Sadly, salwa judum (“A bad idea called salwa judum”, Mint, 3 April 2008) represents the bankruptcy of India’s security management establishment which, after decades of indigenous experience in countering militancy, has come up with plans that are not only downright “bad”, but also put the innocent citizen at the mercy of the violent mercenary.
Firstly, a clear distinction has to be made between revolutionary guerrillas and Indian militants, who are criminals donning the cloak of ideology. Spanning the length and breadth of the country today, be it the United Liberation Front of Asom in Assam or the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir, the militant-criminal-extortionist web is deep-rooted. The Leftist guerrillas are no different.
Under these circumstances, the state has to inure and not arm its own citizens unless it is to act as a tripwire for deployment of security forces. This is at the heart of the concept of the village defence committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Having ex-servicemen as their core, these groups are the first line of defence for quick reaction teams of the army and the paramilitary. While no statistics are available, a generic survey shows that apart from a few exceptions, the terrorists, when determined, have been successful in neutralizing VDCs by superior use of force; thus their utility lies more in deterrence than in resistance.
Similarly, counter or pseudo gangs have also been used in Kashmir in the form of Ikhwanis. This has been an accepted form where turncoat guerrilla groups fight for the state against erstwhile colleagues. Kuka Parrey was a cult figure in Kashmir till he was eliminated, as is Karuna, who assisted the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in breaking the hold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in eastern Sri Lanka. There is an inherent danger of criminalization of society.
Thus, whatever their operational utility, there are serious moral as well as legal objections in adopting this form of resistance.
Salwa judum is an atypical concept. It started first as a movement of political mobilization against the ultra Left militants in Chhattisgarh, leading to arming of the tribal people when the militants retaliated, and has finally ended by forcing 36,991 people from 201 villages in Dantewada district and 10,949 people from 275 villages in Bijapur district to live in 23 relief camps, distancing them from their economic, social and cultural roots.
The nearest replication of this in India is the regrouping of villages carried out by Field Marshal Manekshaw when he was commander of the Eastern Army in the 1960s in Mizoram. It was ensured that regrouping was carried out close to the villagers’ land so that they could go out for, jhuming and cultivation during the day and return to the security of the regrouped villages during the night.
At the heart of the issue, however, is the lack of a unified counter-insurgency or terrorism doctrine in the country that defines parameters and sets boundaries for operations by military, paramilitary, police and the civil government as well as supportive actions by the people.
If such a unifying framework was available, the unique experiment of political consensus between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in Chhattisgarh in the form of salwa judum would not have turned into a disaster for the innocent.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is security analyst and editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org