Operation Green Hunt and its challenges

As the Central and state governments initiate a major campaign — Operation Green Hunt — against the Naxalite movement, two challenges stand out.

First, the Naxalites and their sympathisers will launch a psychological counter-offensive to weaken the political commitment to the campaign by trying to delegitimise it in the public mind. Security forces will be accused of human rights violations, and a dubious moral equivalence drawn between the damage chemotherapy causes and the cancer it treats. Celebrity activists will find a new cause to express their outrage in prize-worthy eloquence. Even genuine human-rights activists will become the Naxalites' unwitting instruments — to the extent that criticism of the government's conduct will be projected as an implicit vindication of the Maoist agenda.

It did not help that in its first term, the UPA government's response to the Naxalite movement involved a mixture of denial, accommodation and neglect. As the Naxalites expanded their area of operations into what has come to be known as the "Red Corridor", the Central government had no real response. The absence of political resolve and policy stewardship from New Delhi left the already weak states to fend for themselves. Their unsurprising choice of ineffective, often ham-fisted methods or counter-productive ones — like the raising of armed militias like Salwa Judum — means that Operation Green Hunt starts with a badly overdrawn public goodwill account.

To get out of this hole, the government must release accurate and factual information to the public with unprecedented timeliness. In this age of inexpensive technology and connectivity, there is no excuse for the home ministry to be unable to release reports, photographs and video footage from the field. Paying for advertisements in the national media will only take it so far—-unless the UPA government implements a sophisticated public communication strategy, it will find its political will sapped by the Naxalite propaganda machine.

It is often argued — especially by the Left-leaning intelligentsia — that the role of the media and civil society is to hold the government's feet to the fire. This they restrict to human-rights activism targeted at security forces. It is equally important for watchdogs to ensure that the government implements the counter-insurgency campaign with complete resolve and adequate resources.

This brings up the second challenge: India does not have the capacity to conduct the vital endgame of counter-insurgencies.

With the right political leadership, India's security forces are capable of prevailing over the Naxalite movement in the military space — they can decimate the Naxalite cadre, recapture territory and hold it against the insurgents.They cannot, however, rebuild communities and livelihoods devastated by the counter-insurgency campaign. They cannot fill the governance vacuum that the Naxalites came to exploit.

Pulling security forces out risks a slide back into social unrest and insurgency. Keeping troops beyond a certain period risks the entrenchment of a conflict economy where vested interests have incentives to keep the conflict endlessly alive. Neither of these outcomes is desirable. Yet, this is the story of how India has handled most of its insurgencies — despite periodic military successes, insurgencies never seem to come to a permanent end.

After any serious surgery, there is usually a brief period of convalescence in the hospital before the patient is discharged into the care of the general practitioner. India does not have the capacity to take an area that has been cleared of insurgents, build institutions of governance before discharging it to the state government. Unless this capacity is built, the successes of Operation Green Hunt will remain ephemeral.

Delivering governance in the immediate aftermath of conflict requires hybrid civil-military capacity. A new organisation must be raised by the Central government, under a restructured home ministry, to lay foundations for the rule of law, economic freedom and property rights in areas cleared of Naxalites. We call this the CIMPCOR or Civilian Military Partnership for Conflict Resolution model.

CIMPCOR could be comprised of a core staff — drawn from serving and retired members of the security forces, other ministries and the Planning Commission — charged with planning, resource mobilisation and operational readiness. In addition, it should use "lend-lease" arrangements to draw on wider human resources in the public and private sectors in specialist disciplines. It should, however, have a limited deployment term, no more than three years, before a complete handover to the state government.

CIMPCOR is needed in many counter-insurgency theatres in India today — and might well be needed for foreign deployments as India plays a bigger global role in the future.

The alchemy of Naxalism lies in the transformation of millions of quotidian grievances into disaffection and rebellion against the Indian state. Green Hunt rightly focuses on security first; but it will only be complete when good governance eliminates those quotidian grievances.

Nitin Pai & Sushant K. Singh are editors of 'Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review', a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance

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