|Army Deployment in Central India
|Army Deployment in Central India|
It is very unfortunate that headlines such as ‘Naxals kill 15 cops in jungle ambush’ is now routine and consigned to the twelfth page of national newspapers. In 2008, over ten such incidents occurred in which police fatalities counted in double figures. The redoubtable Greyhounds of the AP police lost 36 in one incident. 55 more policemen died when one camp was overrun. News reports of the latest rebel attack in Gadchiroli mention gruesome details of Naxal atrocity. It appears that more needs to be done and urgently at that. The conference of chief ministers of the seven naxal affected states at Delhi provides some indication of that. However, with some areas in central India being routinely described as ‘liberated zones’, there appears to be a case for considering military deployment.
Thus far, there has been a consensus in policy circles and between South and North Blocks that military deployment is not warranted. The Army has repeatedly voiced its discomfort at being deployed far from the border and increasing its presence in internal security. It prefers instead to privilege its primary task of defending the borders. Presumably, placing additional troops on internal security duty would further dilute the conventional deterrence it projects to Pakistan. Since counter insurgency is usually a long affair, the Army would understandably not like to be sucked into a new theatre. This would complicate its troops’ relief profile and add to the stresses of operational deployment, already weighed down as the Army is by extensive deployment in Kashmir and in the North East. This would also affect troop availability in an early timeframe for implementing the Cold Start doctrine. Given these concerns, the Army has rightly been circumspect in offering its services other than in the field of training, officer deputation in some cases, and logistics.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, for its part, has arrived at a strategy that envisages a developmental model with the rights of the underprivileged tribal populations being protected and emphasis on socio-economic development by the state. To tackle Maoist violence, it has resorted to capacity building of police forces. The underside of this action plan is that jungle warfare requires infantry skills and ethos that cannot be matched by police forces. It also takes time to build cohesion and shared ethos in newly raised forces. To expect the police forces to be responsive to the desired level is to demand too much from them.
It is obvious that this long term strategy requires to be supplemented since Maoist exertions are unlikely to stand still in the interim. Army deployment can be considered a short term measure to negotiate this period. With a return of semblance of normalcy to Kashmir, a proportion of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) deployed there is available for redeployment. In case this is accepted, a campaign plan needs to be made that envisages an end state in the disengagement of the Army over a finite duration of time, incorporates ‘best practices’ and ‘lessons learnt’, and is sensitive to human rights from the very outset. A ‘clear and hold’ strategy must be planned indicating the manner and timelines in which the areas vacated of Naxal control would be handed back to state police assisted by the central police.
The Army’s reservations could be met by the argument that the state has to fulfill its obligations under Article 355, for which its currently available instrument is the Army. Army has the requisite strength in the RR, presently underemployed in J&K. Two birds can be tackled with one stone. Firstly, the redeployment from J&K would project the state as responsive to people’s aspirations of a reduced military footprint. It would strengthen the government against the radicalized elements and provide Pakistan with incentive to further reduce its proxy war. Secondly, a roll back of LWE would be enabled by the Army, which is capable of operating in jungles.
Of course, some problems would need to be addressed. The Army is wary of deploying in areas without their proclamation as ‘disturbed areas’ in which the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is operational. This would not be tenable or conceded by the government as the AFSPA is not popular. It could give the wrong impression that insurgency in central India is of an order higher than warranted. A seemingly insuperable problem is that of command and control. Law and order is a state subject, and states are loath to conceding control to the central government. This is also a serious issue for the Army, an hierarchical force, which has an early experience in Kashmir where central direction was lacking. In an insurgency spreading over seven states, the problem is compounded. The Army and RR report to MOD, while the control of internal security in such areas is with the MHA. The controlling HQs of the divisional sized RR forces deployed could be HQ Central Command at Lucknow that is currently seized of the matter. The RR forces could utilize the existing Army network of Area and Sub Area HQs for intelligence and liaison. However, the RR Counter Insurgency Force HQs should report to the affected states directly. A Unified HQ can be operational in each capital chaired by the chief minister with operational matters handled by the DGP.
The issue needs to be addressed with an open mind. Pulling out a proportion of the RR from J&K for retraining would build on the momentum of elections just held, even as yet another year is not conceded to the Maoists in central India to consolidate. In case timely action is not taken, the insurgency would graduate to a strategic offensive. The Army would then be called out to assist in any case.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies)