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REMORSE: Of acronyms and anti-Maoist operations

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-05-2017 Sudeep Chakravarti

The government appears to have a formula in times of political creativity or crisis: a glib acronym. The latest is SAMADHAN, announced on 8 May by Union home minister Rajnath Singh in the post-Sukma frenzy.

Sukma is a southern district of Chhattisgarh, in the heart of the battle zone with Maoist rebels, where 25 troopers of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed by rebels on 24 April.

SAMADHAN, according to Singh, is a contraction of: “Smart leadership, Aggressive strategy, Motivation and training, Actionable intelligence, Dashboard-based KPIs (key performance indicators) and KRAs (key result areas), Harnessing technology, Action plan for each theatre and No access to financing.” This is to be the collective response for a range of actions from the short to the long term.

Here are a few queries.

Did Singh just repackage what already exists in various degrees of good and bad, to appear energetic and competent?

What exactly would KPIs and KRAs include? These many Maoist heads per trooper? Fixed collateral damage per company of troopers—one rape and two torture episodes per 10 arrests? Each patrol to walk not less than 15km a day in hostile areas, of which three must be at a trot? Each district at war must provide 50 surrendered rebels every quarter?

This is a complicated internal war of enormous social, economic and political significance, not a performance appraisal drawn up by some template-maniac in human resources.

Let’s break SAMADHAN down.

Smart leadership begins at the top. Thus far we’ve had a continuation of the preceding United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s legacy, including poorly and sensibly executed plans.

Since 2014 violent incidents in Maoist theatres have decreased. Deaths of rebels have doubled. Deaths of security personnel in operations have reduced by close to half. Even accounting for fake surrenders, there has been a three- to four-fold increase in surrender of Maoist cadres in 2016 as compared to 2013. Incidents of encounters have increased by 50% in the same period—that means: security forces have actually been out and about.

All this is a continuation of a massive security clampdown in 2010 applied by the Congress-led UPA government in concert with various state governments, including those run by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government has also continued with the UPA practice of stuffing paramilitary forces into battle zones. This includes several thousand elite CoBRA forces of CRPF, sanctioned specifically as an anti-Maoist force in 2008—as a bid to increase surgical strikes and reduce collateral damage.

The ministry controls over a hundred thousand troopers of various paramilitaries in various Maoist-affected states, the greatest concentration being in Chhattisgarh. This is in addition to several thousand similarly tasked police personnel in Maoist-affected states.

Motivation and training is a matter of overcoming structural malaise, which I addressed in last week’s column (CRPF: The halfway house of policy and operation, published, 4 May 2017). Actionable intelligence is not just intelligence that can be acted upon, but actually acting upon it, as successfully proven in undivided Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, the tri-junction area of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala—and even Chhattisgarh.

As you skip the D for Dashboard bumf and move on to H for Harnessing technology, the second A is brought into sharper focus. As any intelligence operative will tell you, it’s easy enough is to map rebel terrain through Google Earth—let alone dedicated satellites that also map movement; besides UAVs and drones—and listen in to mobile phone conversations, the method to several successes against careless Maoists. But it’s more difficult to work “humint” or human intelligence: eyes, ears and feet on the ground. Besieged and relatively low-tech as they are, the Maoists are still ahead in this game.

Action plan for each theatre has its genesis in UPA, when as minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh triggered two model approaches, the Saranda and Sarju action plans in Jharkhand to follow a hub-and-spoke method for basic utilities, healthcare, education and communication, following ultra-localized operational success of reclaiming territory from Maoists. A basic first step to deeper governance: It’s still a good plan which only now Singh appears to be interested in energizing.

No access to financing rounds off SAMADHAN, a universal approach to squeeze any rebel or terrorist organization.

But what good would all that do without governance and development filling in the void of reclaimed territory?

Indeed, it could lead to REMORSE, as it has these 50 years: Resumption of Maoist Operations Regularly, Systematically and Emphatically.

Part of an ongoing series about the Maoist rebellion in India on the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.

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