The writer examines the CPI-Maoist’s increasing capabilities on the technological front and explores policy options to fine-tune counter-LWE efforts.
Given its expansion from guerilla warfare to ‘mobile warfare’ to ‘hi-tech warfare’, it is pertinent to examine whether the Maoist conflict in India is headed towards a more dangerous turn. Security personnel, policy makers and analysts are grappling over this question particularly since the serious and new threat of possession and operation of drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) came to light.
A month ago, small red and white light emitting drones were spotted flying near the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Kistaram and Pallodi in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. This is a concerning development given how the two camps where those drones were spotted are located deep inside the Maoist hotbed, and the region shares borders with the Maoist tri-junction of Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
A year ago, in November 2018, 35 wireless sets carried by the Cobra 204 battalion suddenly fell silent in the midst of an active operation in Bastar. How or why this occurred is still unclear. According to reports, although officials speculated on various technical problems that could have affected the sets, they were unable to revive the sets. The inquiry into this incident, which was termed ‘inconclusive’, did not rule out the possibility of the CPI-Maoist being in possession of technology that enables the group to disable radio sets.
Earlier that year, in March 2018, during a raid at a camp of the CPI-Maoist’s People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, security forces came upon evidence of the CPI-Maoist’s tech savvy operations and digital operations. According to reports, two Samsung tablets, five ICOM walkie-talkie sets, and 14 cellphones were confiscated. The authorities also found a propaganda website suspected to be based out of the Netherlands, and information on the group’s familiarity with (and use of) Google Earth for it operations. Reportedly, the CPI-Maoist has also begun recording its meetings and sharing the videos across their network. While it can be argued that Google Earth is far from being a sophisticated tool that demonstrates the CPI-Maoist’s technological prowess, nonetheless, given the technological reasons for the group’s use of the software as well as the fact that the IP address of the group’s website originated in the Netherlands, investigative agencies have now expanded their inquiry into determining the CPI-Maoist’s outreach beyond domestic areas, to include areas abroad as well.
Here, it is relevant to note that over the past six decades, the discourse on Maoism in India has largely revolved around the political and socio-economic conditions as root causes. In comparison, the technological cushions that enable expansion of the CPI-Maoist’s reach and capabilities are less studied.
As per the annual report (2018-19) of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), more police personnel have been killed in Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks than in direct combat. This is the outcome of a strategic game plan by the CPI-Maoist to mastermind the use of IEDs in order to avoid direct confrontation with security forces as a means to minimise causalities among their own cadres. Analysis of the recent IED attacks shows that the CPI-Maoist has escalated IED warfare on the security forces using a mix of Command Wire IEDs, Radio Controlled IEDs, Victim Operated IEDs etc. Reports indicate that the CPI-Maoist has also demonstrated a capability of launching rocket attacks on security force camps, blowing mine proof vehicles apart, and creating minefields for targeting a foot patrol.
At present, having been caught off the guard with the threat of drone use by the CPI-Maoist, the Indian government has issued a shoot at sight order in all left wing extremism (LWE) infested states for all suspected UAVs. At this juncture, it is essential that the investigating agencies also investigate the sources through which the CPI-Maoist is procuring (or is able to procure) high-tech equipment.
Obviously they must not have manufactured the recently spotted UAV, but the possibility of the group developing manufacturing capabilities in near future cannot be ruled out. Additionally, with Basavaraj at the helm of affairs of the CPI-Maoist, the new generation of the group’s cadres are pushing hard to make inroads in to the digital world.
To counter the threat of IEDs, the Indian government must focus on the parameters of Prevention, Protection, Preparedness, Operational Coordination, Intelligence and Information Sharing, Forensics and Attribution, Screening, Search and Detection, Interdiction and Disruption. That being said, as far as countering LWE in India is concerned, reliance on human intelligence is essential, but it is also crucial to understand the CPI-Maoist beyond the archaic image of rag tag guerrilla fighters armed with bows and arrows looting traditional arms of the local police. Needless to say, when it comes to use of technology, the CPI-Maoist is certainly no match to the security forces. However, CPI-Maoist’s gaining of access to new technology is something the policymakers must not take lightly. This is because the combination of simple operations and increased communicative capacity would facilitate an increase in the CPI-Maoist’s reach into other areas, and in all likelihood, the group might already be exploring this possibility.
The Indian government must devise a strategy involving high-end technology which works in sync with human intelligence, to use as an effective deterrent for countering the CPI-Maoist modus operandi. While indeed the counter-Maoist strategies have delivered some successes in the recent times, it is also important to note that reactionary, knee-jerk policymaking would offer only temporary solutions to the ever-evolving challenges in the LWE front in India. The state thus has the new task of devising a new, comprehensive approach which recognises the far-reaching implications of technology on politics, economy, security and the society at large.
The writer is Assistant Professor, P.G. Department of Political Science & Public Administration, Sambalpur University, Odisha, India. He may be reached at [email protected]