 10-15 years, the problem would become so formidable that it would be beyond the capability of police and paramilitary forces.
I don’t fault the local administration at all. There were young boys and they wanted to do good in the area and for the country. They were lamenting that they were sitting with funds, but they couldn’t go inside because the state does not have the might to penetrate these areas.
Biplob: What do you think about West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s approach towards Maoists?
Singh: When Mamata took over as West Bengal Chief Minister, I along with other internal security experts was very apprehensive. We felt that Bengal will become another bastion for the Maoists. I would say there has been a very welcome change in her posture towards Maoists. Yes, she did use them to undermine the CPM, which itself is rooted in violent culture. Though, it is a debatable point, but I think it is a legitimate approach and she used them as a cutting edge. Mamata has given Maoists time to change their ways and if they don’t, then she has all the right to use force against them.
Biplob: How do the Maoists arrange their funds and forge ties with locals?
Singh: The Maoists’ development argument is just hog wash. It is a fraud being perpetrated by the masterminds and ideologues of the Maoists. The “tribal displacement – forest rights – exploitation” label is a deliberate creation of the section of over-ground Maoists thriving in the garb of media, doctors, lawyers, intellectuals, NGOs, social workers and their international benefactors. The Maoists are disconcerted or upset by three main things. Firstly, they are very upset whenever development takes place. Second whenever a parallel counter organisation comes up, it really unsettles them and third point is that they are totally in disarray when their top leaders are killed and they take time to recover. The basic aim of the Maoists is to capture state power, which is unambiguously stated in central committee documents and those documents are available.
Maoists run a huge extortion industry so there is a huge parallel economy being generated which is underestimated at the moment. It runs into several thousand crores. People are estimating anything between 1400-2000 crores, but if one just goes through their documents and percentage of tax or extortion money that they are getting for various projects it is far beyond what people have estimated. There are 232 out of 608 districts infested by the Maoists. So whatever government plans and programs in terms of infrastructure - like building bridges, roads you take out that percentage out of the total outlay that is going to the Maoist and that is a huge sum.
They are also extorting money from the corporates and I have inconvertible proof. WikiLeaks mentioned in no uncertain terms about Essar group having paid money. Besides Essar, there are several groups whose top executives have confided in me that they have no option but to pay ransom to the Maoists because the state has not been able to establish its writ.
Biplob: Can you name few of those companies?
Singh: There are many…like mining companies. Without fail, all companies in Maoist areas are paying extortion money.
Biplob: Why have various governments - both at the Centre and the state level - failed to tackle this decades old problem?
Singh: Every nation has some defining ethos but we don’t have any as such. As a result of this, what happened was that Communism was seen through the Robinhood prism and to the extent that anything related with Reds became very romantic even when they took up violent means.
It began in India with violent overtones. The Telangana revolt started in 1948-49 and it was crushed by the Indian Army then. We started giving a lot of legitimacy because Red meant revolution and revolution meant masses and masses meant development, which was actually not the case. Basically these people are anti people, anti-development and they are being dictated by the ideology of some their foreign benefactors. So what the state did was firstly it romanticised them and secondly when they became a menace we started blaming each other.
The Maoists have a pan-India approach whereas government has a segmented approach and the Naxals started taking advantage of this. Their bastions are in the border areas of 2-3 states. They take advantage of our federal system. You apply pressure on them in one place, they will shift to another place. Like Mamata was not taking action against them during run-up to the elections, so whatever pressure was being applied from the Jharkhand, it were nullified because of safe havens present in West Bengal. The country must realise it is a pan India phenomenon and Maoist are at war with the nation. The nation needs to fight them and win the war as soon as possible.
Biplob: What according to you is the solution to the Maoist problem?
Singh: After having travelled the entire Red corridor and having seen and assessed the capability of paramilitary forces and the police, I can say that Abu Jamal forest area, Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand border, Latehar area and Junglemahal areas are Maoist bastions and are heavily mined. Government machinery doesn’t run at all over here. For example if a District Magistrate has to visit these areas, two paramilitary companies have to go one day before and sanitise that area. No development or supplies are reaching there. These areas are beyond the capability of the police and paramilitary forces and these have to be addressed by the Army.
There are areas which are less vulnerable and can be addressed by paramilitary forces. Then there are other less threatened areas where effective police action can manage the situation. But all this has to be done simultaneously and for that one has to make a law. A law needs to be enacted which allows the security forces to operate on a pan-India basis and the Home Minister must have the freedom to fight this internal war the way he wants.
Definitions of war have changed. Today war is not about winning territory but is about economy, ideology, terrorism and that is the reason the US raised the Homeland Security division.
So, it is a war and if you don’t win this war, India will also lose against it external adversaries. For example – two years ago Maoists called for a railway bandh and around 40 trains between Mughalsarai and Dhanbad were cancelled. So imagine if you are in a war situation and your east and west system of communications is disrupted by Maoists what would be the consequences and they would certainly do it. They are being trained to act as fifth columnists.
It is a very serious problem and we have allowed this problem to reach this level because somehow in security discourse people with experience and who are passionate about the country’s security have no say.