INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Massive Attack

with 20 comments

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve had no time to update in the past few weeks. However, this morning’s news of a massive, coordinated attack in Dantewara is worth a quick post. At least 76 paramilitary police have been killed in what is the largest loss of life for state forces in the history of the Maoist insurgency. According to the Indian Express:

Virtually an entire company of the CRPF was wiped out when 75 of its personnel including Deputy Commandant Satyawan Singh Yadav and Assistant Commandant B L Meena along with the head constable of the Chattisgarh police were killed.

The operative word is, according to the BBC, ambushes in the plural. Not one single attack, but rather a well planned and well executed series of attacks against the security forces by the insurgents. Considering that much of the local population has been displaced and their villages emptied by the Salwa Judum campaign it isn’t at all surprising that the Indian forces seem incapable of gathering enough local human intelligence to outmaneuver the Maoists.

This attack comes only a few days after 10 paramilitary police in neighbouring Orissa state were killed in a landmine blast. Inevitably there are now some calls for the resignation of the Home Minister, Chidambaram, the architect of Operation Green Hunt, the anti-Naxalite offensive. The next 48 hours will be interesting and I am awaiting both the official government and Maoist statements.

20 Responses

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  1. It really is time somebody in India started to apply the basic counterinsurgency policies set out in the extensive literature built up over the last half century (or century, if you prefer). They are making all the elementary mistakes, with fragmented responsibility and inappropriate military and development approaches. The inevitable result has been military setbacks, loss of the initiative to the guerrillas and failure to gain the support of the people. This high-level strategic failure is a disgrace to India. Googling and then applying the thinking of Kitson, Galula, Kilcullen, Nagl and a few others, not to mention the recent US and UK counterinsurgency manuals, is essential to turn round this ignominious position for the greater good. Call in General Petraeus as a consultant!


    April 7, 2010 at 7:16 am

  2. war at what cost .what happened in srilanka.more 30 yrs of bloody bath.only humanity is losing .this is the wrongly drown battle.


    April 7, 2010 at 7:27 am

  3. Andrew- as always I broadly agree with you. However (and this is a big caveat) the Maoists are not an external insurgency that a foreign power is fighting. They are, as the head of the Indian Airforce stated when he openly rejected the use of the IAF against the Maoists, ‘our own citizens’. There are constitutional barriers to the deployment of a Patraeus-style counter-insurgency strategy. It’s a fact.

    Nandan- the Naxalites are not the LTTE. Different war.


    April 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    • yes they r not LTTE.BUT 40000 armed dedicated naxal. what havoc they can do their own terrain.indian army is not well equipped to deal internal situation crpf in punjab and bsf in jk did much better in term of killings and in respose of fidayeen attack .army imparting training is a big joke in parammiltary circle.


      April 8, 2010 at 1:00 am

    • Michael, Perhaps we have different understandings of what counterinsurgency involves. I’m certainly not advocating foreign forces. The Indian authorities should follow what is now the established wisdom for defeating insurgencies, regardless of who provides the manpower and resources. This is based on shifting from an enemy-centric approach that alienates the locals to a population-centric strategy to gain their support for the authorities. It commonly involves protecting the people from the guerrillas while delivering development and better services along with some political reforms and empowerment. I certainly hope that India doesn’t have constitutional barriers to this.


      April 8, 2010 at 6:34 am

      • Andrew, the biggest constitutional barrier is that the individual states are responsible for security. Therefore, a co-ordinated and coherent response is well-nigh impossible. Many of the ‘elites’ (be it local business man or politicians) in states such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are heavily implicated with the Maoists. Getting them all the players to sign onto a coherent COIN plan would be difficult indeed. Not saying impossible, but… very, very hard.


        April 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

  4. Nice effort here Michael. Recently went through your entire blog.

    Andrew, I can understand your strong reactions, but your comment is not really based on a proper understanding of the situationon ground. India and US both have an impressive track record of bungling COIN operations – but between the two – and especially for this case – I would put my money on Indian way of handling the situation.

    No doubts there exists an impressive body of work on counterinsurgency as you mention. It is not that the people running the show are unaware of it here. What one has to understand is that the situation in the so called red corridor is quite unique and mostly defies definition. It is a mosaic of insurgency, crime, violent protest, manipulation, politics, extortion, intimidation and culture clash. Using a term like Naxalism or Naxalite is in fact the first step towards misunderstanding or mis-stating the problem at hand.

    So in my opinion there can be no Operation Green Hunt. The solution lies in changing the way organisations and people in the red corridor think. I like your article in Pragati, Michael, you really touch upon very relevant issues there.

    Though it lacks a proper COIN doctrine – there are certain unwritten laws followed by India in its counter insurgency campaigns. One of it that works, was also one that it followed, and continues to follow, unwittingly. They never had deadlines. No hurry approach, so to say. Especially for the military component of the operations. That is something they have to stick to now – in the aftermath of this recent setback.


    April 8, 2010 at 1:28 am

    • Jsmn,
      Thanks for the kind words. I hope that you’ll continue to follow my blog and keep contributing. I think a lot of what is happening now in the so-called ‘Red Corrider’ is that the Centre is starting to panic. It was a well and good when places like Bihar and Chhattisgarh were mired in criminality, extortion, shady business practices and a few pissed off rebel groups. As long as India kept Shining in the cities, no big deal. Now Delhi has noticed that its neglect of these areas is approaching some sort of terrifying critical mass and feels it must do something. The Kashmir option is no option at all since the problem there, is in many ways, much simpler. I think you’re being overly sanguine about the long-term COIN approach that’s being taken. But, it’s early days in the pushback and we shall see what happens….


      April 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    • Valuable comments from you, jsnmn, and from Michael. Thanks to both. I take the point that “the biggest constitutional barrier is that the individual states are responsible for security. Therefore, a co-ordinated and coherent response is well-nigh impossible”.

      This makes things tougher, but presumably not impossible. To start with, a smaller-scale, one-state solution needs to be implemented by one of the less-corrupt state administrations applying a mainstream protect-the-people counterinsurgency approach. This would tend to shift the troublemakers towards the more lax states. The central government, because it is concerned, might also provide advice and support. Once progress was seen, other states might start to emulate. But I can see that one state alone, or a few scattered states, without access to wider resources, will find progress much harder.


      April 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

  5. the point that “the biggest constitutional barrier is that the individual states are responsible for security”.
    i don’t think s there is counter, till central goverment thinks every thing is okay.

    what i think is, there is need to take some bold steps and now is the time!

    All developmental stuff and the corruption reduction measures can follow only if you are allowed to work freely in these areas.
    which is not. As CPWD can’t make roads in these areas; so BRO (border road development org.) was called in to do so.

    this is just an example, there are many more !!!

    so if central govt. has to gather some courage,( by not thinking about next elections) and take some harsh measures to counter this menace.


    April 12, 2010 at 5:58 am

  6. Micheal a word of advice or observation on my part, please for god sake stop being a armchair expert, you do not have the credentials nor the back background to write about COIN, reading on a topic on does not make one an expert, try to grab a gun and venture out into the forest on a few missions and when you return in one piece then we will have a conversation on COIN operations


    April 12, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    • Faheem, a word of advice or observation on my part, what precisely is your point? I hadn’t realised that one needs to ‘grab a gun and go on a few missions’ in order to make a few observations about COIN within a specific context. My blog work is not about counter-insurgency specifically, but, in this case, that is where the conversation went. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.


      April 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

  7. I think its important not to view the issue merely as a law and order problem as is being discussed here. And that is why i liked your truly exceptional article article in Pragati.
    I have read quite a few opinions on how to tackle the naxalite issue, ranging from the far left to the far right, but this one really strikes a chord! I think your article was well reasoned and balanced and the solution seems to be reasonable and even practical. Perhaps the best article on the issue i have read so far, am not exaggerating, Way to Go!

    Now, on the Constitutional restriction upon the central government- other than police and public order being in the state list, it is also important to look at Aritcle 244 and Schedule V of the Constitution. It gives some administrative autonomy to the Scheduled Areas and i think most of the Maoist “infested” areas come under this. Also check up the Panchayath Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act which also wants these areas to work as institutions of self-government.
    Of course, its implementation has been a problem. But the question is has there been any political will and public pressure on developing democratic self governance in these areas? It is imperitiave that we explore these provisions. And this goes is in line with your article which stresses the need for a governance approach empowering people.


    April 16, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    • Thanks for the kind words. I will definitely look into the constitutional sections you mentioned as well as PESA. I do think that the governance aspect is something which has been nearly overlooked on the debate over how to tackle the ‘Naxal Menace’. Starting a debate on it is the first tiny little step in putting it on the agenda.


      April 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    • The leader of opposition (RS) Mr. Jaitley two days back criticized the government for not putting in a united stand and complained of “half-maoists” in the party who are not supporting operation green hunt. Was reffereing to few people like Difvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Aiyar also views this as a governance problem. Check out the interview-


      April 17, 2010 at 7:12 am

  8. Great to know ur interest in Naxalism. actually went thru ur piece in Diplomatic Courier too.

    One point : though Law & Order is a State subject as per Schedule 7 of the Indian Constituiton, still there are provisions in the Consti. acc. to which the Union Govt can frame a unified COIN for the affected states (

    however, political problems are bound to be there; though both the ruling UPA & the opposition NDA are grossly united in eradicating the ‘threat’.

    I guess we can share ideas in future. Welcome to my blog too (

    Uddipan Mukherjee

    April 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    • Hi Uddipan,
      What are the constitutional provisions which would allow the centre to create a unified COIN strategy?

      Welcome to my blog and collaboration sounds good.


      April 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

  9. […] Chhattisgarh, Comment, Counter-Insurgency by Michael on April 28, 2010 After my previous post on the major Naxalite attack interest in my blog grew significantly. In the past few weeks, traffic […]

  10. […] Green Hunt, West Bengal by Michael on May 9, 2010 Things have been relatively quiet since the April attack which killed 76 paramilitary members. Both sides were likely taking stock of the situation. Things […]

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