Friday, June 11, 2010

Army against Maoists :: Pros and Cons

Responding to the mounting speculation that soldiers may be drafted in the battle against Maoists, Defence minister AK Antony blandly stated: ‘‘I don’t want a public debate on this. The government will take a decision after carefully assessing various implications. We will come to a conclusion only after weighing the pros and cons of a possible deployment of armed forces in the fight against Maoists.’’
The unassuming Defence Minister is both right and wrong. Evaluating the pros and cons of deployment of armed forces is a wise thing to do.

But rejecting public debate is a wrong approach.

It is because governments have used all agencies, forces and resources at their command–civil services, state police, mercenary agencies like ‘salwa judum’ and central forces–to combat Maoist elements and have failed.

Army is the ‘last resort’ and there is no other force left.

Therefore people have a right to know and debate as to how state and paramilitary forces were used, why they failed and what is different that the Army will do.
More importantly, should Armed Forces, trained and equipped to wage war and decimate enemies be used at all to fight and kill our own people!

Buzz is that Army’s central command has been tasked with preparing a blueprint for action against the Red combatants.
The jurisdiction of the central command extends to vast areas of Dandakaranya forests falling in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. This is a sequel to Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram seeking a larger mandate to deploy Army and Air Force to ‘capture, hold and hand over’ tribal territories for ‘development’ purposes. 

Let us take a reality-check on the kind of ‘development’ that Chidambaram is championing.

In a Congress ruled state with large mineral belt, deals were signed with two alumina refining companies for mining 7.5 million tonnes of bauxite. While fetching the government mere Rs 64.5 crore as royalty, both companies would make a staggering profit of Rs. 3610 crores per year.
This loot has been given the protective cover of a Public Sector Undertaking which would do the notional mining and sell to the alumina refineries.
For the community, mining operations would at best create 400 additional jobs as against nearly 100,000, mainly tribal people, who would be rendered homeless!

English media channels are fascinated by this ‘development model’ and one of them had trumped up an ‘opinion-poll’ suggesting 67% public support for ‘use of Army against the Naxals’. Chidambaram gleefully endorsed this farce and said that he was not surprised at all.

Anchors of these media channels have been screaming and screeching for launching the might of the regular, well-equipped Indian Army to exterminate the itinerant, ramshackle ‘maoist army’ so that this ‘development model could be implemented in the entire tribal territory!

Amidst all this arm-twisting there are indications that Armed Forces are chary of getting involved in the Maoist quagmire.
The main ground is fear of collateral damage.
The top-brass feels that the Army should step in only as a last resort in tackling internal law and order situations and the task of taking on the Naxalites belongs to the State police, which are best equipped in the form of terrain and local conditions.

The view is that the presence of soldiers in civilian areas could lead to a greater sense of alienation among the local population who are deprived even of basic facilities.

Another factor is that any offensive action by the armed forces could attract greater attention by NGOs and other activists, along with the apprehension that the damage to the social fabric could be more serious.

Furthermore, an already over-stretched Army doubts whether it can sustain another major long-term internal security commitment.

This discourse takes me back to an investigative article by Claire Sterling in the TIME magazine at the height of Emergency in August, 1975.

Describing the predicament of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi between choosing to become a dictator on her own or get propped up by the Soviet agents, the author writes: “Neither development is likely to leave the Indian Army unmoved.

And that is perhaps the crux of the situation. India’s standing Army of nearly a million men has been resolutely non-political since Independence. But it is also sensitive to the smallest slight to its honour, dignity and military independence, not to mention the nation’s sovereignty; and it is steeped in loyalty to constitutional principles……”.

Targeting Indira, the author concludes: “Depending on how fast and how far she goes in changing from a traditional Prime Minister to the one-woman ruler of a police state, the Indian Army–the one group with the power to stop the process–could intervene.

If it were to do so, it would almost certainly be not to replace her with a military dictator, but to restore the institutions it has been drilled into defending since birth”.

The writing is on the wall. The present-day democrats are turning dictatorial and in their desperation are virtually handing over one-third of India–Jammu & Kashmir, North Eastern States and now the vast Dandakaranya territory-to an unwilling Army. Now is the trying time for Army’s loyalty and core values.

General VK Singh, Army chief has repeatedly stated that Armed forces have their own value systems, which he will always strive to uphold.

This value system is enshrined in the soul-raising credo of the Indian Military Academy: "The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."

Participating in a ‘war’ against our own people, parched and famished due to long years of neglect, injustice and repression, runs against the most basic value system of India’s proud Army.

Defence minister Antony is on record saying that there is no scope of `directly' employing the armed forces in the ongoing battle against the Maoists. So are the Army and Air Chiefs.

Nothing has changed except the incessant spin-doctoring by the electronic media who have roped in some arm-chair Army strategists to suggest that in this kind of situation the motto should be ‘act early and act firmly’, meaning ruthless and mass massacre.

The weak and unstable political set-up seems to be caving in.

Hopefully, the Defence chiefs will not be coerced by such pressures and calibrated mind-management.

They should assert that their duty lies in upholding the ‘safety, honour and welfare of the nation and its people’ and not in securing and holding territory for the multi-national billionaires and assorted carpetbaggers.

Prime Minister and Cabinet Committee on Security, while taking the final call on the ‘larger mandate’ sought by the Home Minister, should deeply ponder and ask two critical questions before ordering militarization of Dandakaranya forests and Army marching over tribal territory.

One is whether it would not signify collective and complete collapse of civil governance?
And the second, will not the world opinion justifiably equate India with Pakistan, which is considered a ‘failed state’?

Do we really need this dual shame ?

Article by:
(Writer is a former Army and IAS officer)