Defending Salwa Judum

Has anyone articulated how the citizen’s militia will be disbanded?

Prakash Singh, a distinguished police officer and a member of an expert group set up by the Planning Commission to study the Naxalite problem, dissents from the group’s conclusions and argues that the Salwa Judum was a “spontaneous movement expressing the resentment of the tribals against the Naxalites’ interference with their social customs, cultural practices and economic interests.”

Mr Singh, who is both the author of a book on the Naxalite movement and has tirelessly pushed police reforms since his retirement, is a credible commentator. His opinion must be taken seriously.

This blog, however, disagrees with his view. Individuals bearing arms for self-defence, or even isolated village defence committees in remote areas are one thing: organising these units into a larger corporate entity, or indeed a “movement”, is quite another. Organisations once formed develop a life and interests of their own, and are almost impossible to wind down and demobilise, especially if they are outside the formal control of the state. As Mr Singh himself admits (Salwa Judum’s) “camps should have been wound up within a year or two and the tribals encouraged to go back to their villages. That unfortunately did not happen.”

Mr Singh has a point when he argues that Salwa Judum is a useful instrument in the fight against the Naxalite insurgency. But in the medium- to long-term, it is likely to create additional problems, whether or not the Naxalites are defeated.

12 thoughts on “Defending Salwa Judum”

  1. To paraphrase your arguments:
    1. A powerful centralized private militia would cause trouble once their initial purpose is achieved.

    2. Law enforcement is the responsibility of the government.

    Reg point two: if the movement one is fighting against is guerilla-esque in nature, and also with some local support in some areas, then it is not clear that traditional law enforcement can succeed without an overwhelming offensive that would cause extensive collateral damage. History is replete with examples of this sort.

    Reg point one: It is again not clear that a centralized private militia is harder to disband than a guerilla movement. Remember we cannot take heed of examples where some other country comes in and arms militias against an oppressive force, and then finds that these militias want to take over the reins of government. History is again replete with examples of this sort.
    But this is quite a different tale here: there is an ambient country with a functioning democracy, the villagers know that, the militia knows that.

    A third point is that a citizenry with the gumption to defend themselves is a huge character departure from a feudal mindset and character: this is something that India *needs* even from a moral code point of view.

  2. I should add that I think this is a very creative solution to a very nonstandard problem. VS Naipaul, who decried the application of Western solutions to eastern problems, would finally be proud.
    If I was a journalist, I’d interview him about this.

  3. 7*6,

    You’ve got them right, but in the wrong order of precedence.

    At the broadest level, the battle is psychological. The citizen must be convinced that the state will ensure that rule of law prevails. Does the reliance on a private militia bring this about, or merely plunge the citizen into a partisan conflict between two non-state actors?

    The alternative to Salwa Judum need not be “traditional law enforcement”. It could be very non-traditional law enforcement. Just to make a point (and this is a stretched point) why not, for instance, have infra-red satellite imagery to spot movement of armed groups and have rapid-action mobile forces to take them out?

    Back to the psy-war, the state needs to give the citizen confidence, not guns. Thinking backwards from there…How does one give them confidence—by delivering competent, honest governance. That’s not a policing or economic problem. That’s a political problem.

  4. Nitin, your argument is all fine.

    In an ideal world, the citizen is convinced of the state’s sincerity in enforcing rule of law;the state is smart enough to use latest technology to crush unlawful movements and it delivers honest and competent governance. In the real world, trading benefit with cost is often necessary.

    Chattisgarh is not an ideal world. It definitely needs to be advised to become one, and it’d be good if it becomes one. That will take a long while though. Should the naxal problem fester until then?

  5. Oldtimer,

    I’d say that Salwa Judum is creating an additional problem for Chattisgarh. Paradoxically, it may be that a Salwa Judum like strategy will work best in a state that least needs it. Just how does one “manage” a people’s movement in a state which can’t even manage to deliver basic public services?

  6. Nitin:

    I agree with your contention. The experiences with Koka Parray (I forget the tanjeem’s name now) and other renegades in North (Manasbal etc.) and South Kashmir (Shopiyan) during the mid 90s should serve as a reminder to all those advocating the course. The state loses public support, gets over dependent and reliant on such groups and eventually becomes a poor copy of the anti-state actors it is trying to eradicate. These groups develop their own political and economic interests, which eventually are at variance with the interests of the state. The real dangers of falling out with the renegades were observed in the valley and the security forces eventually suffered heavily, without any tangible gains in the battle against the insurgents.

    Yes, I know that the insurgents in Kashmir are different from the Naxalites in Chattisgarh, but the experiences and lessons learnt are too potent and real to be forgotten so easily.

  7. Prag: It was JK Ikhwaan. His son runs it now. Not at the same scale though.

    I see your point about longer term problems with co-operating with such groups(..another example could be the protestant militias in N. Ireland and MI5 co-operation with them..) but could you please elaborate a bit further on what you mean by:

    …the security forces eventually suffered heavily, without any tangible gains in the battle against the insurgents.

    How did the security forces suffer?
    No tangible gains?
    AFAIK, such pro-India groups, especially Kukka Parrey’s, helped eliminate scores and scores of pro-Pakistan terrorists.

  8. @NRA:

    How did the security forces suffer?
    No tangible gains?

    The tangible gains were very short term; only a few insurgents were killed by security forces due to the intelligence provided by the renegades. The insurgents got wiser, changed their modus operandi and tangible results went down in the due course. The renegades developed political ambitions (their economic and business interests were already making the security forces even more unpopular)and they were no more interested in taking on the insurgents. They wanted money, power and patronage.
    Some of these renegades went back to Pakistan and they were a bigger nuisance and threat to the security forces. Having operated with the army and lived in their camps, these guys knew where the weak areas were for these security forces. That is what led to the plethora of security forces camp being attacked or overrun by the insurgents in the late 90s.
    A related issue was of corruption. The security forces were also tempted by the illegal and easy money available to the renegades. The weapons being “planted” and “bought over” along with the competitive surrenders of large number of insurgents created their own share of complications for the security forces and the state.
    All in all, it was a very easy short-term option that created more problems in the long-term than it solved. That is why, by the turn of the century, it has been more or less discarded by the army. I agree some CPO and RR units are still indulging in it.

  9. IIRC, the SULFA (or surrendered ULFA) experiment also went awry after the first couple of yrs. So, maybe the option should be ‘use organized people’s militia only for upto 2 yrs’. After that disband and if necessary, start again.

    There is no substitute to involving the local people in the fight against Maoism. The Maoists themselves appear to be getting funding, training and organizational experience not commensurate with what could be expected from a rag tag, landlocked resistance movement. Somethng doesn’t quite add up. The state likely knows more about what it is up against. And Salwa Judum is not just about resisting Maoist guns but also Maoist influence in the realm of ideas, of indigenious culture, traditions and folklore – all of which are under perennial Maoist threat 24×7. Hence, looking at Salwa Judum as merely an armed militia response by the state is a bit too narrow, IMHO.

    More later. GTG now.

  10. Hence, looking at Salwa Judum as merely an armed militia response by the state is a bit too narrow, IMHO.

    that is a point worth emphasizing. The (beneficial) implications to the moral code and to the moral climate from such a local militia cannot be understated—especially for a part of the country which is still feudal in political climes as well as in character.

    The concerns of many that this could have adverse consequences down the road if not managed properly are quite valid: but so is the case with almost any solution to take care of this. Letting paramilitary forces loose on this without “managing properly” has adverse consequences as well.

    Thirdly, to paraphrase Nitin’s main concern: what are the consequences to the rule of law, if we arm a private militia; do we not then admit defeat apropos enforcement of a rule of law? Do we not, as a country and as a set of institutions, then admit that we are no better than anarchy?

    I think the import is actually the obverse: instead of a feudal setup where “central forces” take care of the rule of law, private citizens now have a stake in the enforcement of the rule of law. It is not the rule of law which is devalued, in fact the stake that the villager has in the rule of law is increased. We are actually preventing a devaluation of the rule of law.

  11. Some key framework defining points for this debate:

    1. The state should always have the biggest guns in any setup within its territory. Always. If any private griup has a bigger set of guns, the state’s writ is already lost (take the FATA areas as an example).

    2. Arming or rather, allowing private citizens to arm themselves under pledge to not break the law is neither legally nor morally indefensible. In fact, in areas where the law is unwilling or unable to extend its effective reach to cover all its far-flung dominions equally, the citizen *should* be empowered to defend his life, limb, liberty and property in any manner he can from armed extra-constitutional pillagers. In Yamrika, a popular saying goes, when your home is invaded by bandits, “Better a gun in the hand than two cops on the phone”.

    3. Illegal use of firearms by private citizens to settle private scores for example can and should be tackled by the long arm (and bugger guns) of the law. The US example is illuminating in this context. There are more firearms in pvt hands in Texas than there are in, say Holland (I presume). Doesn’t mean Texas has degenrated into a free for all (I know some may choose to dispute that).

    4. The Salwa Judum is a private militia, and hence more than the sum of its parts (pvt citizens with arms). But a clear mandate, a clear vision and a clear set of what is and isn’t acceptable could well work in our tribal areas. I don’t see why not. It all again boils down to the state’s will to impose and regulate the law of the land. I would imagine that is easier to do against an overground, regulated militia than with a shadowy underground insurgent network like the Maoists.

    JMTPs etc.
    /Have a nice day, all.

  12. Oh, I now realize two other things I should add:

    About point#1 – the state not having the biggest guns in a subset of its territory, reminds me of the CPM’s big guns in rural WB.

    About point#4: One disturbing thing about Salwa Judum is that its not entirely ‘voluntary’. Village folk have been forced out of their homes and live in make-shift camps now. How many would have signed up to defend their lives and livelihood in a voluntary Salwa Judum campaign remains unknown.

    A voluntary pvt armed militia that supplements the law enforecement efforst of the state is the right way to go, IMHO.

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