The army and the Maoists

The army and the Maoists

By now it is usual to hear voices that demand that the Indian Army be called in to tackle the Maoist/Naxalite menace afflicting various states in the country. If such a policy is implemented, it will be a misguided one.

First, however, a specious claim must be set aside. The usual argument against deploying regular army units is that the army is meant to defeat the external enemies of the country and not bring some “misguided" citizens to book. This line of reasoning is often made by human rights enthusiasts. It does disservice both to our Armed Forces and to the residents of the states where army units are employed for internal security duties. Are the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur and other states not citizens of India? Going by the above-mentioned claim, it seems they aren’t.

The fact is there is no constitutional bar against the use of the army in situations where the security of the country, internal or external, is threatened. There are other, practical, reasons for not going ahead with this step.

The three Armed Forces chiefs have on more than one occasion said that there are few men to spare for opening a front against the Maoists. At the moment the army is involved in internal security duties in different parts of the country. This is in addition to manning the border with Pakistan and China. Apart from these duties, operational readiness also requires the maintenance of reserve units in case a contingency arises. There is little to spare.

Then there are other strategic issues. In the end, the Maoists, however well-trained, are but a rag-tag group that has the advantage of operating in a difficult terrain and with some local support. In theory, they count for nothing in front of the majesty and power of the government. If the government of the day wants to call its most potent coercive instrument right at the beginning of what promises to be a long conflict, it sends out a signal of powerlessness.

Insurgencies in Punjab, Mizoram and Assam have been defeated by a combination of Armed Forces and paramilitary and state police units. There is no reason why better training, imparted by the army, should not make our paramilitary units a lethal answer to the Maoists.

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