Friday, July 3, 2009

Grievance guerrillas -- KPS GIll

Crack tactics, tackle Maoists


K.P.S. GILL (4 July 2009)

Wherever I have confronted terrorism and insurgency, from early encounters with Naxalism in Assam, through the multiple insurgencies in that state, then, in Kashmir, Punjab and, eventually, in Chhattisgarh, my first effort was always to develop a fair understanding of motive, intent and ideology of the groups. It is out of these that their strategies and tactics flow.
The degree of force, the nature of targets, the tactics and weapons deployed — each of these is defined by the underlying character and objectives of the group’s leadership.
Despite the fact that the Khalistani terrorists claimed to be fighting for Sikh rights, the reality was that this was an opportunistic platform for people who were trying to seize power through the use of limitless and indiscriminate violence. Significantly, a majority of their targets were, in fact, the very Sikhs they claimed to be “protecting”.
On the other hand, I recall, that when local explosives were used in the serial blasts in Hyderabad in August 2007 — at that juncture, for the first time — there was some speculation that the attack may have been engineered by the Maoists. This was a line of conjecture that I rejected immediately. The Maoists have many sins to their name, but putting bombs in public places to target random civilians are not among these.
There was evidently a comprehensive failure of assessment on the part of the Marxists, not only in Lalgarh, but in the preceding proclivity to deny or distort the reality of the Maoist gains in the state. This can partly be explained in terms of the utterly polarised and muddied discourse in India.
What we see is a whole spectrum of perspectives from the ultra-romantic to sweeping condemnation: intellectuals and political players have alternately projected the Maoists as heroic defenders of the oppressed masses, or as “mere” criminals, thugs and extortionists.
The reality lies elsewhere. This is an ideologically motivated grouping – though not all its members could conceivably have a full comprehension of ideology and strategy. This is no different from the agencies of the state: how many footsoldiers of the paramilitary forces or police, for instance, understand the Constitution of India? The core leadership of the Maoists certainly has a coherent vision of ideology and approach. At lower levels, what we have is the mobilisation of “grievance guerrillas”, people who join the ranks because of specific wrongs, deficits and needs.
The crucial element that must be grasped is that the Maoists have never been able to create a “liberated area” anywhere in India. Once the security forces enter, they simply cede territories. There is never a direct and wider confrontation, though small police parties may be opportunistically ambushed.
What was seen at Lalgarh — despite panicked assessments of a Maoist “liberated zone” being carved out — was a transient and tactical disruption based on a specific local incident and through the creation of militant front organisation activity.
Even here, the dominance of the Maoists was vastly exaggerated. While I was in Midnapore — though I was prevented from entering the affected areas — I was able to talk to several villagers coming from what was generally thought to be “Maoist-dominated” territory. Oddly, when they were questioned, the replies encountered were that their village was free from Maoist influence, but others “10 to 15 kilometres away” were controlled by the rebels. Those familiar with such matters will confirm that this is the standard response across India for all unverified rumours.
By and large, the Maoists are essentially making inroads into regions of governmental neglect by trying to dominate areas that are either very lightly governed as a matter of policy, or where the reach of governance has diminished. This was dramatically visible during my tenure in Chhattisgarh.
There was much talk about the situation in Bastar, and how the Maoists had established “dominance” across this vast administrative division — the heart of violence in the state. What I found, however, was that the total presence of police forces in the area was abysmal. Across 39,114 square kilometres was a total sanctioned strength of 2,197 policemen (5.62 per 100 square kilometres). Actual availability was just 1,389, yielding a ratio of just 3.55 policemen per 100 square kilometres.
I recall that I travelled long distances through Chhattisgarh, often late at night, but would not see a single policeman on duty. Another signal abdication was police officers turning up for meetings in civilian clothes to avoid detection by the Maoists.
Much of current discourse attributes far more popular support to the Maoists than is, in fact, the case. Thus, we are told (inaccurately) that the Maoists principally dominate tribal areas because these populations are among the poorest of the poor. What is ignored here is the sheer and demonstrative brutality of the Maoists — cold-blooded killings; the cutting off of limbs for the smallest of infractions; harsh and humiliating punishments for “co-operating” with the government, or otherwise acting against the will of the local Maoist leadership.
This, precisely, was what was on display in Lalgarh. No other tactical purpose was served through the killing of Marxist cadres and the macabre display of at least one corpse for days on end, other than to inspire widespread terror. It is notable that once the security forces had moved back into Lalgarh the thousands who had fled the Maoist terror quickly returned to their homes.
If the Maoists are to be defeated, the state and its agencies will have to develop a detailed understanding of their strategies, tactics and underlying ideology. Such an understanding is now conspicuous by its absence, with the notable exception of the police leadership in Andhra Pradesh and a few officers in the intelligence establishment. To my surprise, it appears to be evidently and abundantly lacking among the Marxists in West Bengal.

Lalgarh: fear, power and obedience

Date:03/07/2009 URL:

Lalgarh: fear, power and obedience

Praveen Swami

Can democratic institutions resist a cult of death?

Four years ago, in a newspaper interview that went unnoticed even in West Bengal, ‘Comrade Dhruba’ described plans for a guerrilla campaign that would stretch from Medinipur to Malda. But the Communist Party of India (Maoist) central committee member had words of reassurance for his impeccably bourgeois, English-speaking audience. “ We do not plan violence in Kolkata,” he said, “ because when we establish our bases there, the people will be forc ed to obey us.”

Marketed as an authentic adivasi rebellion against misrule, backwardness and human rights abuses, the still-unfolding violence in Lalgarh in fact provides graphic insights into exactly how India’s Maoists command obedience. Lalgarh’s key leaders — a caste-Hindu from Andhra Pradesh with a Kalashnikov in hand, and an affluent public-works contractor backed by the Trinamool Congress — have demonstrated that there is an intimate relationship between fear and power.

Fittingly, perhaps, the Lalgarh crisis began with a murderous act of violence — albeit an abortive one. Minutes after West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee left the site of a new steel plant on November 2, 2008, a massive improvised explosive device went off under the road he had just passed over. If rats in the fields around Salboni hadn’t chewed through the kilometre-long wire connecting the IED to the hands which controlled the explosion, Mr. Bhattacharjee would have died.

For months before the bombing, there had been localised protests against the construction of the Rs. 350 billion JSW-Bengal Steel plant at Salboni. No large-scale displacement of local residents was involved. Of the 5,000 acres needed to build the plant, 4,500 acres were owned by the State government, while the remaining 500 were purchased by the JSW-Bengal Steel at relatively high prices. But Maoist-affiliated groups argued that the State had no right to the forest land it was making over to the plant: it belonged, they insisted, to the region’s adivasis.

The police responded to the November 2 bombing by detaining over a dozen Lalgarh area residents for questioning — a far from unusual practice after a major terrorist attack. Many of those detained, predictably, had no connection with terrorists. On November 3, for example, the police held retired schoolteacher Kshmananda Mahato and three teenage school students, Eben Muru, Goutam Patra and Buddhadev Patra. Even though all four were let off the next day, some local residents were incensed.

Clash between police and locals

Matters came to a head on November 5. Early that morning, the police raided the village of Chhoto Pelia in search of Sasadhar Mahato — the fugitive CPI (Maoist) operative alleged to have commanded the attempted assassination of the Chief Minister. Fighting broke out between them and the local residents who the police claim were compelled by the Maoists present in the village to obstruct their way. Fourteen women were injured; one woman, Chhitmani Murmu, lost an eye.

From November 7, the anger transformed into street protests. Led by the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa (BJMM), a body of traditional adivasi community leaders, Salboni residents closed roads and blockaded the Lalgarh police station. On November 14, though, the BJMM leadership reached an agreement with the local authorities. But its workers were now attacked by members of the newly-formed Police Santrosh Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities: PSBJC), which accused the traditional adivasi leadership of selling out the people it represented.

Who constituted the PSBJC? Its principal leader, Chattradhar Mahato, was a long-standing Trinamool Congress supporter who had made a small fortune from public-works contracts — and fugitive Maoist Sasadhar Mahato’s brother. Trinamool leaders claim he was expelled two years ago, but have produced no evidence to back this claim. Notably, Trinamool Congress flags were regularly flown by the PSBJC cadre at their protests; at many places in Lalgarh, the party’s banners still share space with those of the CPI (Maoist).

From the outset, it was clear that the PSBJC had no intention of making peace. Its demands were designed to invite rejection: that West Medinipur’s Superintendent of Police do penance by performing “sit-ups holding his ears;” that all policemen in Lalgarh crawl on all fours from Dalilpur to Chhoto Pelia, rubbing their noses in the dirt; that all those arrested on terrorism-related charges since 1998 be released.

Even then, the State government attempted to stave off a confrontation. On November 27, the day of the deadline set by the PSBJC, the West Bengal police shut down 13 posts and camps in the Lalgarh area. Later, on December 1, two more police posts were abandoned. But West Bengal’s increasingly desperate efforts to make peace failed — and a murderous meltdown followed.

The PSBJC announced the suspension of its struggle — but on ground, formed a parallel administration. Its Maoist allies prevented the entry of the police and administration in the villages of Belpahari, Binpur, Lalgarh, Jamboni, Salboni and Goaltore.

From here, the Maoist death squads launched a series of increasingly brutal attacks. BJMM’s Sudhir Mandal, who organised a massive anti-Maoist rally in December, was shot dead. In February 2009, Maoists fired on the funeral procession of the assassinated Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Nandalal Pal, killing three. Five more CPI(M) supporters were killed in April, as were four poll staff and police personnel. June brought a fresh wave of attacks.

“The Maoists did not capture Lalgarh,” counter-terrorism analyst Ajai Sahni observes, “the State deserted the people.”

Maoist groups had long been preparing the ground for just such a situation. In 2005, following the assassination of CPI(M) leaders Raghunath Murmu, Bablu Mudi and Mahendra Mahato, the prestigious South Asia Intelligence Review warned of the possibility of a “Naxalbari Redux” — a reference to the Darjeeling district hamlet from where, in March 1967, began a six-year Maoist insurgency that claimed hundreds of lives.

Documents seized from three CPI (Maoist) leaders, researcher Saji Cherian noted in the article, showed plans to attack or blow up police stations. There were also notebooks with details of how adivasis in Bankura, Purulia and West Medinipur were to be educated about their exploitation — and how they could be “freed.”

Starting with an October 14, 2004, attack which claimed the lives of six Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel in West Medinipur district, the CPI (Maoist) launched increasingly ferocious attacks.

Political allies

It also made political allies. In February last year, the West Bengal police arrested Himadri Sen-Roy, the Bengal state secretary of the CPI (Maoist). From Roy’s interrogation, the police acquired a mass of details on how the Maoists were developing a symbiotic relationship with the Trinamool Congress and the welter of so-called civil society movements that had sprung up to oppose West Bengal’s industrialisation drive.

Top Maoist leaders, Sen-Roy is said to have told the police, visited Nandigram in 2006, soon after the Trinamool Congress and Islamist groups initiated what would turn into a bloody confrontation. They sensed opportunity. Sen-Roy claims to have persuaded a range of political figures that their interests and those of the CPI (Maoist) were similar: among them, Trinamool leader Subendhu Adhikari and eminent writer and activist Mahashweta Devi.

Early in 2007, Sen-Roy is alleged to have said, Maoist military commanders purchased Rs. 8 lakh worth of weapons — six .315-bore rifles and ammunition — to set up an armed unit in Nandigram. Dozens of locally-made weapons were also purchased to arm new cadre. The weapons were stored at Sonachura in East Medinipur, an area which saw some of the worst violence during the Nandigram agitation.

Meanwhile, top CPI (Maoist) commander Molajella Koteswar Rao set about constructing military infrastructure in the Lalgarh area. According to Sen-Roy’s testimony to the police — which, under the law, is not admissible in a court — Rao extorted between Rs. 8 lakh every month from roads, construction and forest-produce contracts operating in the districts of Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia. In addition, CPI (Maoist) units outside West Bengal pumped in a further Rs. 1.5 lakh a month to train recruits in Jharkhand and Orissa’s Mayurbhanj forests.

By 2008, the Intelligence Bureau was reporting Maoist activity in all but one of West Bengal’s 18 districts. Three districts — Bankura, West Medinipur and Purulia —were graded among the most affected in the country. Between January and October 2008, 21 fatalities were reported from the districts in 34 Maoist attacks.

Like the Lalgarh violence, these killings did nothing for the poor adivasis in whose name they were executed: but the CPI (Maoist) doesn’t seem to care.

In one recent interview, Koteswar Rao candidly admitted that his party was willing to endorse almost any form of violence:
“ We do not support the way they attacked the Victoria station [sic.]”, he said of the Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadists who executed November’s carnage in Mumbai, “ where most of the victims were Muslims. At the same time, we feel that the Islamic upsurge should not be opposed as it is basically anti-U.S. and anti-imperialist in nature. We, therefore, want it to grow.”

West Bengal will be a test of whether democratic institutions prove capable of resisting this cult of death.


The ' Observer Research Foundation - Chennai ', a non-profit think-tank, conducted a two day seminar - " The Naxalite Movement " in Chennai between 28 - 29 Jan 2005.

A number of well researched papers were read out at the seminar. It was an intellectually stimulating fare.

That the Naxalite Movement is wedded to the ideology of violence can be clearly discerned from the following interview (excerpts) given by the People's War Group (PWG) Leader - M. Lakshmana Rao to a Telugu daily:

Q. The PWG has today come to be identified as another militant outfit, another sore on India's troubled landscape. You are being equated with the insurgents of the N.E. / J&K.
How is your fight different from theirs?

A. The movements of the N.E. AND J&K have a very restricted aim. They are fighting to protect their NATIONAL INTERESTS. Our aim is to DISLODGE THE IMPERIALISTS WITH THE GUN. The party, which is based on the communist ideology, is building a movement that will bring forth the rule of the proleteriat. PROLETERIAT DICTATORSHIP. In that sense we have a wider, all encompassing view.

Q. Why have you chosen the path of violence? Why not democratic means to acheive your aim?

A. Because the rule of the masses cannot be acheived through normal political means. The Indian people have only one way to usher in modern democracy: ARMED STRUGGLE.

Q. Both the State and your party are using violence. And caught in the crossfire are innocent Indians. Innocent proleteriat Indians. Are you being fair to them?

A. Terming our activities as violence is not correct. Ours is counter-violence. We are resisting the violence unleashed by the State on the proleteriat. Again, I would like to remind you that it is not the PWG who is fighting the imperialists. It is the masses against the State. The PWG is only leading them. So it is the people against the repression. Its the people's war. And who else will be killed in a people's war - but people? Over 1300 people have been killed in the crossfire. OF THIS ONLY A VERY SMALL NUMBER WERE GUERRILLAS. The rest were all prey to the violence unleashed by the State. The State is responsible for their deaths.

Q. Wouldn't the right to self-determination lead to the disintegration of the country?


Marxists invent false histories

Marxists invent false histories – KPS Gill

The suspension of common sense and the astonishing embrace of nonsense

KPS Gill reports on Lalgarh for The Telegraph, Armed with the experience that tackled Punjab militancy

K.P.S Gill, dubbed ‘Supercop’ for bringing the Punjab militancy to its knees, reached Calcutta on June 26 on the invitation of The Telegraph to assess the Lalgarh operation against the backdrop of his strategic and tactical experience in the field. Gill spent the day in Calcutta, doing “extended homework” on Lalgarh. “Till now, I have been watching the situation from afar. Now I will be following the developments more closely,” he said before interacting with some people in the city familiar with the Lalgarh operation. The next morning, when the security forces were trying to recapture Ramgarh that fell later in the day, Gill proceeded to Lalgarh. As Gill’s vehicle entered Midnapore town, police personnel waved the vehicle down and asked him to follow them to the police superintendent’s office. Gill was called in with a request to stay away from Lalgarh but soon the session became a full-fledged discussion with a steady stream of officers walking up to him, saluting him and sharing their experiences with him. The administration told Gill that he would be escorted back to Calcutta after lunch because of his Z-plus security tag and because the roads were heavily mined. However, setting out for lunch, Gill made a detour and travelled towards Lalgarh, interacting with several people on the way. Eventually, at a check post, Gill ran into a wall of police and paramilitary personnel. By then, the veteran who once sent shivers down extremist belts had collected enough information to fulfil his assignment for The Telegraph.

Truth about Lalgarh1
As I briefly toured West Midnapore district during the police action in Lalgarh (I was prevented from going into the affected area on “security” grounds), the most dramatic lessons of the crisis, through all its phases — the slow build-up over seven months of state denial, appeasement and progressive error; paralysis in the face of rising Maoist violence; and the final, almost effortless resolution, as the rebels simply melted away in the face of the first evidence of determined use of force — were abundantly clear to me: the complete absence of historical memory in the institutions of the state, and the need for each administration to repeatedly reinvent the wheel.
The West Bengal government is not the first to go through this fruitless cycle; or the first to allow immeasurable harm to be inflicted on its citizens as a result of what is nothing more than the suspension of common sense. Right from my days in Assam, I have seen this cycle afflict virtually every administration confronted with the threat of terrorism across the country — even in theatres of eventual and exceptional counter-terrorism success.
After visiting Midnapore and talking to various people, including police officers, I learned that the operations essentially comprised marching into areas supposedly infested by Naxalites. In the early 1970s, when the Naxalites started setting up cells in the district that I was then heading in Assam, we had relied on building up intelligence so as to pinpoint the hideouts of the Naxalite leadership. I recall that we had identified 85 such places, and when we raided these places, we were able to arrest 74 Naxalites, virtually breaking the back of the movement in the state.
In the current situation, the operations are not intelligence-based but only aimed at area dominance. This is a strikingly inferior response to intelligence-based operations. I still remember a remark made by the last British inspector-general of Assam in an inspection note at the Sonari police station, that “one proper arrest is equivalent to six months of patrolling by a company of policemen”. This, incidentally, had been written shortly after a movement launched by the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (well known for the Dum Dum-Basirhat raid in West Bengal) had been put down by Assam Police.
The government and its agencies go into a state of denial during initial manifestations of extremist violence and terrorism — and “initial” here may mean years and decades. Administrative inaction is couched in a wide range of alibis; agencies connected with the state and the “intelligentsia” add to this by putting forward “solutions” which serve as apologetics for anti-state forces. The debate is taken over by these knee-jerk, inchoate “political” and “developmental” solutions and by the “root cause” argument: that extremism is the result of national issues like poverty and injustice rather than being driven by any ideological motive.
Indeed, the Marxist leadership in West Bengal has been exceptionally imaginative in the invention of false histories, claiming that the Naxalite movement of the 1967-75 phase was defeated by their government’s administrative and land reforms that cut away the Naxalite recruitment base (the CPM-led Left Front incidentally came to power in 1977). Anyone who is even superficially familiar with the history of that phase would, however, immediately recall that the Naxalites were crushed — indeed, brutally crushed — by the Congress government of Siddhartha Shankar Ray. If at all reforms had a salutary impact, it was only after the capacities of the rebels had been comprehensively neutralised by relentless police action.
As the Maoists now restore progressive ascendancy in parts of the state, however, such nonsense continues to be given wide publicity, not only by ill-informed “intellectuals”, but, astonishingly, by the Marxist party leadership as well, even as the real magnitude of the threat is denied, and the basics of policing and wide deficits in police and intelligence capacities are ignored.
I have seen this, again and again, in theatre after theatre. The state and police paralysis witnessed at Lalgarh was, for instance, much in evidence in the early phases of the Khalistani movement in Punjab. Among the hundreds of incidents illustrating the collapse of administration, perhaps the most humiliating was the February 1984 episode, when six fully armed policemen were dragged into the Golden Temple by militants. The response — 24 hours later — came from senior police officials who begged Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to release the men and hand over their weapons.
After protracted negotiations, the dead body of one policeman was handed over, and five policemen were released. Their weapons were never returned. No action was ever taken on the murder of the policeman.
Andhra Pradesh has now become a model of effective police response to Naxalism, but few recall the decades of Maoist dominance in wide areas of this state, and the apologetics that were advanced in favour of the extremists in the highest echelons of government. Then chief minister N.T. Rama Rao, for instance, described the Naxalites as “true patriots”; he and his successors, across party lines, found it expedient (as the Trinamul Congress recently has), to form opportunistic electoral alliances with the Naxalites — to the inevitable advantage of the rebels.
Those who now celebrate the prowess of the Greyhounds forget that this force was created as far back as in 1989, and it is only under unambiguous political mandate after 2005 that an enormously empowered Andhra Pradesh police and this special force have been able to inflict near-comprehensive defeat on the Maoists in the state.
Political leaders in West Bengal must see through their own platitudes and falsifications to comprehend the core of state infirmity that constitutes the foundations of the Maoist power. The absurd alibis that have been advanced to evade the necessity of response must be abandoned at the earliest, and not after the sheer quantum of the loss of innocent lives — as has been the case in other theatres — simply forces the state to respond.