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Syed Nazakat in Delhi, India

When Special Director General of CRPF Vijay Raman arrived in Naxalite zone in the state of Chhattisgarh, he realised how much control the Maoists have in India’s neglected heartland. Village after village, he found, that there are no roads, water, and electricity or telephone lines and there are no officials to answer pleas for help. The administrative vacuum was filled by Naxalites, who run a parallel administration, collect tax, provide some assistance to local people and logistic support to their own fighters who stage operations across a swathe of central India from the border with Nepal in the north to Karnataka in the south. There is so much fear of the police and paramilitary personnel that whenever they approach people, they walk off or avert their eyes. “No matter how much damage we inflict on Naxals, the key remains winning the support of the masses,” Vijay Raman candidly accepted. “I tell my men that their most important objective is to win people’s hearts.”

Vijay Raman has toughest job in the country. He is the in charge of the biggest anti-Naxalite offensive underway in the Maoist-hit states. The government has included both the ITBP and the BSF in the anti-Naxal operation and Vijay Raman is the Commander of the joint central forces numbering over 60,000 personnel. And it is not often that the man who leads the operations talks compassionately about the human cost of the conflict.  He told THE WEEK in a recently conducted interview that there is no outsider to blame in Naxal problem. “To my mind, it is test of Indian democratic polity how we can bring our own people back to the national mainstream,” said Raman.

To command anti-Naxal forces, home minister P Chidambaram hand-picked Vijay Raman last year because he was steady, easy to work with, had presided over a crucial turn of events in insurgency hit Kashmir, and by then, the Raman had also won the PMO’s confidence. He has spent almost ten years in Special Protection Group and in various capacities served with Prime Minister’s organisation during the tenure in office of Prime Minister’s Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar, V.P.Singh and Narsimha Rao. Raman was appointed as the chief of anti-Naxal command despite the fact that he is at the verge of his retirement [He is to retire in early 2011].

Throughout his career, he has landed in hot spots – from his first posting in 1979 as additional SP of Gawalior to 10 years as a SPG and later he shifted to BSF as its inspector general in Kashmir. During his posting in Kashmir, Raman was known for his aggressive tactics rooting out militants. While critics at the time accused him of alienating civilians in the process, he won praise for then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for taking a more nuanced tack, particularly in killing the mastermind of the Parliament attack, Jaish-e-Mohammed Kashmir chief Ghazi Baba in Kashmir in 2003. He presided over a crucial turn of events in Kashmir as inspector general BSF. The one thing he cherishes about his service in Kashmir is that he managed to develop and nourish informers and as he proudly says all his informers are alive. “Whatever success we made in Kashmir was because of the excellent network of informers,” Raman told THE WEEK. “That unfortunately is not happening in Naxal affected area.”

Senior officials at the home ministry admit that one of the main reasons for the failure of the security forces in their operations against Naxalites is the lack of authentic information. Locals would not dare to provide any information to the police or to paramilitary troops because the only punishment, if caught, is death.  Between 2004 and 2008, on an average, 500 civilians were killed every year by Naxalites and many of them were killed after being named ‘police informers’.   In the first half of 2010 too, 142 civilians were named as ‘police informers’ and killed.

The lack of information has complicated the task of security forces who are already struggling to combat the Naxal insurgency. In response to government’s massive operations, the Naxalites has intensified their attacks, orchestrating police massacres, bombings, bank and mine robberies, informant murders and kidnappings on a routine basis. In this year alone, there have been 1103 incidents of violence which has left 209 security personnel and 97 Naxals dead. The increasing causality of security forces underscores the gravity of the challenge which in the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”

Home Minister, P Chidambaram is not convinced that states, if left to their own devices, will be able to reassert state authority over Naxal-dominated territories anytime soon. That’s why last month he decided to provide further help and assistance to the naxal affected states. The government has agreed to provide more helicopters to security forces, more funds for 400 police stations in the affected districts and more SPOs to the states. But the problem with the whole anti-Naxal strategy is that the government and the commanders on the ground see the situation from different perspectives, and their ideas about what to do next may differ as well. Raman, for example, testimony seems obvious. To win peace, he emphasizes intelligence gathering, surgical strikes, the need for local development and very importantly a political initiative. He seems averse to deployment of more troops and also to quick changes in deployment.

Chidambaram, painfully aware of the prevailing situation, believes in pro-activism. He is of firm belief that that as long as the CPI (Maoist) is not challenged effectively it will expand its area of activity, recruited more cadres, kidnapped more persons, extorted more money, acquired or looted more weapons, asserted its dominance in more areas, and targeted the security forces as well as civilians. Though the home minister maintains that he has two pronged strategy, namely, development and police to win peace in Naxal affected areas but his hard-line strategy and heavy causalities of the forces raises the essential question, the one that should have been asked before the government launched a massive operations against the Naxalites: are the paramilitary troops deployment in the Naxal affected areas well prepared and equipped to fight Naxals? The guess is that commander on the ground might say no and Chidambaram might say yes.

The biggest difference in the approach was wide open when home minister P Chidambaram asked chief ministers of four Naxal affected states (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal) on July 14 to create a Unified Command for anti-naxal operations. His commander on the ground, Vijay Raman, was not even aware about the any discussion or decision on the proposed unified command. “I don’t know anything about it,” Raman told THE WEEK. “I’ve my experiences working with unified command in J&K and I’m not a great believer of these unified commands.”

In a pair of epic fiascos, the UPA government cleared a massive anti Naxal operation without a proper planning and substantial boots on the ground — and then when 76 personnel of CRPF died in one of the brutal Naxal attack home minister P Chidambaram offered his resignation on April 7.  Senior security officers say that at places the troops are deployed deep inside forests, at great distance from the district headquarters, making it impossible for them to move out of their camps and carry daily routine patrol. In contrast to the troubled J&K where there are over five lakh army and paramilitary deployed to combat insurgency, there are only 60 battalions (some 60,000 troops) of paramilitary troops to fight armed insurgency in seven Naxal affected states.

The government continued policy to support a local militia commonly called Salwa Judum against Naxalites has backfired, as civilians armed and backed by the government with weapons to fight Naxalites use the same tactics as the Naxalites, including extrajudicial killings, forcing thousands of people out of their villages. Another difficulty with the home ministry’s strategy has been that, under India’s constitution, security is a matter for state governments rather than the centre. So national policy for dealing with the Naxalites has been inconsistent. Some state governments [Andhra Pradesh in 2004] held abortive peace talks with local Naxalites, while other states launched massive operations [Chhattisgarh has launched notorious Operation Green Hunt] to fight armed Naxal. There is also lack of coordination within seven states and at times the turn war and personality clashes meant that even the state police and paramilitary forces find themselves at logger heads.

Raman agrees that Naxals’ methods are no gentle wake-up call.  The aim of Naxalites is to seize power by armed force and the settlement of the issue by war. Naxalites have increasing begun to reorganize along more formal military lines. The rebels still use bows and arrows, knives and 303 rifles, but today they are also equipped with sophisticated weapons like AK-47, LMG rocket launchers, and are building increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs. Their leaders are thinking far into the future, taking a 20- to 25-year view of their struggle. “Liberated” areas, such as their part of Dantewada, would be expanded until they pose a threat even to India’s cities.

To combat Naxalites at least on operation front, Raman identified three areas for improvement. First, the intelligence gathering needs to be improved. Second, the government should make serious and sustained efforts to win good-will of local people. Third, there is need of better coordination between the seven naxal affected states.

Until that happens, the Maoists will continue to bleed India.

Interview of CRPF Special Director General Vijay Raman

CRPF Special Director General Vijay Raman is in charge of the biggest anti-Naxalite offensive underway in the Maoist-hit states. The government has included both the ITBP and the BSF in the anti-Naxal operation and Vijay Raman is the Commander of the joint central forces numbering over 60,000 personnel. Born in Alwaye in Kerala, the 58-year-old Raman is dealing with what prime minister Manmohan Singh, called India’s biggest internal security challenge every faced by the country.

As the government has decided to keep the army away from the Naxal operations therefore the prime responsibility to fight Naxals will remain with Vijay Raman and his paramilitary troops. Throughout his career, he has landed in hot spots – from his first posting in 1979 as additional SP of Gawalior to 10 years as a SPG and then to IG BSF in Kashmir.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you are facing to deal with Naxalites?

A. There is no outsider to blame in Naxal problem. To my mind, it is test of Indian democratic polity how we can bring our own people back to the national mainstream.

Q. On the operational level what are the real challenges?

A. There are certain problems in which the state governments have to take steps and the GOI can only supplement their steps. The states have to lead the operation. We will be there with full support. We have examples of Maharashtra where they state police is on the forefront and we are providing support. AP, for instance, they don’t even need us. That is also how we dealt with militants in J&K. The police was on the forefront. It was generating valuable information. That thing is not happening in Naxal affected areas.

Q. You are saying the local intelligence gathering is not working in the Naxal affected areas?

A. That is right. The key to defeat any armed insurgency is information. It is not that it is difficult. It is a question of keeping you ears and eyes open. The local police station has key role in information gathering. Suppose this Kishan jee is a major guy. He could have been tracked.

Q. He is the most wanted man.

A. He is the top man.

Q. Why have you failed to develop good intelligence mechanism in Naxal affected area?

A. What has happened is that because of the generations of isolation we have not been able to reach out to tribal people but Naxals have reached to them. So whatever impression these poor tribals have about the system of governance and authority it is about Naxals. They have deprived of any alternate choice. The money meant for them and the development work in their areas is not reaching to the people it is meant for. so this is something you cannot offset by physical force.

Q. So you are saying that using the more force will not cure the Naxalities?

A. It will not win their hearts.

Q. Then what is your strategy to deal with the Naxal threat?

A. the strategy has been ever since the Chidambaram has taken over, is to go around simultaneously with force and development. You send two companies of paramilitary forces in an area, given them some time to consolidate. Wait for a proper situation and then start development activities. Let the people there feel that our aim is to help them not to hurt them. By force alone nothing can be won.

Q. But then you started a massive operation under Operation Green Hunt?

A. That is all a creation of DGP Chatisgarh. Nobody subscribes to it. As far as GOI is concerned it doesn’t exit.

Q. You are the chief of anti-Naxal command.and you are saying that you are saying it doesn’t exit?

A. It is a got such a popularity that every time our troops got for operation media calls it an operation green hunt. What is [operation] green hunt. I don’t know what does it really mean. I’ve not be able to figure it out.

Q. Have you spoken to DGP Chatisgarh about the operation?

A. yes, many times. He is saying whatever he is doing at his level in his state is green hunt. We are not party to it.

Q. Does it frustrate to it? The cooperation is not forthcoming? And then you as the commander of joint responses? Are you getting cooperation from the states?

A. See you can achieve,

Q. Which is the hard state to deal with?

A. Defiantly Chitisgarh is very hard to deal with.

Q. why?

A. I think personality issue.

Q. You are having personality clash with DGP Chitisgarh.

A. Not with me particularly. But that gentleman DGP. You know when you go into a situation like this; I have always tried to put myself as a part of solution. Not as part of the problem. So compounding situation the problem part of is no great shakes. So when you are given a challenge, you got a particular assignment, the first thing you need to get into that role is that of being part of solution. That is what is most important. This is benchmark with which you have to measure the state police. How much are they part of solution and how much are they part of problem. Like all illegal killings, you are contributing the problem. So if you are party to it then you are the part of the problem and not the part of solution.

It is the problem state. But I would not say that there is lack of political will. The CH is all for action and coordination.

Q. What is the strategy now?

A. The initial temptations are always to blame; a blame game which I think is a very immature way of looking at the issues. The blame should stop. This is exactly what naxalities want. We should have large heartedness to accept each other. Even if there is an ego issue it is our duty as a patriotic Indian to bury it and rise above it and go ahead. Which I think it is possible.

Q. What is the total strength of troops you command?

A. We have 60 BNs in all these area. That is some 60,000 troops.

Q. Do you think you have enough manpower to deal with the problem?

A. I’m not one of those who believe in give me more force. Unless I undertake a maximum utilization of the resources which are available with me I have no moral right to ask for more weapons and manpower. Our effort at the MHA has been to encourage states to raise their own resources. You want fund we will give you. Man from Kashmir or Punjab or haryana – his functional utility in Chatisgarh is going to be very difficult. It is your battle we are only come to assist you. You have to

Q. The Union home ministry wanted to have army’s help in anti-Naxal operations. Do you need army’s support?

A. I would not like to comment on it. The army has its great utility. We are making use of the army. We are making use of facilities of the army, training and some equipment. The cooperation is there but having them on forefront – I don’t think any think has gone that.

Q. Do you have any time frame for anti-Naxal operations?

A. The one thing we are certain is that we have to sort out the problem. And we can’t sort the problem by the presence of force. We need developmental work, giving them benefits; only then one can say that they are unlikely to go back to armed groups. You have to create it IS ALL fine to sit here and talk about the tribal needs. You have to understand psyche of tribal people. What are the things which haunt him? The sense of insecurity he has in all aspects not only physical security.

Q. How different was it for you to fight militancy in J&K and anti-naxalities operations.

A. the advantage I had in Kashmir was that I had served for years as an IG security. Having been there as a party of JK police I had developed a very good contacts. We cannot compare Kashmir with other states. The kind of power we had IN Kashmir like AFSA I never needed to ask. Even the operation we launched to kill Gazi Baba, Gopal Sharma and Ashok Bhan came to know only after we hard encircled Gazi Baba. That is why in Naxalities affected states, we are totally dependent upon on the state police.

Q. Is it something you want to have in Naxal affected states?

A. This got phenomenal political involvement. We are getting away with it in J&K and northeast because of the hostile neighbours. On that front nobody raises finger. But here in areas like Gardcharoli , Chatisgarh and all that . There will be huge cry. Though I am a policeman I would like to have these powers, but I would say it would not be correct.

Q. What is the real strength of naxalities?

A. They are very powerful. AND I am those who never under rated my enemies. It is not a question about numbers. It is how well versed they are in terrain, training and how committed they are to achieve their object/ All on the three fronts they are away ahead.

Q. Better then security forces?

A. Yes, their training is very good. It is very well organised organisation. That is an understanding that perhaps large number of people don’t have. They take care of their people even when he died like J&K they take care of his family. It is parallel sort of system that is existing.

Q. What is their number?

A. 10,000 to 15,000 armed militants. And when I say armed militants, I mean so to say to they are very well armed. They have looted from us. They have explosives. Their greatest advantage is the use and expertise in the explosives, in IEDs. The day on which we are able to get a counter measure they will on lose. Most OF OUR Causalities happen because of explosives.

June, 2010, THE WEEK

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