How should India grow? Does ‘growth’ have the same meaning for everyone whether in the cities or resource-rich hinterland? Do growth and displacement of natives compulsorily go hand in hand? For India to grow what is needed more – preserving tribal way of life of its natives or exploiting the resource-rich lands they inhabit? What if their grievances create hurdles in the path of growth?
Author Rohit Prasad in ‘Blood Red River’ has chosen the troubled landscape of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh to understand how the Indian state is answering these questions.
Located in the heart of the country, the state of Chhattisgarh means many things depending on which side one is looking at. A politically and financially stable state, a state with perhaps the richest resources both in terms of mineral and bio-diversity in the country, a state with nearly 44 per cent of its territory covered by forests, a state which has over 30 per cent of its population coming from a vibrant variety of tribes or a state locked in a brutal embrace with a rebellion which refuses to ebb even after fifty years of its emergence.
The rebels, members of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), seek to violently overthrow parliamentary democracy which they believe is a sham. The response of the government hinges on quelling the rebellion with its armed might and addressing the needs of the masses by the means of development.
The armed struggle is visible and chronicled. In comparison, the politics of development, supposed to exemplify in myriad ways the healing touch of an absent state, remains hard to track, harder to grasp. Touted as ‘a journey into the heart of India’s development conflict’, the book stands out for its focus.
Divided into sections segregated by short chapters within, the book is a sincere attempt at providing the reader with the understanding of a topic which can hardly be termed easy. A largely smooth and uninterrupted flow does emerge as the author switches between anecdotes, damning data dug from a multitude of reports, the annals of history, regulations governing the relationship between tribes and their home, the forest, the vibrant hope of a promising economy, the industrial lure of exploiting a resource-rich territory, instances of flawed ‘development’ and a society eclipsed by the shadow of the conflict which has consumed over 12000 lives. On offer are solid glimpses into the unholy nexus that exists on the ground between the government, the insurgents and the private sector which works to perpetuate the conflict at the expense of the locals.
Interestingly, as the author, a business school professor based out of Gurugram, admits, he’d initially set out to analyse a different subject before stumbling upon something ‘far more complex’ and ‘fundamental’ which led him to write this book.
Rohit Prasad’s ground reporting from the affected region ensures the reader is exposed to the colour, the festivals, the customs as also the difficult path tribes find themselves treading and how there is corrosion of that timeless society underway as a result. Aptly captured case studies make the reader aware of the lost lives of faultless, promising youngsters in the region.
On the flip side, there are times when the narrative shifts from story-telling to either philosophy or sweeping generalisations. Then there are outlandish claims like where the author says the US Army special forces supported Indian armed police in 2009 offensive against the Maoists! There are also times when objective analysis turns subjective. However, the biggest drawback that book suffers from is the lack of a direct Maoist voice. Scrutinising their ‘developmental works’ in their ‘janatana sarkar’ (local government in areas they term liberated) and their model would have added to the book’s effort by making two sides of the divide clear and visible to the reader.
To conclude, ‘Blood Red River’ is an introduction into a less dimension in the debate over development. Few understand that it is also essential.
One late afternoon tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 3, asking citizens to await a historic development later in the day set the cats among the pigeons. The day ended with the government of India committing to a framework agreement to bring peace to a state that has suffered from violence for nearly six decades.
At the earliest available opportunity, I took off for Dimapur, the dusty, commercial valley which has the state’s only functional airport.
For the uninitiated, several sections of the Naga society celebrate “Independence Day” on August 14, a tradition followed since 1947 when Angami Zapu Phizo, the man who fought side by side with Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) against the British, declared so. He was then leading the Naga National Council (NNC), a body formed in the days preceding British withdrawal from the sub-continent.
On August 14, I saw for myself the “69th Independence Day” function of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN(IM)) at its Council HQ or Camp Hebron. It is with this group, said to be the most powerful insurgent outfit in the state, that the government has signed the framework. No wonder there was enthusiasm. Young men in army fatigues sported the look most in their age would crave for, women turned up in their traditional best and many expatriates too were present.
Among them was Rachunliu Kamei, a PhD fellow with the London-based Natural History Museum. Thanks to the shadow of conflict, her father had to shift her to Nagaland from Manipur. She then had to shift out of there too so she could get to where she was today. “I do desire for a day when our young can focus on development, away from conflict which forced a challenged childhood upon people of my generation,” she said. In Kohima, I met Akhala, a young girl from the northern Naga district of Mokokchung. She was staying away from her parents to study so that she could become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and “repair” her society. Even in Khonoma, Phizo’s village and the hub of resistance, be it against the Indian Army or the British in the bygone era, it was not too difficult to find youngsters wanting to diversify into eco-tourism, conservation and the like.
As noted human rights activist Neingulo Krome put it, 18 years of relative peace in the post-ceasefire era following 1997 have offered a glimpse of the possibilities that could materialise provided peace prevailed.
Would it be right to say the Nagas have been tired into submission? Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
Young or old, Nagas value their past – their identity. Work towards obliterating that and there will be a rebound. As Thino Selie, a self-styled “General” of the “Naga Army” who underwent training in East Pakistan and China in the early days of the insurgency, said, “Our movement in the early 50s was political till we saw killings and rapes. It was the youth who grew agitated and forced upon the movement the need to raise a fighting arm with which began the insurgency.”
A solution has to be found where peace and honour arrive, hand in hand. We’ve been there before and the temptation to give into the shorter route can seldom vanish. The failed Shillong Accord of 1975, creation of the Nagaland state in 1963 and even before so the creation of Naga Hills district to somehow calm things down hasn’t helped.
While we are still exploring avenues, it may not be a bad idea to look back, deeper into history, into the periods of relative peace that the Nagas enjoyed.
One such instance was in the 13th century when the Ahoms, who entered the Naga Hills from the Patkai range of Myanmar in search of salt mines, ran into a savage conflict with the original inhabitants there. History records calm prevailed after a political settlement was arrived at – one which saw a degree of self rule and respect for either side. Similarly, the British too, after having burnt their fingers fighting the Nagas in the late 19th century, vowed to pursue the policy of “non-intervention”. While that turned into a “Forward Policy” of incrementally gaining ground with time, it came at the cost of precious lives and yet most of the territory remained un-administered.
A time-tested principle of yesteryears coupled with the economic integration of today will be welcomed at least by the young, if no one else.
Standing in front of a closed door in his ancestral village of Khonoma, Mhesie Khate made to me perhaps the most important symbolic argument in my tour of Nagaland.
“When I was a child, August 14 used to be a very important day. All shops would be closed because families would meet and there would be feasts in almost every household,” he said. In his mid-30s now, Mhesie who owns a fleet of cars for rent, zoomed onto the present: “Now, no such thing happens on August 14 and on August 15, people prefer to close shops and relax at home. It is slipping away, that feeling is.”
CRPF OPS BATTALIONS 153 & 159 INVOLVED IN GAYA, BIHAR THIS AFTERNOON
Can bomb -107 nos (40KGx1, 25×7, 10×3, 2KG x96)
Petrol Bomb-25 nos
Iron box -3 nos
Cordex wire- 20 meters
Radio Set-3 nos
Suitcase IED-1 (20kg)
.315 Bolt Action Rifle-02 nos
12 Bore gun-03 nos
A top-down effort at re-booting 3,35,000 strong Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – country’s internal security provider seems to have turned into a turf war.
“If a person turns 75, he is considered an old person. But the same cannot be said about you my friends in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), for yours is a veteran organisation,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh, speaking on the 75th anniversary of the CRPF at its Gurgaon-based academy on November 13. His remarks drew thunderous applause from the men and officers of world’s largest paramilitary force. Unknown to most present there, on November 5, Singh’s ministry had put into motion an unprecedented, time-bound plan to revamp the force by re-evaluating each and every aspect of the force’s functioning. That plan has run into rough weather with resistance coming from the highest levels within the force, including the Director General himself.
A note from the MHA, a copy of which is available with this correspondent, stated ‘to examine all issues relation to the functioning of CRPF with a view to enable the force to efficiently discharge its responsibilities as the lead Counter-insurgency Force of the Union with special emphasis on the LWE (Left Wing Extremism) theatre’. It constituted two, 4-member committees under former CRPF chiefs K Vijay Kumar and AS Gill and sets a time period of 60 days for submission of their reports. Work has already commenced.
Reacting to this, DG CRPF, Dilip Trivedi, said, “I frankly do not see the need for this. Administrative action at the level of the DG would have sufficed.” When asked whether the government’s move to examine all issues indicated it was unhappy with the force, he replied, “What the government feels about the force is best answered by the government.” Interestingly, the MHA note puts Trivedi’s name as the fourth member of both the committees. Asked if he attended the first meet under AS Gill held last week, he responded in the negative. Whether or not he will take part in future deliberations, he said, “I do not think so. It mentions my name as the DG CRPF. By this month end, I will have retired and then it won’t be required of me to attend.”
Trivedi’s resistance stems from the fact that under him, earlier this year, the CRPF had wanted to implement a new transfer policy and re-organise command and control. However, owing to resistance from within, matters went before the then Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and got stalled. Now, the MHA not only wants to re-evaluate the above-mentioned issues but look at a host of others too. And to do so, it has widened the debate by roping in many more, beyond those in the hierarchy. Sections within the CRPF indicated their unhappiness with the MHA. “We would have welcomed the MHA’s action had they done what was required of them. For years we have been asking them for a hardship allowance for our jawans fighting the Maoists but it has not materialized. Issues like adhoc deployment and lack of bullet proof vests, helmets etc are all courtesy the MHA,” said a senior officer.
Defending the move, a Home Ministry official said, “Home Minister wants to develop CRPF as an operationally fit force for fighting the Maoists and all will be done to ensure that goal is met.” K Vijay Kumar, former DG CRPF when contacted said, “This is a time-bound action decided at the highest level of the national security apparatus. All should join. Everyone’s views will be given the highest regard.”
Kamlesh alias Tati Gandhi alias Jagdish, a member of Maoist’s People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) Platoon No. 12 member has been apprehended. He carried a reward of Rs 40,000, was an accused in 31 cases which included murder, attempt to murder, kidnap and arson in Bastar’s Bijapur district and had 10 warrants on his name. He was arrested in Dantewada today while there to carry out an attack, claimed the police.
Deputy Commander of the Regional Committee’s technical team No. 13, Budhram Lekami (28) alias Rangu alias Vikas surrendered before Inspector General of Police, Bastar, SRP Kalluri in Jagdalpur. He is a specialist in repair and maintenance of the weapons the Maoists posses.`
But for my dad and these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered..they did that for their buddies.. They may have fought for their country but they died for their friends.. for the man in front, for the man beside them
Flags of our fathers (2006)
My cameraperson Prem Mishra kept asking me this question as our flight touched the tarmac of airport at Raipur and we began work. We were there because just a few hours ago, the Maoists had ambushed and killed 11 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, four police personnel and one civilian.
“How did they kill so many despite more than half of the personnel in the operation emerging relatively unscathed?” he asked. For a reporter, establishing facts come before analysis, I said.
The thought never left me though. It was something which nobody ever denied.
Finally, on Friday, CRPF suspended 17 men for ‘inaction/lack of satisfactory counter action’ in that incident in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on March 11. The police also suspended its representative who was a part of that team. Though some say their only fault is that they emerged alive from a deadly ambush, officially atleast, these men now stand accused of fleeing, leaving behind their colleagues on the battlefield.
When that happens to a force it knows it can’t sink any further.
Having seen this force since the last five years, this saddens but does not surprise me.
Imagine a force in which senior officers do not wear the uniform right, imagine a force which does not feel proud of its unique identity, imagine a force in which it is not mandatory for the man on top to have experience of the toughest duty the force performs, imagine a force where the juniors complain against their seniors because they feel unheard, imagine a force which gives up on a rich tradition of annual change-over of battalions to save a few crore rupees of the government. The CRPF is such a force.
Why this is not changing can be explained by the fact that those in power are blissfully unaware of the rot that has set in. Why most don’t care is because the Maoists who kill the CRPF men do so in the jungles, away from our malls and metro trains, unlike terrorists. But can there be any doubt about the need for the Maoists to be stopped when their goal is to capture Delhi’s Red Fort?
The CRPF is equipped for it. What it needs is leadership and awareness among those who control it.
Sifting through the investigation files, inside his air-conditioned office, a source remarked, “The convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh would have been wiped out, no matter which route they had taken. In both the places, the Maoists were aware, armed and had been lying in wait.” It was as if the Congress leadership had to choose between two routes leading to their bitter end and they chose the shorter one.
On this day, a year ago, Maoist insurgents carried out what remains their most high profile attack ever killing 27, including the then Chhattisgarh Congress President Nand Kumar Patel, his son and controversial tribal leader Mahendra Karma as well as looting 22 weapons in the Jeeram Ghati region of the Bastar district. In response, centre tasked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) with investigating the case.
A year later, barring six arrests and two surrenders, of men admittedly at a ‘junior level’, not much has moved. Questions pertaining to conspiracy behind the killings, masterminds involved and the much-talked about political involvement remain unanswered.
India Today has learnt that in a move as rare as the event itself, on March 25, Home Secretary sought a detailed review of the NIA investigation. Details of this top-level review, which was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, NIA, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Chhattisgarh Police, as accessed, paint a damning picture of the systemic failure that first allowed the attack to take place and today prevents it from being solved.
The NIA investigation, the gathering was informed had revealed an elaborate design drawn up to execute the attack.
“We now know that for about ten days prior to the attack, locally unknown men and women were seen in the Darbha area, working in the fields or assisting the locals. In some cases when locals asked them, these men and women shut them up,” said a source.
A training camp had been established in the 20km corridor between Darbha in Bastar and Tongpal in Sukma. Even though the road connectivity is good, there is hardly any police presence all along the 20km route. Not even mobile phone towers exist here.
The implication of that would be the presence of a large number of most heavily armed fighters of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Not surprisingly, this was neither reported by any local to the police nor did the police have the intelligence gathering mechanism to detect such an influx. It was in this situation that Maoists were informed about the movement of the Congress convoy. “It was like a God-sent opportunity for them,” the source said.
Apart from involving about 200 men from the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) of the CPI (Maoist), a mobile command and control post was set up at the ambush site where ‘Vinod’ who heads the Darbha Division Committee, was seen by eyewitnesses, taking orders from an unknown senior on his communication set. “He kept himself out of the action and let the cadre have a go at the Congressmen as he coordinated with someone very senior,” said a source. Also involved in executing the attack were members of the jan militia, a lightly armed component consisting of locals.
Apart from using the local Darbha Division Committee, the Maoists brought on ground its military-equivalent Central Regional Company – 2, said to be consisting of its best and most heavily armed cadre as well as some additional platoons.
The NIA claimed it had positively identified over 100 Maoists who were on ground, during the attack and completed physical verification of half of them. The agency also claimed to have photographs of these accused, a rarity, and got Non Bailable Warrants (NBWs) issued against 26 of the accused from the local court.
Defending the agency, a senior officer said, “Right now, the NIA has about 40 names of those jan militia members who were involved in the attack and can be picked up. But they are mere pawns and by arresting them, you will generate noise but achieve nothing.” The effort, it was informed, was to take the harder route, get to the bottom and reach the big fish, many of whom were insurgents belonging to neighbouring states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami, it was informed, was visibly upset over the contrast between the large number of accused identified by the NIA and the negligible arrests that have occurred. Goswami even put his displeasure on paper citing ‘poor progress in arresting the absconding accused.’ The main cause behind this is the lack of data available with the state police and the IB on Maoist insurgents despite Chhattisgarh being an affected state for over a decade.
The state government came in for further criticism for not providing the manpower it had promised to the NIA. “These officers, after a year of the incident are not being released by the local administration, how does one go about explaining this?,” asked a senior officer. The state police, represented by its Additional Director General (ADG) Intelligence, Mukesh Gupta, promised to clean up its tracks.
Frustration was also expressed over the difficulty in getting numbers to execute an operation to nab those accused. “It isn’t a simple case of picking up someone. The information on a prized accused is difficult to come. When it does, it takes us so long to organize that by the time we do so, the information becomes irrelevant. Basic policing in Chhattisgarh remains an elusive task because the presence on ground is so thin, it helps the Maoists maintain high morale,” said a source.
Chhattisgarh, which has faced an assembly election (November 2013) followed by the general election, has been grappling with manpower shortage. A senior state police officer said, “Yes there are deficiencies. Elections mean we have to put every man available on security duty. Now that these elections are done with, we hope to provide NIA with all they want.” It was also informed that the state police, grappling with an ageing force, had begun fresh recruitment and training for officers to join at the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) rank. “We have approached the Indian Army too, seeking its retired officers to oversee our training and if possible, man some of our positions,” said an officer.
The Road Ahead
The hour-long meeting ended with the formation of an independent Joint Task Force, headed by the NIA comprising the state police, IB and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which will look at executing the arrest of all accused. It was also decided to give teeth to this force by attaching units from the police’s Special Task Force (STF) and CRPF’s CoBRA commando teams so that it can develop intelligence and chalk out its own operations. The case concerning the March 11 attack in Sukma, where 15 security force personnel and a civilian were killed, will also be handled by the task force.
Despite these steps announced, those aware of the matter are not promising an early end.
“Surrender of Maoist cadre and killing them were the only two ways for the state to hit back at the insurgents. Till date, the idea of investigating a case has rarely been given a chance. In a way, this case is a representation of all that will need to be done towards making criminal justice exist in these areas,” said a senior officer. As a case in point, the investigation into 2010 Tadmetla ambush which saw the killing of 75 CRPF men and 01 state policeman is heading nowhere. Recently, all those arrested by the local police were acquitted by the court for the want of evidence.
For the NIA, which was in the dark over the first six months, MHA officials believe, last 4-5 months have been ‘good’. It was said that the six arrests in this case, even though executed by the local police, were done on information received by the NIA.
How much have things improved on ground can be gauged by the fact the despite the Jheeram attack, Maoists successfully executed two largescale attacks on March 11 and April 12 along the same road by laying an elaborate ambush and detonating a landmine respectively.