Military advisers in LWE states still on paper
Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing the Maoist Left-wing insurgency as the country’s biggest internal security threat, the Congress-led UPA and the Opposition-ruled states of Chhattisgarh (BJP), Odisha (BJD), Jharkhand (till recently the BJP) and West Bengal (TMC)have been sitting on a 2010 proposal to have military advisers to coordinate the fight against the guerillas.
The matter has come up ahead of a meeting of the Chief Ministers of the nine Maoist-hit states to be convened by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Wednesday.
And the meeting,which will be held in the aftermath of the deadly May 25 Naxal ambush on a Congress contingent at Bastar in Chhattisgarh,is expected to chalk out a plan to tackle the menace.
Meanwhile, the proposal to have military advisers was advocated by Shinde’s predecessor in the ministry, P Chidambaram. Under the plan, retired Army Major Generals were to be roped in as advisers in the four worst-hit states to guide the Central security forces and state police in offensive and defensive operations, military style.
Following a request from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA), which was first made in June 2010, the Army prepared a panel comprising the names of retired Major Generals vastly experienced in guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern states and in Sri Lanka during the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE)there in the late eighties.
Although a similar request was made to the MHA on half-a-dozen occasions, it did not elicit a response from the ministry mandarins.
“The list of names of Major Generals was last sent three-four months ago...that is, sometime early this year. We haven’t heard from either the MHA or the four state governments to the latest communication too,” a senior MoD official told Express.
The proposal was clearly prompted by the dastardly attack carried out at Dantewada in April 2010, when 76 security personnel sent into the Chhattisgarh forests to fight the Maoists, were massacred by the heavily armed extremists in a well-planned ambush.
“The 2010 attack gave the policy-makers the insight that this fight is not going to be easy without a military angle in the anti-Maoist campaign in the states. That was when the proposal to have military advisers directing the operations and coordinating among the Centre, states and the security forces was mooted,” noted an MHA official, who chose not to be named.
After Chidambaram moved out of the MHA in July 2012, the need to have a military approach in the security operations against the Maoists seem to have been put on the back-burner.
“The four states too have not responded to the (proposal for) appointment of military advisers from the panel sent to them,” the official said, indicating that politics could have something to do with their cold-shouldering the MHA move.
Interestingly, it was retired Lieutenant General Mukesh Sabharwal, a former Adjutant General and an officer with vast counter-insurgency (C-I) and guerrilla warfare experience, who emphasised the need to have military advisers to ensure an effective campaign against the Maoists.
“There are a number of problems plaguing the anti-Maoist operations of the Central and state police forces. These include poor command and control structures of the forces, inadequate equipment, and lack of leadership,” Sabharwal, who has commanded an Army Corps in the North-East, pointed out.
“The Army is trained to function as a single unit during such operations. But the government thinks it is a numbers game and having a large number of policemen was enough to do the job.
They focus on numbers instead of a cohesive unit. That’s where the Maoists, even in small numbers,outdo the security personnel,” he said.
Sabharwal had also drawn attention to the fact that the IPS officers, who normally handled law and order cases, were para-dropped to lead the C-I troopers but they lacked the knowledge of the men they were to command for the C-I operations.
Though the Army has imparted training to nearly 80,000 Central and state police personnel in C-I operations and jungle warfare in the last decade, those provided training don’t get deployed in the anti-Maoist operations.
“When an Army unit is deployed in a C-I operation, they go through specific package training ahead of their deployment before they begin any operation,” the former Lt General added.