Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 23, Dated June 12, 2010
‘Bringing On The
The Naxals Will
Be A Disaster’
EN Rammohan, former Director General of the BSF, has fought
insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast. Recently, Home
Minister P Chidambaram picked him to probe the Dantewada
massacre of CRPF jawans by Naxals. Yet, crucially, in a
forthright interview with SHOMA CHAUDHURY, he says the
Centre’s strategy for fighting Naxals is a recipe for civil war
| Photo : NAVEESH TEJPAL
After the train tragedy in Bengal,
there is renewed talk of bringing on
the army and air force in the fight
against the Maoists. What is your
view on this?
I think it would be a terrible mistake.
The more you try to deal with this issue
through military options, the more it will
spread and grow in strength.
You were asked by the Home Ministry
to investigate the recent Maoist
ambush of CRPF jawans in Dantewada.
The government obviously thinks
well of your judgement, track
record and integrity. So how do you
read the Maoist crisis facing the
I think it is first and foremost an issue of
social justice. I first came across the
problem when I was posted in Hyderabad
in the 1980s as DIG, CBI. My batchmate
Ajay Deora was DG, Intelligence
and he was struggling to control things.
I am from the Assam cadre and have
handled insurgencies before. I was in the
Indo-Tibetan Border Police, which was
set up with the objective of fighting behind enemy lines, so we have all been
trained in guerrilla warfare. Insurgencies
are my abiding interest.
Most of the Maoist leadership comes
from Andhra. Why do you think this
is the case?
From what I saw in Andhra the primary
problem is land. The upper castes have
been exploiting tribals and Scheduled
Castes (SCs) for generations. Before Independence
there was no land ceiling, so
the upper castes had huge land holdings
that often ran into over a 1,000 acres,
while the SCs and tribals had no land, or
very small holdings. Yet even these small
holdings were taken over forcibly by the
upper castes who would buy their produce
then fudge the accounts, to keep
them indebted. The tribals were turned
into tenant farmers who had to till the
land but give 2/3rd of the produce to the
upper castes. It is against this backdrop
in 1946 that the CPI first started working
in the Telangana areas. They would collect
a group of tribals with bows and arrows,
surround an upper caste granary
and distribute the grain. Then they would tell the landowner that from now
on 2/3rds would go to the tillers, 1/3rd
to the landowner. Of course the
landowners would complain to the police
who would round up the locals and
arrest and beat them.
After Independence, land ceiling laws
were legislated but they were never implemented
in Andhra. In 1989, when the
government changed, I told my friend
Deora, let’s go meet the Revenue Minister.
I told the minister, you’ll never be
able to solve this problem. He was very
unhappy with the way I spoke and said,
why not? I told him if you want to stub
out this movement, impose land ceiling.
He said, that’s impossible, we can never
do that. He gave the example of Sudhakar
Rao, one of his colleagues from
Adilabad. That fellow has got 1,100
acres, he said, and he won’t be willing to
part with even one.
|The risk of a
now is that our
forces can go
mad. They’ll seek
revenge for their
76 mates killed
So the caste structure in Andhra
Pradesh is such. There are many police
stations even today where a Scheduled
Caste will not dare to file an FIR — it just
won’t be registered or investigated. Then
of course, the women were being misused.
Labourers on a farm had to offer
their bride on the first night to the landlord.
This is reflected even in the folk
songs of the Adivasis. There is no hope
for women in this country, they sing. So
unless these wrongs are righted, how are
you expecting a solution to this problem?
There can be no military solution
to this problem.
The media has gone hoarse speaking
of them as terrorists. Are you comfortable
with this description?
You see everyone talks about the
Naxalites but very few people understand
there are two parts to this. There
are the Adivasis and Scheduled Castes at
the lowest strata. Then there are the
leaders from the CPI, CPI Marxist-Leninist
and now CPI-Maoist. These are all
communists and 99 percent of them are
upper caste. But because of their political
philosophy they have no caste and
are lending a hand to the poor. Now they
have a political agenda and their objective
is to come to power in this country. I don’t want to live in a Maoist State
but if we continue with our current
arrogance, that’s exactly what will happen.
There will be great upheaval in
society. Go to communist countries like
Russia or China. If you look at all the top
class people there now — men like
Kruschev — you’ll see everyone in
power today were all peasants once, and
the upper class people have all disappeared
somewhere. In India also, there
will be a complete upheaval in society.
So I don’t see why we are so hesitant to
rectify our course and address issues of
You have spoken of Andhra. How do
you read Chhattisgarh?
A CRPF jawan keeps watch near the remains of the bus blown up by Naxals.
Photo : AP
In Chhattisgarh, it’s mostly to do with
rights over forests. The Adivasis have
been pushed into the forests over thousands
of years by caste domination, and
are now almost entirely confined to it.
They have no land and can only collect
forest produce. But they still have to sell
it and when they come out of the forest
to the market place, they have to find a
buyer. And who’s the buyer? The Vaishya
trader. At the root of this trouble, I say, is
this trio — the wily Brahmin, the arrogant
Kshatriya, the avaricious Vaishya.
Chidambaram, incidentally, is a Vaishya.
These three social groups have been
trampling on these people for centuries,
so why blame them if the CPI has lent a
hand? They help the poor by inspecting
the Vaishya’s books and ensuring tribals
get a correct price. You should investigate
the tendu leaf trade — I am told the
money from that reaches politicians in
Delhi, while the poor man who picks the
leaf gets nothing.
The point is, in any insurgency, people
take to guns because they feel they
have no choice. In this case, the tribals
are being taught by the Maoists to fight
for their rights. And in Marxist teaching,
guerrilla warfare is one of the subjects.
All these escalating incidents, the ambushes
etc, is designed to get hold of
weapons. But the risk of a counter-action
now is that our forces can go beserk.
They will say we’ve lost 76 people and
they will just shoot anyone, they’ll kill everybody, even innocent people, unless
there is a very strong leadership to keep
them in control. And I am afraid that
leadership does not exist. This is something
the government must understand.
So what do you see as solutions? And
what do you think is holding up those
There are two acts pending in Parliament
— one is to do with land acquisition, the
other is to do with forest rights. But the
interesting thing is, minerals have been
found in these forests and for the party in
power, this is a big bonanza. If you sign a
MOU worth millions of dollars for excavating
minerals, a percentage of it will go to
your Swiss Bank account. The poor man
in the forest is conveniently forgotten. In
Bihar, the Bhumihars openly say, “Hamare
patte hum billi aur kutte ke naam pe lagate
hain (We list our land titles in the
names of our cats and dogs)”. How long
can such a situation continue without
protest? And you say you want to bring in
the army? Why don’t you look inwards
and rectify this? If the government has any
sense in its head, it will, otherwise it will
be a terrible situation. It will be a disaster.
TEHELKA has doggedly tracked stories
of atrocities by the police and paramilitary.
Rapes, killings, beatings,
stealing of hens and goats. If one
raises these issues with the government,
they see it as a betrayal, as “intellectual
support” for the Maoists.
What is your view of the conduct of
the SPOs, police and paramilitary?
The Salwa Judum was the government’s
creation and it has compounded the situation
badly. What the landlords were
doing earlier, the police and SPOs are
doing now. So is the CRPF. I believe
counter-insurgencies must be fought
legally. This is something most people
don’t talk of. But the bible on fighting
counter-insurgencies, Robert Thompson’s
Defeating Communist Insurgencies starts with one line: A counter insurgency
must be scrupulously legal. I was
lucky because I was trained in guerrilla
warfare by instructors who were trained
by people like Robert Thompson. I’ve
quoted this in many places and letters to the government. The quality of leadership
is the most crucial thing in such
conflicts. Set aside the bigger accusations
of rape and killings, the Adivasis
often even complain about the forces
stealing their chickens and goats. This is
terrible. If the company commander is
good, they would not dare to do it. If
ever any boys in uniform are caught
doing anything wrong, they should be punished and word should go out to the
villagers that such behaviour will not be
tolerated. That is the only way you can
get the upper hand.
|Is Delhi ready to
of minerals to
tribals, when each
MoU is attached
to a Swiss Bank
I have worked in all these forces —
the CRPF, ITBP, BSF. The CRPF used to be a
law-and-order force, good at lathi
charge. Now they are not even that. You
must have seen what’s happening in
Kashmir — they are throwing stones
back at the crowd. That should never
happen. Otherwise you just have two
mobs on either side — one mob is in
uniform, the other is not.The main problem with the CRPF is that they are handed over to the state
police when they arrive anywhere, and
the SHO uses them for clearing a crowd
or for controlling a communal situation.
This business of handling them to police
has bereft them of leadership. They have
functioned better in places like Mizoram
and Nagaland because there they have
been under army leadership which is
more disciplined. But I am impressed
with the training Brigadier Powar is giving
in the jungle warfare school that’s
been set up in Kanker.
You have said bringing the army in
against the Naxals will be a disaster.
Can you spell out the reasons why.
The first problem the army will face is
that the Bihar regiment has a very strong
component of Adivasis. What do you
think will happen when such a battalion
is facing Adivasis on the other side? His
home may be there, he may have
relatives on the other side, his tribe could
be involved. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The army should never ever come in to
this conflict. The point is very clear, there
are root causes. The government has to
address them.In any case, who are you going to attack?
Who are you going to catch? You
will not find anyone there. The moment
they know such an operation is going on,
they will vanish in a 100 different directions.
Their weapons will disappear.
You’ll find innocent people living there
and our forces will go and shoot 30 of
them and say we have shot so many
Naxalites. Every child born in the area
then will become an insurgent after that.
Do you believe there can be a lasting
I can guarantee there will not be any
ceasefire — because the Maoists organising
or leading this are on the run. If they
stop, it will be very difficult to start again.
I don’t think they are going to give up their
guns. We have to convince the cadres that
the government has changed its policy on
land and forest rights and mining.
Wean away the support base. Make
Indian democracy more attractive
than Maoist revolution.
Dula Bhima of Mukram village in Dantewada shows the I-card of his son Nuppa who was picked up by the CRPF.
Photo : TARUN SEHRAWAT
Absolutely right. I think the only thing to do now is raise these issues in every
forum and force the government’s hand.
If you don’t rectify the ground realities,
you can’t turn this around. The more
military force you put, the bigger the crisis
Have you told the government this?
I speak openly about it at every
forum I can.
The government says it wants to
bring development to these regions.
It is not about development. It is about
rights. This government has to understand
— how is it that land ceiling was
implemented in Kerala? Why is there no
Maoist movement there? You know
what happened there? Under EMS
Namboodiripad, the law was so strong
that anyone who was a tenant farmer for
12 years, the ownership of the land passed to him without compensation to
the owner. We are now in 2010, but in
most parts of the country, we are behaving
as though we are in 1610 or something.
Do you know in Australia and the
US now, they say that if any minerals or
oil is found in the Reservation areas, that
resource belongs to the Aborigines and
Native Americans. In India also, the first
thing that should be declared is that if
minerals are found in the forest, it belongs
to the people of that forest. The
MOUs should be signed by all the people
of that village with that company. After
that, give them legal guidance and see
that the profit comes to their accounts.
Is the government in Delhi prepared to
do that? Why should they? Every MOU
has a Swiss Bank account attached.
You say you don’t want to live in a
Maoist State. One cannot evade the
fact that they have a highly efficient
and armed wing, or that 200-odd districts
are in their control. So to ask a
question many people might have in
their heads — do you think the use
paramilitary or other forces has any
role at all to play in containing the
Maoists, even as one incorporates
the issues of justice they have raised?
Let’s take a model area. I would say put
about 10 battalions in that area. Have
good leaders so that the jawans don’t go
and steal chickens and rape women and
burn houses. When I was IG, BSF in Kashmir,
I had 50 BSF battalions under me. I
used to go around the city everyday, visiting
one or two of the battalions by turn.
Then I would talk to the local people and
get feedback, especially if any of my battalions
had done an operation. If the
public there would tell me, “Sahib sab
theek gaya, aapke ladke koi galti nahi
kiya”, I’d feel things were under control.
That is leadership. My commanders
knew that if they did anything wrong,
they were going to get punished and
punished hard. So they behaved. This is
what you need — a strong IG or DG. And
men highly trained in field craft. One
mistake this government has been making
is that it wants yes-men.
You said army leadership is better
than the paramilitary, but the army’s
record in handling internal insurgencies
in the Northeast or Kashmir
hasn’t exactly been sterling.
Yes, the army has done wrong things in
the Northeast, very wrong things. I’ve
worked in Nagaland, I’ve worked in Manipur.
Because it is in a remote corner,
people here don’t know what’s happening
there. No wonder they don’t like to
be with us. But still, generally speaking,
the army leadership is better because
their general is not appointed by a politician.
He comes on merit, on courage, on
fitness, and how much he looks after his
men. In the paramilitary, you get to the
top by the amount of bootlicking you do.
The system is different.