Coining COIN: A Glib anti-People Approach

August 8, 2015

by Gautam Navlakha

In a series of reports filed from a ground visit to Gadchiroli, at the invitation of the Gadchiroli District Police, Aritra Bhattacharjee (AB), The Statesman, looked at the work of the “Civic Action Cell” of the armed police force. One of the programmes was a scheme called “Aapla Maharashtra” (Your Maharashtra) under which five times a year the police take 80 children each, in the age group of 14-18, to visit Bombay and Pune to give them a glimpse of glitter and glamour in order to wean them away from the Maoists. Not to forget to bring them into the “mainstream”. He cites local academics and activists characterizing this programme as bringing them into market economy and exposing them to “consumerism”. The idea behind the programme is to expose the 14-18 age group, considered most vulnerable to Maoist persuasion. The reporter was told that once the children return from their 11 day travel the police expect that each one of the 400 speaks to 4-5 of his/her friends and thereby the police believe their influence “increases drastically”. Another programme is for the police patrol to address complaints of the local population, to gain their trust. The idea is that a patrol by stopping and inquiring from the people what their problems are and by rectifying or addressing them, sends a message that police is there to help people.(1) But the reporter points out when he asked for record of complaints and numbers of them which got addressed the reality became evident. Out of 1700 complaints recorded by the police patrols only 87 were addressed. Thus the strike rate is hardly anything to write home about. Apart from that we know nothing about the nature of the complaints; how many related to crimes committed against the Adivasis by the very same force now inquiring from them to share their “complaint”. Or how many related to mining activities or preparations related to start mining activities. And how many had to do with problem of school, health or other needs. Nevertheless, the low addressing of complaints tells its own story. As for Maharashtra “Darshan”, while glitter and glamour might seduce some it is equally true that reality subverts seduction. The reality is that if ever an Adivasi lands a government or corporate job it is as Class IV employee drawing low wages, or worse still remains a daily wager with all the attendant disabilities that accompany low wage regime. In fact the reporter observes that all the Adivasi police personnel he spoke to were constables. Moreover, and more significantly, the entire issue of land, water and forests is completely ignored by the police and instead the police act as propagandist for the corporate-led “development” model of loot and destruction. An activist with the Bharat Jan Andolan also pointed out that the areas where the conflict is most intense in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra happens to be those areas where at least 23 mining leases have been awarded but due to resistance by the Advasis mining has not begun. In other words that there is a link between mining and the war is brought to light.

Be that as it may, the reporter points out that in Gadchiroli anyone speaking the language of “rights” is a suspect and considered a Maoist. Bharat Jan Andolan, started by former collector of undivided Bastar and commissioner of SC and ST, BD Sharma, who resigned from IAS, is regarded as a Maoist by the agencies and police.(2) Despite this fascinating series of articles from a ground visit such reportage are becoming rare and few are visiting and reporting from the ground on a regular basis. It is only when something “sensational” happens that such reports emerge. In its absence we are being served amusing sleight of hand.

Shubhranshu Chowdhury (SC) writes in BBC’s Hindi website (3) that “Salwa Judum was essentially a military campaign intended to drain out the “water”, a metaphor for people’s displacement, to make it easy to arrest or kill terrorists”. He goes on to say the new Salwa Judum, on the other hand, is different because it is not meant to drain the “water” but for “us” [those who back State’s War against Adivasis] to corner the “fish” the Maoist. The “experiment” is premised on the idea that “we can engage with “water” and if we succeed in becoming friends then “fish” will be compelled to come out in the open or to change its attitude”. How is this to be brought about? He writes that Gondi speaking Adivsis went over to Maoists because “the authorities, journalists and the civilized society” was unable to converse with Adivasis who only spoke Gondi, something they don’t know. And then goes on to say that “when issues are recorded in computer it reaches urban civilized society through social media like Facebook and Twitter and then they reach the journalists, activists and the authorities to solve”. (Translation from Hindi to English by me). It goes without saying that it could also be “used” to lure people into providing information about Maoists. Since everything is under surveillance the intelligence and security forces will be automatically provided “actionable” intelligence.

Now, the significant point is that news report by AB and the opinion piece by SC, use language of Counter Insurgency, wittingly or unwittingly. While the reporter AB, was professional and a good reporter, he spoke to diverse sections of the population and is alert in making observations which lend it credibility. In contrast the opinionated piece by SC provides a new spin to Salwa Judum. And while it appears rather clever to say that instead of draining water from the pond it is better to engage with people to isolate Maoists, it quite deliberately flattens the conflict reducing Adivasis’ demands to individual complaints, completely bypassing fundamental issues of concern. Something the reporter draws our attention to. And for all the concern exhibited about Adivasis by SC the issue of land and forest grab, pollution and contamination of water and forest, corporate mining and loss of livelihood, persecution of Adivasis who dare to raise their voice, more than five thousand Adivasis rotting in overcrowded and unhygienic jails, expensive and long drawn judicial proceedings and so on don’t make any appearance in the short piece, even in passing. The conspicuous absence of the most basic concern and espousal of new Salwa Judum while ignoring the fact that its SJ leaders acted as land brokers for corporate houses such as Essar, Tatas, Jindals etc.and Chavindra Karma and his brother Deepak Karma are quite brazen in stating this make one wonder wherefrom does SC get his facts or why he suppresses most of them?

My interest is in what their writings one way or another reveal or ignore. There is a great deal of confusion about Insurgency and Counter Insurgency (COIN). And, thus about “civil action programme” or “operation sadbhavna” of the army. These are considered benign and “good work” being done by the “much maligned Armed forces”. Thus even those who write on COIN, often obfuscate or are confused and advocate things without fully grasping what insurgency is and why people take to arms. Official narrative of insurgency is not only opaque and misleading but it deliberately mis-represents the ground reality and obfuscates real issues. For instance it is not Islamic Fundamentalism but Hindu Majoritarianism is running amok in J&K and deliberately distorting the democratic and peaceful demand for self-determination as Pakistan-inspired Islaimic “jehad”. This is done to justify military suppression of a popular movement. It’s not “Development” which Maoists are prompting the Adivasis to resist. It is corporate-led loot and corporate promoted policy to exploit the mineral wealth which lies under the forests land which is being resisted, in the pursuit of which Adivasis are coming under relentless military attack.

There is no “one size fit all formula”. It may be witty to speak of “water and fish” and to advance simplistic solutions to aid the marauding forces but it’s quite another thing to flatten out the inherent contradictions which cause the war. Quite apart from social stratification, unequal power relations, and impunity for military forces in armed conflict areas every conflict has to be studied in its specificity. A war is being waged for usurping the rights of forest dwellers and grab their land, forest and water to enable transfer of assets owned by the Adivasis to the Corporate class. It’s a class war of the virulent kind. It is dispossession that the peasantry either in forests or in plains, are resisting.

In a recent article in the EPW, Michael Levein (ML) (4) draws attention to a fallacy in David Harvey’s otherwise seminal contribution, that dispossession is “primarily economic rather than extra-economic”.(Italics added) ML points out that dispossession is a “deeply political process in which owners of means of coercion transparently redistribute assets from one class to another”.(Italics added) And then adds that dispossession “requires a state that is willing to use its monopoly of the means of violence to expropriate land from certain classes for the benefits of others”. Towards the conclusion ML makes a significant observation that Adivasi and non-Adivasi peasantry in large parts of India refuse “to value their land at its exchange value, these farmers cannot be brought into a class compromise on the terrain of commodification”.(Italics added)

It is here the use of war of suppression of recalcitrant peasantry is located. It is silence over this, when writing about the Maoist insurgency, that forms part of the official narrative. An RSS-led central government was gifted a war by its predecessor governments to take it to another height of predatory brutality. Looked at dialectically, since the Maoists are rooted among the people, who are resisting this coercive transfer of people’s assets to the owners of Capital, and it’s an armed resistance, the corporate “development” is adversely affected. It is this “development” that mercenary intellectuals gloss over. The few crumbs thrown in name of welfare does not match the staggering transfer of wealth to the wealthy! And when everyday repression carries on hidden from the public.

It’s a raw truth. A recent report by PUDR draws attention to how aside from war, collective punishment of the villagers by the Indian military is perpetrated through military operations, ambush, and actual “Misrule of Law” as well as perversity of law which allows turning no less than 3-7 lakh Adivasis in Bastar region as “fugitives” sought by the security agencies. This is a colonial habit. District Bijapur with a population of 2,55,230 has 15-35,000 such “fugitives”. Is this not an expression of widespread persecution of Adivasis in Bastar? Should we ignore that UPA II appointed Report of the High Level Committee headed by Virginius Xaxa, constituted by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and submitted to the government in May 2014 on page 356, notes that: “ A large number of tribals are languishing in jails for long years without their trial concluding…..Here too, after the first FIR lodged against them , there would be further FIRs filed over a period of time implicating them (tribals) in various episodes of violence. Persons charged with naxal offences find it extremely difficult to get bail, so end up spending long years in jail. Trials do not conclude in many cases because official witnesses were absent. This may happen because a member of paramilitary force cited as prosecution witness had been repatriated with his unit and was no longer in the state…..The committee also met with criminal lawyers…(who) assessed that over 95 per cent of the cases were baseless…”? What it means is that anyone who dares to question Government policy to “develop actually underdevelopment” or raises issues of people’s “rights” can be on mere suspicion arrested and can rot in overcrowded jails of Bastar (and elsewhere) and can neither get bail nor in most cases afford a lawyer! In Bastar alone, more than 5,000 Adivasis rot in jails, which are veritable hellholes, overcrowded and unfit for human beings. Indeed it is a traumatic experience for Adivasis to be locked up, used to, as they are to roam free in the forests. Both Grigson and Verrier Elwin have written how Adivasis suffer and suffocate when confined within four walls.

So let us delve deeper into the issue of COIN to understand how things get obfuscated and how lies, falsification and make believe, suppress the truth that the war seeks to destroy.

Allow me to wander my way to explain what COIN is.

A recent Commentary piece in the Economic and Political Weekly helps focuses on the paradox which COIN cannot resolve. It says that “social services [are provided] under Operation Sadbhavana (harmony), a hearts and minds programme run by the army in Kashmir” and then points out that they “are popular ostensibly because of their superior quality as compared to facilities run by successive state governments. Over 14 years, the army has spent Rs 400 crore in a variety of civic services: two residential schools, 66 Goodwill Schools, institutes for special children, employment schemes, health and veterinary care, access to water in remote villages, even a full-blown Kashmir Premier League cricket competition. Villagers often turn to army officers before they present their complaints to local administrators despite sharing ethnicity and language with the latter. They seem to accept that for all its ills, the army is better organised and results oriented.” Then goes on to say that “yet, the same army continues to be unpopular, if not hated, and is seen as an occupying force. This raises an important question—why do non-security aspects of counter-insurgency fail to alter people’s attitudes towards counter-insurgents?” (Italics mine)

The author then writes: “[s]everal arguments are made. First, discontent against counter-insurgency troops is neither sudden and dramatic, nor isolated from wider politics and past history. Schools and health centres are no substitute for political rights of ethnic groups; their failure should not surprise anyone (Cederman et al 2010). Second, consumption of services may be reflective of political beliefs when consumers have the option to choose among competing political competitors. Counter-insurgency welfare programmes are most often run in far-flung places where the civilian administration is absent. In such conditions, making use of army hospitals is as suggestive of helplessness as it is of endorsement of the government. Third, conflicts collectivise memory of shoot-outs, fake encounters, and torture that mark the first phases of counter-insurgency when information is hard to come by (Wood 2003). Trauma, grievance, and feeling of injustice no longer remains confined to neighbourhoods and villages, it becomes shared among the community and assumes a cultural meaning (Alexander 2012). Adroit operators cannot expect to simply turn up and override the actions of their more abrasive predecessors (Greenhill and Staniland 2007). Any subsequent measure to win hearts is an effort too little and too late. Fourth, the very occurrence of conflict sharpens in-group/out-group cleavages, especially when counter-insurgents draw their membership from ethnic groups rival to the population whose consent is sought (Sambanis et al 2012). The presence of predominantly non-Kashmiri and non-Muslim army soldiers solidifies a pan-Kashmiri identity and attenuates class, caste, sectarian and kinship differences”.

In other words, when looking at COIN the specific context of the ground reality and the nature of contestation determines the outcome as well as influences any action on the ground. Thus for instance in earlier part of the series I have argued that for the Government soldier “promotion of ‘development’ does not have the same traction as alleged “proxy war” waged by Pakistan in J&K or China in NE where jingoism and bigotry can be whipped up to crowd soldiers attitude (6). Corporate-led development is divisive and causes joblessness, loss of livelihood and encouraged ‘lumpenisation’. In short ‘development’ being fostered by the Government is bitterly contested.” A recent fact finding report by PUDR (7) also says that “In every instance during the fact-finding, it was clear that the government forces are considered as predators. Their very name sends that message- ‘Cobra’, ‘Greyhounds’. It is remarkable how something as inane sounding as ‘CRPF’ has, however, also become a pejorative term in these parts. Are these forces only living up to carry out the task assigned to them? What if this task, to bring a people to submission in order to accelerate mining activities, and degradation of environment, is contested by the people? Are soldiers and officers even aware of this contested reality? Do they have an opinion? Does this inform how they act on the ground? These questions are not rhetorical. This is what happened in Saranda (Jharkhand), where Maoists moved out in 2011 and the CRPF moved in with nineteen camps to enable mining activity. In Rowghat (Chhattisgarh) the process is on but is being resisted; as it is in the area of the fact-finding, all around in the Bailadila mining belt. There is nothing noble in this venture being pursued. Ignoble is an apt word to describe the way Indian military fights to ‘sanitise’ an area in order that a contested ‘development’ model is rammed down people’s throat.”

The report observes that “[c]ounter-insurgency is meant to target those very people whom the forces are also said to ‘protect’ or win over. In other words, since the Adivasis are suspected to be hand in glove with the Maoists, therefore, every time a bomb blasts causes casualty, soldiers attack the villagers. The irony lies in the fact that the troops are stationed there in order to ‘protect’ the Adivasis! Quite clearly, the idea is to erode the Adivasi will in resisting the state and in compelling them to be receptive towards official overtures. In such a situation, where officially it is denied that Bastar is a war-zone, the rule of law also does not prevail. This makes for a ‘kafkaesque’ situation, where the full might of law targets Adivasis and the executive protects the soldiers by ensuring that sanction is not given for prosecution of soldiers and officers for war crimes committed in ‘line of duty’. Consequently, the standard rules of engagement are never adhered to because the situation of war is never admitted to.”

Indeed the grip of the military is reinforced. The report draws attention to the “truth that in a war-zone the military calls the shots has now been sanctified. The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) was conceived by the Planning Commission under UPA II Government as a way to engage Gram Sabhas and bring “development” to those districts where Maoists/Naxalites were strong. Until now the IAP was implemented by the trinity of Collector, Superintendent of Police and District Forest Officers (under pressure from Ministry of Home Affairs) arguing that local bodies were weak or non-existent in most places. Now, under the NDA Government, the Central Paramilitary Forces will get a say in the IAP spending. And, unlike in the past where the district was the unit for disbursement of funds, now it will be decided at the block level, a process which will only enhance the role of the military. Consequently, the divestment of authority which Fifth Schedule, PESA or FRA envisaged for Gram Sabhas is being totally subverted as the military has been elevated as one of the major deciders of fund allocation”.

Finally, for our purposes, the report says that “NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) together with CMDC (Chattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation) are starting two new mines in Bailadila hills. The military objective appears to be to protect this investment. The problem posed to the environment by NMDC’s two large open cast mines at Kirandul and Bacheli, including pollution of Shankhini and Dankhini rivers, are going to get much worse. The issue of land and forest land, which is at the very heart of the self-economy of the Adivasi life and which also nurtures their self-identity, is under assault. To be physically ousted or driven away by the dwindling forests and degrading natural environment is what awaits Adivasis. What these nine village exhibit is not very different across Bastar. With variations no doubt, but manifesting more of the same, it makes for a shared reality. Warrants and absconders represent the legal war, as violent as the baton or bullet, probably more lethal as their staggering numbers vouch for. Surely, 3 to 7 lakh unnamed ‘absconders’, is a mark of the state going berserk. Is it not? While the Union Government may believe that their forces will wipe out ‘Naxalwad’ in three years, in these parts, people believe in Kamlesh Jhadi’s parting words, ‘aap aadmi ko maar sakte hain, vichardhara ko nahi’ (you can kill a person, but you cannot kill an ideology.)”.

“What it means is that mining and mineral based industries are being promoted but this ‘promotion of ‘development’ does not have the same traction. Between the family of Karma, for example, acting as brokers for ‘fat cats’ of India, and the Adivasi tilling his land for feeding his family there is world of a difference. This turns antagonistic when the Adivasi broker forces or lures his/her brethren to part with their land/forest. Corporate-led development is divisive and causes joblessness, loss of livelihood and encouraged ‘lumpenisation’. In short ‘development’ being fostered by the Government is bitterly contested.”

In light of the above, Rajesh Rajgopalan (8) makes eminent sense when he concludes that “it should also be understood that such (COIN) measures are temporary solutions to essentially political problems. A more responsive and representative political and economic order would prevent the conditions that gives rise to rebellions. Whether India’s counterinsurgency strategy would evolve to recognize that larger truth remains to be seen”.

In other words there is no military solution to insurgency without a political resolution, when fighting against your own people because no matter how much of goodwill is earned by the Army in J&K or Para Military Forces in Dandkaranya as being better service provider, the innate unequal and master/subject relationship between an occupying force and an occupied people, or a force to ensure the interests of the corporate sector and coercively displace Adivasis, makes it evident that such an inverse relationship and approach cannot work. Where it matters most is the “will and attitude” of the people which despite Indian Army’s best effort it has not managed to suppress or change.

But criticism of COIN will be incomplete without taking a look at Insurgency.

“Insurgency is the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify or challenge political control of a region. As such, it is primarily a political struggle, in which both sides use armed force to create space for their political, economic and influence activities to be effective”. This is how the “Counterinsurgency Guide” of the US Government (9) defines it. The primacy of “political” is recognized by the Guide. After all “war is continuation of politics by other means”. It is “politics of bloodshed” versus “politics without bloodshed”. But what the definition does not tell us or incorporate is the type of politics pursued. For instance where seizure of political power is driven by self-preservation or where people come in clash or direct conflict with owners of Capital and their thugs, official or non-official, the entire context of COIN acquires a different salience. And even if the insurgents lose battles, the underlying unyielding contestation/contradiction does not end. Recall the words of Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti referred to above. While Kashmiris may appreciate Army’s service delivery and assistance during calamities yet it remains “unpopular, if not hated, and is seen as an occupying force”. Surely a fight for self-preservation of forest land/non-forest land, will generate more virulent resentment.

The language of COIN is also meant to dazzle readers. For instance both US and Indian Doctrines claim that there is an “People Centric” and “Enemy centric” approaches.

The enemy-centric approach” conceptualizes COIN as a contest with an organized enemy, and focuses COIN activity on the insurgent organizations. This approach emphasizes defeat of the enemy as its primary task and other activities as supporting efforts. There are many variants within this approach, including “soft” vs. “hard,” direct vs. indirect, violent vs. non-violent, and decapitation vs. marginalization strategies. This approach can be summarized as “first defeat the enemy, and all else will follow.” The population-centric approach shifts the focus of COIN from defeating the insurgent organization to maintaining or recovering the support of the population. While direct military action against the insurgent organization will definitely be required, it is not the main effort; this approach assumes that the centre of gravity is the government’s relationship with and support among the population. It can be summarized as “first protect and support the population, and all else will follow.”

This appears to be sensible. But let’s see it on the ground. Militarily defeat the enemy and “protect and support the population” appear as things apart. But they are not. The two phases are not as separate in reality as they appear to be as analytical categories. The central objective in a war theatre at home, unlike foreign soil, is to win back authority. Having done that, and without relaxing the grip, and thousands of criminal cases filed against people while remaining scot free of war crimes, the very same force is to now maintain its hold by dividing, luring, coercing, persecuting lakhs of people who have participated in enumerable mass rallies and local protests. It is still coercive but using draconian laws to get things done. It is fear and insecurity that is deliberately promoted and paranoia that prevails when jingoism is the reigning deity. RSS presence inside the armed forces of the union is something that has not been written about. Some other occasion for that. Suffice it is to say, that in such a situation where is the possibility of armed forces being seen as “protectors and supporters” of the people? It’s an oxymoron.

And indeed the US Guide accepts that: “The political function is the key function, providing a framework of political reconciliation, and reform of governance around which all other COIN activities are organized. In general, a COIN strategy is only as good as the political plan at its heart. The economic function seeks to provide essential services and stimulate long term economic growth, thereby generating confidence in the government while at the same time reducing the pool of frustrated, unemployed young men and women from which insurgents can readily recruit. The security function is an enabler for the other functions and involves development not just of the affected nation’s military force, but its whole security sector, including the related legal framework, civilian oversight mechanisms and judicial system. Establishing security is not a precursor to economic and governance activity: rather security, economic and governance activity must be developed in parallel. The information function comprises intelligence (required to gain understanding), and influence (to promote the affected government’s cause). It is essential that the influence campaign is in tune with the strategic narrative, resonates with the relevant audiences, is based on genuine resolve by the affected government and that physical actions match. What makes COIN different from other stabilization and humanitarian tasks is that both elements of the information function will be conducted in stark competition with the insurgents’ own information functions.”

It has been a US claim that starting with the Spanish-American War, Phillipines, Indochina, Iraq, Afghanistan etc they have brought in representative democracy. Without going into what it did, what is immediately of interest is that even hypocritical reference to such thought process is missing in Indian army’s COIN.

Citing the US COIN is not to say that it is one-to-one with India’s Doctrine. The ideological proximity between the two was noted by David P Fidler (10). But the author notes the dissimilarities between the two; for instance US fights COIN abroad, India wages such wars primarily at home, with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as exceptions. [I use the word “exception” advisedly in a narrow sense, not to mean that it does not happen or that India is incapable]. Yet, the author presents some “counterintuitive paradoxes” at the centre of COIN namely, “more you protect your force, the less secure you may be”; “sometimes more force is used the less effective it is”; “sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction”; or “a local government ‘doing somewhat tolerably is normally better than us doing it well”. And the author notes that the “the difficulties the Indian Army has experienced in COIN campaigns, these constitutional and statutory duties have not translated easily in Army thinking and training even after more than fifty years of experience”.

Actually Indian Army’s military suppression of people is 250 years old and not fifty. Impunity enjoyed by Indian military remains the same under colonial and ‘independent’ India. But the author’s cautions that “[t]he Indian experience should stand as a warning to the United States that the mere presence of doctrine does not translate into sustainable capabilities”.

Notably, Lt General H S Panag, who retired as GOC-in-C of the Northern Command, where J&K came under his brief, spoke the truth when he rapped the Indian army for taking on a role it was “ill-equipped” to handle and stressed that “it is political strategy that must drive military strategy, not vice-versa”. He then went on to say that the “military’s recommendation for status quo based on the perception that the insurgency may resume and its unfinished, assumed quasi-political role must not be used as a shield for strategic indecision. Far from exercising a ‘veto power’, this is a desperate albeit ill-conceived — attempt by the military to prevent a return to 1990”.

So, the veto power that military comes to acquire in the war zones is a variable that is hardly ever taken into consideration. Let alone it’s larger political implication is considered in for what purports to be a Constitutional Democracy.

The US wages war abroad, wars of conquest/regime change, India wages them mostly at home against its own people. No more than 7500 Indian soldiers are part of UN Peacekeeping Tasks, against more than a third of the Indian Army (no less than 4,000,000-500,000) engaged in war against its own people in J&K and the NE! US’s wars are an imperialist project. India takes refuge under “nation-building” project, or for “Development” (of underdevelopment). But militarily, a fundamental difference between India and US is that India’s COIN is manpower based approach whereas US has a smaller force infantry and artillery on the ground backed by ships, airpower, drone, missiles. This is a major difference. India’s COIN relies on having massive footfall in the conflict zone and overwhelming the “enemy” through huge deployment. This results in the need for land for setting up camps, roads to link and security of supply lines, and an intrusive presence in the day to day lives of people. The link between militarization and how natural hazards become disaster/calamities, and how floods and earthquakes become destructive many times over because of militarization is researched in a recent report of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) [11].

The remarkable quality of the research is evident in its detailed empirical data/facts and conceptual clarity. Just to cite a single issue, the land under security forces comprises Karewas where there are orchards (p 40), highlands (p 48), Rakhs and Wetlands (p 49), River banks and Lakes (p 51), forests (p 53), Alpine Pastures (p 56), Glaciers (p 58). As the report in conclusion asserts “[t]here is very little ‘natural’ about a ‘natural disaster’. Wherever natural disasters occur they are always entangled with political and historical forces, which are inseparable from the proximate environmental factors that are identified as their cause. Socio-economic and political vulnerabilities are exacerbated by natural hazards. And it is these that define an event as a disaster or a catastrophe.” (p. 160)

In particular in those areas where land rights are zealously guarded, as in J&K and NE and the forested Central India this strikes at the core of COIN. Their very presence is an encroachment and an occupation by military. Thus the weaknesses of the Indian COIN or their inability to intellectually analyse their actual experience, if not since British India Army came into being, at least over past 68 years, starting with “police action” in Hyderabad and military suppression of Telegana Uprising means their inability to break out of their colonial mindset. Why? No self-respecting democracy can be mortified to critically analyse in public domain if the wars the rulers say they fight is really for the greater public good. A war against our own demands that public remain vigilant about the conduct of war: from asking question about why war, to its dirty nature, to ensure that the political strategy comes to the fore. They ought not to be scared of democratizing the armed forces (yes, it’s time we take a closer look at the Armed Forces Acts because they are meant to maintain discipline over jawans and the class difference between the officers and the jawans).

But this is wishful thinking. In real world rulers do not care. They need a predatory force to carry out their predatory tasks. Most predatory of all is transferring people’s assets to the corporate “fat cats”.

Reality on the ground shows that whatever name is given to phases of COIN, “people-centric or enemy-centric” the very idea of COIN is such that the theoretical distinction or rather the abstract categories are not present in the same way on the ground where collective punishment of the people goes hand in hand with “civic action programmes” of the military. Where bloody military operations go hand in hand with legal immunity to the military to do virtually as it pleases. Where lawlessness, and armed confrontation are wedded together. It is meant to restore authority and to ensure that people, actually “subjects”, reconcile to submission to authority.

Let’s turn again to Bastar to illustrate what I am saying.

Danish Raza writing in The Hindustan Times [“The Curse of Bastar”; 26/04/2015] refers to some cases to bring out the cruel reality. He mentions Barse Manjhi who was in jail on the day, July 8, 2010 when Congress leader Avadesh Gautam’s house was attacked by the alleged Maoists. But Avadesh Gautam himself told the Court that 67 names of attackers were provided by the Police but the Court declared them “absconders”. Kawasi Hidma was arrested for attack at Errabore village in July 2007 when 23 police personnel died. Two SPOs “identified” him and the injured personnel claim they heard Maoists call out each others’ name in the three hour long fire exchange and fifty names were added. In the fourth statement 53 names were shown with Kawasi’s at number 53. One SPO died and the other turned hostile. Bhima Kadh has 12 cases bombing a passenger bus and trucks died as under-trial in August 2012 and had been arrested in 2010 at age 19. Only ground the chargesheet says is that it’s “based on information provided by our (police) trusted secret source and interrogation of accused who were involved in the unlawful activity”.

Even operations become part of lies. ADG RK Vij of Chattisgarh Police told press persons that 49 STF men took on a 150 men strong Maoist force in Pidmed village of Sukma on April 11, 2015 in which 7 STF got killed but they managed to kill 35 Maoists. Writing in the Mail Today [“Sukma turned into death zone for Red Rebels”, 22/04/2015] Abhishek Bhalla and Sahar Khan report that it was said that a “surrendered” Maoist in the presence of ADG RK Vij, claimed that the 35 bodies were cremated one-by-one at Dabbakant. This was to counter the claim of the Maoist of zero death in Pidmed incident. Thus Pawan Dahat [“Maoists own up Sukma attack”; The Hindu; 21/04/2015] cites ADG RK Vij as first claiming that Pidmed encounter was “among the greatest battles” and that 20 Maoists were killed by the STF. This was after the IG (Bastar) Kalluri criticized the STF. So in just four days numbers went up from 20 to 35. But Maoists in a press statement stated that “not a single Maoist was killed….Some of us received minor injuries…but the fact is that the STF had to run for their lives for more than 10 kms towards Kankerlanka village”. And then quite significantly, point out that “[w]e never shy away from accepting casualties on our part. The last rites of our deceased comrades are performed as per the revolutionary traditions and in full public view.” Indeed even as 20 and 35 Maoist death toll was being promoted by the police officers the Indian Express [22/04/2015] was reporting that no Maoist body was recovered in Pidmed encounter and that it took the Police and CRPF 30 hours to retrieve the bodies of STF personnel!

Another interesting story that sporadically emerged was in the Times of India [“4 Naxalite Attacks in 72 hours:The Inside Story by Rashmi Drolla and Joseph John] which reported that Maoists have demanded Fifth Schedule provisions to become operative in the Adivasi areas, with Advisory Council and land distribution under 9th Schedule. They go on to also claim that Maoist “affected” districts were 69 in 2005, 115 in 2007, 112 in 2009, 95 in 2012 and 96 in 2014. Naxal “influenced” districts were 165 in 2005, 194 in 2007, 195 in 2009, 141 in 2012 and 106 in 2014. This is to suggest shrinkage of area and influence. But this also reveals that “affected areas” may have shrunk but is not less than what it was in 2005. It’s the area of “influence” that shows shrinkage.

This is something which the CPI(Maoist) has acknowledged. But the reference to Fifth Schedule is quite significant in that it brings out that theirs is not a nihilistic project made out by “liberals”, but it’s a laudable political objective. At the same time, while we must take everything officials say with a “pinch of salt”, there are some grounds for concern. While militarily, despite suffering casualties and arrests, the Maoist “subjective forces” (cadres, guerillas, leaders) may survive. But it is the shrinkage of the political influence that has adversely impacted the “subjective forces”. Absence of mass struggles in guerilla zone and the renewed push for trying to resume mining projects and mineral based industry testifies to that. True struggles are going on, for instance at Dilmil site the Adivasi Mahasabha is spearheading struggle against a mega steel project. Just as in Rowghat villagers are fighting tooth and nail against their alleged NOCs and identical Gram Sabha resolutions. In Hasdeo-Arand where 17 Gram Sabhas are united in opposing coal mining, there have been spate of news spread through social media which brought to light stubborn protests by Adivasis against arrests, torture, molestation by security forces and other excesses. So it’s not as if that the struggle is dead.

That the shrinkage of political influence does bother Maoists is evident behind inquiry cum survey being carried out by the Party units in Dandkaranya. Namrata Biji Ahuja wrote [“Naxal Survey to counter schemes”; Asian Age 09/03/2015], apparently based on intelligence briefing, says that CPI(Maoist) has asked its medical cadres and “lower ranking” activists to ascertain from villages the impact of government’s “development schemes”, especially relief and rehabilitation schemes, PDS, MNREGA, land reforms, road construction, establishment of schools, banks, health centres to panchayati raj institutions. She writes “[t]he objective….is to find out whether these programmes led to any improvement in condition of women, children, landless labourers, displaced farmers, employment opportunities for youth, lessening of victimization by money lenders and so on”. This may be a movement on the backfoot but this hardly looks to indicate a movement in retreat. Yes, it has suffered reverses, but such surveys can only be carried out, under the circumstances operating on the ground, only if people still trust them, because only then would they have access to the people to carry out such a survey. Remember that camps are all around. Patrols are regular. Operations may have come down in scale but they carry on at a smaller basis. To put it in another way, when the military is everywhere, to have access to people is entirely based on trust.

Take another instance. In Sukma CPI (Maoists) held/detained 150 sarpanchas for five days. According to the police they were kept cold and hungry somewhere in Gogunda hill range, because Maoists wanted them not to contest local body elections [“Sarpanch Aspirants Relive Naxal Nightmare”; Rabindra Nath Chowdhury; Asian Age 21/01/2015]. It is difficult to buy this story because no matter what, no Maoist will ever let villagers go hungry, that too for five days. It just does not wash. That would be a suicidal, apart from everything else. What is likely is that the aspirants were summoned. There was no mention of “abduction,” thus they went on their own. They might have been there for five days to argue and convince Maoists and Maoists asking them to withdraw. On return they were arrested and the aspirants might have had to convince the police that they were forced against their will and had faced much ordeal. The police terror is palpable. Recall the recent attempt by IG (Bastar) to accuse Jagdalpur-based feisty women lawyers for having links with Maoists. Anyone who talks of “rights” or protests police terror, resists land grab, provides legal assistance to the Adivasis who cannot afford fees for legal defense, extends medical assistance is suspect. It’s war and “anyone who is not with us is our enemy”, i.e. Bushism is in place in the warzones. Military victory is what the Indian security forces are after.

Access to the war zones is being restricted. With the war intensifying the flow of information has come down. But misinformation still carries on. For instance Abhsihek Bhalla, in a story datelined New Delhi [“Rift Rocks Red Ranks”; The Mail Today 07/07/2015] claims that no less than 157 Maoists “surrendered” so far in 2015 and if to this is added 671 who “surrendered” in 2014 and 282 in 2013, we get 1110 surrenders in just 3 years. But the lie can be nailed because the maximum number of “surrenders” took place in Chattisgarh in 2014, and they were mostly fake. The remarkable feat in Chattisgarh was achieved when starting from the end of May 2014 when  a new IG, was made overall  in-charge of all the forces engaged in anti-Naxal operations. Ashutosh Bhardwaj [“Naxal surrenders are neither ‘Naxal’ nor ‘surrenders’”; The Indian Express; 08/12/2014] says that atleast 270 out of 377 were ordinary villagers. The correspondent observes that most of these were stage managed.

Furthermore, writing in Sunday Express [July 20, 2014; “CBI must probe ‘fake’ Naxal surrenders”] Deepu Sebastian Edmond reported that a former  official of Military Intelligence and some CRPF officers “falsely projected” that 150 Adivasi youth had surrendered in 2011 in Jharkhand. Investigation that was carried out revealed that the youth were lured by promise of jobs in the para-military forces and had paid Rs 55,000 to Rs 1.5 lakhs to the touts representing the officers and were also asked to pose as Maoists in a “surrender” ceremony.  They were then kept in illegal detention at old Ranchi jail, not in use since 2006 when the new jail was built.  They were guarded by 203rd COBRA batallion. The youth also narrated that 500-550 youths  from Ranchi, Khunti, Gumla  and Lohardaga were in jail with them. An FIR was filed on March 3, 2014 at Lower Bazaar police station and provides these details. That personnel of several agencies were involved also brings out that multiple agencies are at work.  Since then pace of surrender dropped drastically. So much so that MHA lamented the poor number of surrenders in Jharkhand and Bihar!  Flip side of this is that spurious surrenders stopped and number of actual surrenders remain very modest in Bihar and Jharkhand (12). While the numbers are exaggerated it is undeniable that 200-300 people have “surrendered”. Of these around 100 or so surrendered with their weapons. That is where our statistics do not back official data. Because closer look shows that what’s said to be in thousand-plus is probably no more than 300 or less, of whom less than hundred have surrendered with their weapons. But it does matter when middle ranking cadres surrender. It does affect the organization. But it is the extent of damage that we are talking about.

Let us recall that for years it was reported by the media based on official/non-official briefings that Maoists collected Rs. 1400 cr. Some media groups went over board and quoted it to be in thousands of crores. But going by what was said on the floor of the Parliament by the RSS-BJP’s Minister for Home Affairs it is no more than Rs. 140 cr. [Asian Age, 11/12/2014]. And this was done after a research funded by MHA by IDSA! But since MHA was proven wrong they did not fail to claim that there was sexual exploitation in Maoists camps, when more than 50% of PLGA comprises of women. But this was to demonise them as sex offenders when the extortion charge proved to be a dud. How did all the thousands of crores disappear? Even more disturbingly for the RSS-led MHA, despite their best efforts government has not uncovered the “foreign hand”. Instead of saying there is no foreign funding the MHA says thus far they have no evidence of it. Rather coy where facts are concerned.

Falsification is the norm. So are denying health, education to people; preventing civil liberty activists, reporters the access to people in these areas. Above all else is COIN. Its fine language and stages/phases cannot hide many atrocities however. As scholar Mona Bhan observed that Indian Army justify military action in the name of “latent disloyalty” in people and the need to intervene in “civilian life” (by virtue of the fact that Army trainers man key COIN institutions where CPMFs personnel get trained) [Cited in “The Violence of Comparision” by Nawaz Gul Kanungo; 18/02/2014; The Hindu].

So in practice, paradoxically, no one can deny that insurgents/rebels/revolutionaries have the capacity to put the best laid Doctrine to shame. This has to do with the objective behind military suppression in the specific socio-economic and politico-cultural reality. Koustav Dhar Chakrabarti drew attention to the fact that a largely non-Muslim military personnel are deployed in J&K against a largely Muslim population. Renegades were used to carry out the dirty work which are then passed off by a gullible media as either “internecine war among militants” or work of “unidentified gunmen”. Every Kashmiri knew who was who and therefore what “unidentified gunmen” meant.

But, in Bastar as Ashutosh Bharadwaj pointed out [“The Hunted”; The Indian Express 05/01/2015] that majority of SPOs’ “heart still bleeds for the revolutionary ideology and wistfully remember their former comrades”. And reported that eighty percent of the 3277 Maoists who have “surrendered” in 2000-2013, were made “secret police” whereas they surrendered as they were “tired of weapons and want(ed) a family life”.

In Bastar primarily a non-Adivasi military force is deployed which uses the Adivasi constables, a kind of graded inequality at the bottom who do the “dirtiest of job”.

Finally, take note of development on the matter of forest land diversion. On 30th April, 2015, the Union Minister for Environment and Forest told the Rajya Sabha that since 1981 1.200,570 million ha of forest land has been divested for 24,939 projects. Highest amount of forest land diversion was in Madhya Pradesh with 3,95,323 ha, Chattisgarh with 1,08,607 ha and Maharashtra 1,02,172 ha.

The most recent battle for control of tribal areas is the turf war between MoEF and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for control over FRA and thus as the administrative ministry to control Gram Sabha rather gradually divest it of its authority over forest land. While both are on board to introduce amendments to push mining and manufacturing, the MoEF believes that they have the authority to change the rules, or administrative guidelines for enforcement of laws, and thus to divest Gram Sabhas of their powers of consent for clearance in principle. MTA argued that as the nodal Ministry for FRA such a change requires amendment to be moved in the FRA and therefore, parliament’s consent. Suvojit Bagchi and Pawan Dahat [“Maoists Call for Boycott of PM’s Visit”; May 05,2015; The Hindu] write that according to the Maoists the Government has “intensified” Raoghat, Chargam, Aamdayi, Kuvige, Budhiyarimaad, Pallemaad, and other mining projects in Bastar and Rajnandgaon. A military training school in Maad is to turn into an Army hub. They speak of the PM laying foundation stone of a Mega steel plant (NMDC-SAIL joint project) at Dilmil, Dantewada and extension of 140 kms of Raoghat-Jagdalpur railway line, both at a total cost of Rs. 24,000 cr. So, on the ground Gram Sabha is being made dysfunctional.

Significantly, the current public outcry against RSS-BJP Central Government moving to restore the colonial Land Acquisition act through the backdoor, quite in keeping with its pro-British loyalty, has relevance for us. UPA II had to abandon the project to set up an Army hub in Maad, deep inside the Bastar forest since it ran foul of the FRA. But with RSS-BJP government bringing defence under the “exemption” list and with private sector entering military industrial sector arbitrary Land Grab, including forest lands, it can now justify this in the name of “national” security. The very same forest land, 500 ha of it, is again on the anvil. The “national” affixed before “security” is incongruous because it is the self-serving “nationalism” of the moneybags that RSS caters to. In other words, to set up an army hub in Maad or with Adani, Ambani, Vedanta, and other notorious corporate houses entering the military sector the nexus between Armed Forces and the Corporate will get sanctified through mutually beneficial industrial activity. Thus land grab is going to escalate and acquire “national security” stamp for looting peasantry, Adivasi or non-Adivasi. The re-entry of Army in the war zone of Central India shows how this Army will now have to serve the interest of the corporate sector having served jingoist interests in J&K and NE. It’s virtually like being deployed to protect the private sector’s land grab and loot. This is far removed from their primary role as defenders of the border.

But that’s not the only concern. The much larger concern is that this war in Bastar will get dirtier with Army’s entry. In other words, the war for transferring people’s assets to big capital is what is to watch out for.

To conclude, I have through this series tried to bring out some aspects of the social reality of wars amidst us. This requires that we demystify the official and big Capital’s narrative, subject it to scrutiny so that war gets explained for its politics; both in terms of what politics/policy actually is – the war is in continuation of it; as well as its politics in terms of the actual military activities. COIN then ceases to be benign and legitimate, and makes its appearance as an anti-people concoction, malignant and repulsive which turns people into “subjects” to be manipulated and placed under regimentation.

More specifically, the war of the Adivasis led by Maoists acquires a degree of heroism, which notwithstanding its many crimes, cannot be denied to them. But I do have a nagging problem. I do believe that there was lapse in collective leadership when Kishanji acquired a cult and ran roughshod over the state leadership. But must not the mistake of failure of collective leadership be laid at the doorstep of the central leadership as well as the West Bengal unit which kowtowed before Kishanji? Did not the CPI(ML) PW replace Kondapalli Sitharamaiya and bring in collective leadership? As Maoists why did they not defy or not urge the central leadership to countermand his support for the Trinamul Congress? Blaming one person is not correct. Has the party discussed this and arrived at a position? The tradition of CPI(ML) PW which never shied away from public self-criticism, engaged in the most robust of public debates and placed before the public its perspective, ought to permeate through CPI(Maoist). That would be a sign of maturity. By putting it out in public domain they will bring factional antagonism to rest. That is the way forward by admitting to serious errors and to heed its lessons.

Consequently, a lot depends on how they conduct their war of defence and how they work to overcome the political shrinkage they are being subjected to. “Nothing is over until its really over.” They are far from it, as of now.

Notes and Refrences:

1. “In Maoist Belt Police is about Demonstrating Care” Arita Bhattacharjee, The Statesman 23/05/ 2015.

2. “Violence lies now inside the conflict”, Arita Bhattacharjee, The Statesman 02/06/2015

3. 5 June 2015 “Bastar me Naya Salwa Judum” [New Salwa Judum in Bastar], BBC Hindi.

4.Micahel Levein: “From Primitive Accumulation to Regimes of Dispossession”; Vol L No 22, 2015; May 30, 2015.

5. “Sadbhavana and the Paradox of ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’An Institutionalist Perspective” by | Kaustav Dhar Chakrabart, Economic and Political WeeklyVol – L No. 24, June 13, 2015

6. See for details my article “Motivation as Barometer of Real Politics” at:

7. “War and the Lightness of being Adivasis: Security Camps and Villages in Bijapur, Chattisgarh”; Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, February 2015 ].

8. “Insurgency and Counter insurgency” by Rajesh Rajgopalan;

9. US Government Counterinsurgency Guide” January 2009.

10.[“The Indian Doctrine of Sub-conventional Operations: Reflections from a US Counterinsurgency Perspective”; Posted on January 12,2013 by therearenosunglasses.

11. “Occupational Hazard: The Jammu and Kashmir Floods of September 2014”, JKCCS; April 2015. The report quotes Luv Puri [Hope Chugs in; The Hindu; 17 June 2007] thjat the railway project is “under a thick blanket of security with para military and J and K police personnel spread around the hills for area domination.”

12. See more at: Maoist Movement in the age of Pracharaks of Corporate Loot and War”; November 21, 2014.