Rain may scale down Naxal violence”, screamed a national daily on June 25, prophesying that the downpour in the coming months will have its impact on the violent campaign of the extremists. Lest this not be construed as the imagination of an ignorant reporter, this is a standard theory that gets circulated vide the police departments of various states a fortnight before the arrival of the monsoon every year. In reality, however, this is more of a heightened expectation rather than one rooted in the wisdom on the patterns of Maoist activity. The Taliban do not stop their offensive in the winter months in Afghanistan. The Islamist terrorists do not cease fighting during the holy month of Ramadan. Our own Naxals too have developed operational resilience to carry on fighting throughout the rainy months.
The impact of monsoon on the lives of the Naxals was elaborated to me by a senior police officer in Jharkhand, who claimed to have “first-hand knowledge” on the movement. “Rains make their lives difficult in the jungles. They come out, stay in the villages, wait for the rainy months to get over and then return to the jungles.” This was late June 2011. He was confident that the next few months would be peaceful.
Within weeks, however, the Naxals struck big. On August 19, ten policemen and a civilian were killed in two synchronised and simultaneous attacks by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadres in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. The dead were part of a 70-member team walking behind a tractor, probably inspired by a similar logic that Naxals lie low in the rains. A total of 205 people were killed between July and September, the three rainy months, that year. The previous year’s tally for the corresponding period was 249 and in 2011, when the overall fatalities were significantly reduced to barely 705, at least 115 deaths were recorded.
It is nobody’s contention that Naxal violence has not been on a state of decline. Data indicates a drastic ‘absence of violence’ since last year, although civilian fatalities still remain at the 2007 level. Recent Naxal press releases have detailed the loss of 150 cadres in the past one year, thereby allowing over-zealous analysts to blend these two and conclude that the ‘absence of violence’ is in fact a ‘reduction in violence’ imposed by the state through a successful attrition campaign. This is far from reality.
The enduring problem which has affected the police departments and the intelligence agencies across the Naxal-affected states is the gross lack of understanding of the nature of the threat. For many policemen across the country, prevalence of violence is victory for the extremists and reduction in fatalities, a triumph for the state. Till date, the average police officer in the country describes the Naxals as ‘criminals’ and ‘thugs’ and applies the age-old formula to arrive at conclusions that may be relevant to normal law and order situations, but not to an insurgency situation. In fact, the ‘terrorist’ tag attached on the Naxals by Minister of State Jitendra Singh this April might have further skewed the levels of analysis. Terrorists focus on violence. Insurgents aim at holding territories.
In spite of the rather large literature now available, little has been realised that the left-wing extremists have built their movement both on the basis of discreet organisational work and relatively less by orchestration of violence. An incremental process lasting years converts a non-Naxal area into a Naxal stronghold. Violence is the ultimate manifestation of that control and certainly not a precursor. Curious as it may sound, but while the demonstration of violence does indicate their firm hold over the area, its absence is not necessarily a sign of their weakness.
The fact that Naxals are a force to reckon with who continue to hold considerable area is backed by their activities this year. Not just that the extremists continue to control large tracts of territory in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Maharashtra, their violence potential has also been more than expressed. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, till June 17, 148 civilians and security forces have been killed, including 31 in Jharkhand where maximum anti-Naxal success has been recorded in recent times. The official figures would be much more.
I had an innocent query for the Jharkhand police officer as to why the police do not target the Naxals when they sit ‘idle’ in the villages for three long months. He blinked couple of times and cleared his throat before giving out: “We get to know about their presence only after they return to the forests.”