25 November, 2011

On Kishenji

One of the top Politburo members & a Central Military Commission member of the CPI-Maoist (CPI-M), Kishenji alias Mallojula Koteswar Rao has been reportedly killed by a mammoth operation by security forces in the Jangalmahal area in West Bengal yesterday (24th Nov 2011). 

The operation which hemmed in Kishenji on 24th November, was planned in concentric circles. A group of 1000 joint forces (paramilitary and state police) encircled Kishenji and his aide Suchitra in three circles. This made it almost impossible for the elusive leader to evade the clutches of the security forces. 

He was a major decision-maker for the ultras and was looking after the expansion of the group in the North-East. Presumably, he came from Assam a couple of days back and was convening meetings in West Bengal-Jharkhand border. 

The following reasons may be elucidated to have brought his undoing:

1. He was recovering from an injury he suffered last year from an attack by the security forces. 

2. Severe intelligence network of the police (across provinces) was tracing him and the moment he came out of his hideout, he became vulnerable

3. He was technology-savvy and that could have helped the police to track his position

4. The closeness of the CPI-Maoist with the Trinamool congress before the assembly polls in Bengal could have worked to their disadvantage. The cadres of the TMC can now very well act as moles (spies) against the Maoists. In fact, there are reports that Kishenji might have been betrayed by his own rank and file. 

What Next?

Well, Kishenji's demise would be a big jolt to the rebels. It would be hard to find a replacement soon as he had become indispensable in the eastern region. However, there is no reason to expect sudden spate of reprisals from the Maoists. 

First, they would re-group and Ganapathy (their General Secretary) must be extremely cautious now. They had lost Azad and now Kishenji. Narayan Sanyal and Kobad Ghandy are languishing in jail. Telugu Deepak and Kanchan are also incarcerated. Hence, Ganapthy now has to work with second rung leaders. 

Second, by the very principle of guerrilla warfare tactics, the rebels would retaliate in a different venue, different time and different occasion. 

The Counterinsurgency Policy

The CI/CT (counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism) policy of the Indian security forces seem to work fine vis-a-vis the Maoists. The recent success of the forces at Saranda forests (Jharkhand); coupled with the annihilation of Cerukuri Rajkumar alias Azad (in 2010) and now Kishenji speaks of the Indian CI/CT policy as toeing the line of WHAM-based counterinsurgency in addition to targeted Killings and incarcerations (the imprisonments of top leaders of the Maoists). At the other end, the state has kept the options of 'talking to the Maoists' an open agenda and is quite rightly moving to a position of strength so as to reach a vantage point and then 'talk' to the rebels. 

WHAM : Winning Hearts and Minds

13 November, 2011

Urban perspective of the Maoists: an analysis

Centre for Land Warfare Studies
Article #1996, Nov 13, 2011


Incalculable harm was done to the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and early 70s due to the wrong strategic evaluation of then leaders of the insurrection. Their defective understanding of urban warfare and penchant of initiating a bloody confrontation with the administration in the cities led to their abysmal show. However, after the grand merger of the two major Naxal splinter groups in 2004, a series of bulky documents from the side of the Maoists have made their way into the public domain which speaks volumes of their refined doctrinal position vis-à-vis strategy and tactics, especially for urban areas.

Out of those documents, two merit serious attention and analyses. The first is the “Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution” prepared in September, 2004 (henceforth STIR). And the other one came out three years later; termed the “Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas” (henceforth UPUA). In the backdrop of a recent spate of arrests of Maoist activists from urban areas and cities; it appears that a re-reading of the two documents to decipher the long term strategy of the Indian Maoists has become a necessity.

In STIR, the Maoists stress on the large concentration of the petite bourgeoisie in urban areas of India. It is no wonder that the rebels are still basing their revolutionary tactics on the lower middle class of the Indian society as the French had done on the Sans-culottes in 1789. Further, in STIR, they write with Marxian moorings: “We should not forget the dialectical relationship between the development of the urban movement and the development of the armed agrarian revolutionary war.”

The Maoists admit through STIR that: “In the absence of a strong revolutionary urban movement, the growth of the people’s war will face limitations and difficulties in its advancement”. The pressing question in this context is how the urban work of the Maoists will aid and abet their ongoing rural insurrection?

The answer, though was stated in STIR itself, is far more conspicuous and resolute in UPUA of 2007. The document reads thus: “Working class leadership is the indispensable condition for the new Democratic Revolution (NDR) in India. Working class has to send its advanced detachments to rural areas.” [Section 3.1.1, p 17, UPUA]

Thus, being the centers of concentration of the industrial proletariat (industrial workers), urban areas play an important part in the political strategy of the NDR. The task of the party in urban areas is to mobilize and organise the proletariat in performing its crucial leadership role.

According to the Indian Maoists, “the specific characteristics of revolutionary war in India is to determine the military strategy as that of protracted people’s war – of establishing revolutionary base areas  first in the countryside where the enemy (read the government) is militarily weak and then to gradually surround and capture the cities which are bastions of the enemy forces.” [UPUA]

Thus it is clear from the Maoists’ document that the armed struggle and the movement in the rural areas will play the primary role; whereas the work in the cities will play a secondary role, complementary to the rural work.

In fact, legendary Mao Tse-tung had said: “the final objective of the revolution is the capture of the cities, the enemy’s main bases, and this objective cannot be achieved without adequate work in the cities.” The charismatic Che Guevara too opines: “The importance of the urban struggle is extraordinary.”
The Maoists assess that presently, India has a larger proportion of the population in urban areas and a much larger working class than at the time of the Chinese revolution. This increases the relative importance of urban work in the particular conditions of the Indian revolution.

Nevertheless, in cities, the counter-insurgency state forces are very strong and hence the Maoists are careful while establishing bases.  Nevertheless, since a steady supply of urban cadre is necessary to fulfill the needs of the rural movement and to fuel the protracted people’s war, establishment of urban bases is imperative for the Maoists. [Section, p 65, UPUA]

Urban Guerrilla War is far-off

The main challenges that the Maoists face in the urban areas are:
1.   Democratic party-system is well entrenched in the cities and urban areas and hence it is extremely tedious to dent the political ethos in cities and towns.
2.   Extremely strong administrative machinery exists in these regions and thus counterinsurgency repression assumes gargantuan proportions.
    The trade unions, which are potential fertile regions of fomenting dissatisfaction amongst the urban proletariat; already has established political parties ensconced in.The presence of the Maoists in key industries like defence production, telecom, etc is poor. 

Undoubtedly, an urban base provides logistical support to the armed struggle, i.e. technical and medical help. It further helps to send cadre to rural areas. The Maoists also plan to infiltrate into enemy organizations like the police, para-military and military in these populous regions. They attempt to do so by conducting propaganda warfare; viz. upholding the problems of the ordinary constables and soldiers.

A favourable condition exists in the urban areas of India for the building of broad mass fronts against the state structures. At least that is the evaluation of the Indian Maoists as articulated through UPUA. It may be inferred that the Maoists are venturing into the Indian cities with obvious intentions of solidifying and extending their networks and in addition to that, they are in the process of colluding with other terrorist outfits based in the Northeast, Bangladesh and Nepal, which have grave security implications for the Indian state.

In STIR, the rebels stress on forming secret party units in the bastis and slums of the urban areas. Their main focus is that of mass political mobilization by inculcating the leadership qualities in the urban working class: the real class, according to Karl Marx, which possesses the ‘consciousness’ of revolution.

The Maoists have realized their folly in the early part of their revolution when they were drastic in having a showdown with the police in the urban areas. Hence, they warn their comrades in STIR: “we cannot and should not, at this stage of the revolution, organize for armed offensive with the state in the urban areas…..”

They accord special emphasis on small towns, small mining centres and areas in the vicinity of their base areas and guerrilla zones. They focus on the formation of both open and secret defence teams to resist state repression.

Party Structure in Urban Areas

The basic task of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) in the urban domain is to deal with the problem of coordination between open and secret work. Another chief component is to retain contacts between city organisation and leadership in the rural areas – the heartland of the insurgency.

In urban areas, they seem to, as per STIR, adhere to the principle of ‘political centralization and organizational decentralization’. That is, their Central Committee contemplates small squad-level groups which would be matured enough to take decisions independently, but along party lines. The squad leaders need not refer to the party high command for all minor issues and day-to-day work.

In UPUA (p 12), they acknowledge that their party’s work and organisation in the cities/towns is extremely weak and generally cannot achieve a dominant position till the final stages of the people’s war. This ‘objective reality’ forces the Maoists to determine a ‘mellowed-down’ long-term policy for urban areas.
However, there have been arrests made by the Indian Police (between 2007-11), of prominent Maoist leaders from cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nasik, Kolkata, Chandigarh and other urban areas. These are pointers to the fact that the ultras are spreading their wings in cities, more so, after the publication of the UPUA.

So, what is the long-term strategy of the Maoists with regard to urban areas?
1.   They would hardly adopt a short-term approach of direct confrontation with the state forces in order to achieve ‘quick results’.
T  Thus, the threat perception to Indian cities in the form of what we face from the cross-border terrorists is highly unlikely.
    Urban terrorism accompanies a substantial amount of collateral damage. That acts as a dampener for the Maoists to go for a Lashkar-esque operation in the cities because such sporadic and wanton acts of terror would create disconnect between the left-wing ultras and the masses: a situation they totally detest.
    The Maoists are concentrating on a long-term approach of solidifying their bases in the urban areas.
    If at all they have a short-term goal; that has to be to use their urban bases in supplying spare parts, medicines, arms, recruits and ideologues to the rural guerrilla zones.
    To further the military objective of the revolution, the Maoists are and surely would strengthen their cyber-warfare strategy.
    Propaganda through student-worker organizations would be the mainstay of their strategy for the time being.
    Their rural insurgency is in the stage of strategic defense. So, they would very likely continue the above discussed strategy in the urban areas till the rural insurgency reaches the stage of strategic offense.
    Till then, the Maoists would try hard to penetrate the white-collar employees, intellectuals and youth so as to bolster their insurgency.

While evaluating the Iraqi insurgency (2003-06), Major Edward Brady in his thesis submitted at the Maxwell Air Force base, Alabama in June 2008; rightly assesses that urban areas provide access to the insurgents to soft targets that could be attacked by small cells. Moreover, easy sanctuaries are provided to the insurgents to thrive in the cities. However, we may safely hypothesize that keeping in mind their historic failure in the 1970s, the Maoists would be reluctant to enact a Baghdad-type insurgency in Indian cities at this stage of their revolution.

Nevertheless, it always could happen that if the top leadership of the Maoists is annihilated by targeted killings/incarcerations, then a breakaway faction could unleash ghastly acts of terror emulating the cross-border militants. That will probably be a cost which we might have to incur in return of the decimation of the insurgency.

In the meantime, police ought to step up its human intelligence network and continue to nab the urban outfits of the Maoists as they had been doing for some time recently. Panic buttons need not be pressed right now. But cognizance must be made of the fact that the spread of the Maoists in the sprawling towns and cities of India could shape up as a major destabilising parameter in the future. 


1. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/documents/papers/Urbanperspective.htm

2. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/documents/papers/strategy.htm

07 November, 2011

The New PLAAF: poser or a real danger?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

The following piece was published in Strategic Affairs in March-April 2011

Whether it was ‘massed manpower’ as the hallmark of Napoleonic Wars or ‘Blitzkrieg’ maneuverability of the Nazi Army in the Second World War, technicalities have manifestly evolved in modern day warfare. Though on the one hand, military theorists postulate a Fourth Generation War (4GW) and the neologism has incidentally nestled itself in strategic jargon because of the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan; the world, on the other hand, is yet not completely bereft of the inherent possibilities of a conventional war. 

Post decolonization, the territorial rearrangement of nation-states has given rise to situations wherein one party or the other has faced arraignment in front of arbitration tribunals. In South AsiaIndia and Pakistan had to digest the dictates and remonstrations of the United Nations on more than one occasion; be it the Kashmir issue or the Nuclear Tests. Since the Cold War did incalculable harm to the concept of ‘comity of nations’, it should have been a natural intellectual derivation to presume an extremely low probabilistic penchant for ‘wars’: either hot or cold, at least among the Third World nation-states after 1991.

However, at present the economic aggrandizement and the concomitant military wherewithal of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) do seem to threaten the geopolitical climate of South and East AsiaChina has miles to tread before it can claim a hegemonic status for itself in Asia and as long as the American ‘hyperpower’ exists, the prospects are unlikely to be bright for it. Nevertheless, the displacement of Japan by the PRC as the second largest economy in the globe (at least for one quarter) along with an imposing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ready for combat role makes China a formidable state-actor in the world and Asia in particular.

The aura of J-20

The US Air Force’s recently retired intelligence chief warned his fellow countrymen regarding the Chinese stealth fighter that had its first test flight on 11 January this year. Lt. Gen David Deptula said the fifth-generation fighter J-20 “may turn out to be a very, very formidable aircraft.”

According to him, the J-20, like the American F-22, would be able to cruise at supersonic speeds at very high altitudes. And in addition, it also possessed the capability to carry more weapons, including types now under development. One was the air-to-air missile with longer ranges than their U.S. counterparts; whereas the other two were the anti-ship and anti-surface weapons.

He also said that such a plane might be used against US sensor aircrafts such as the E-3 Sentry and E-8 JSTARS. Deptula expressed concern that the emergence of both the J-20 and the Russian fifth-generation fighter PAK-FA indicated that the Americans were losing advantage in the fifth generation domain, which they specifically enjoyed for the last 25 years.

Thus the continued air and naval dominance of the US in the Pacific region may be in jeopardy, at least in the foreseeable future. In fact, Deptula’s observations may not be totally unfounded. Moreover, he is not alone to have cast doubts on the ability of the American air and naval forces vis-à-vis the rising Chinese tempo.

In a RAND Corporation presentation released in August 2008, John Stillion and Scott Perdue predicted an ominous future for the US Air Force (USAF) in an eventuality over Taiwan.

According to that study, Chinese anti-access efforts seek to deny U.S. the ability to operate efficiently over Taiwanfrom nearby bases or seas. Large, sophisticated Chinese air, naval and missile forces can mass against small number ofU.S. carriers and air bases in Asia-Pacific.

Many bases of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) are significantly harder than the US Air base at Kadena inJapan. And some PLAAF bases have super-hard underground hangers. Moreover, Kadena is the only USAF base which is within 500 nautical miles (nm) of the Taiwan strait (460 nm). On the other hand, PLAAF has 27 such bases.

Interestingly, USAF fighter operations are most efficient within 500 nm. Hence, this lack of favourable bases for the USAF may turn out to be a stumbling block. Furthermore, USAF makes about 138 sorties over Taiwan Strait per day compared to 1300 per day by the PLAAF. This is due to the help the PLAAF enjoys because of its geographical proximity to the probable war zone and consequently more number of bases at their disposal.

The best case scenario for the US as predicted by Stillion and Perdue is: the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Missiles and the Stealth Fighters of America work fine whereas that of the Chinese fail. Then only in a likely Taiwan-scenario, a ‘quality’ USAF may defeat a more numerous PLAAF. In addition to that, USAF will very much require secure, close bases. The researchers believe that counter-stealth and counter-BVR technologies are proliferating in a globalized world and thus the classic ‘air superiority’ of the USAF is constantly under threat.

But at present, such a presumption of Stillion and Perdue would hardly hold ground as the Chinese have already flown their first stealth fighter and plan to deploy the first operational J-20 around 2017-19.


To substantiate these arguments, it is worthwhile to mention that the PLAAF has improved considerably in the last decade. In 2000, of the estimated 3,200 fighter aircrafts operated by the PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), almost all the “fourth-generation” Su-27s (“Flankers”) were imported from Russia. Barely 20 were domestically designed, but were based on the 1950s-era second-generation MiG-19 and MiG-21.

Further, they were dependent on ground-based radar or their largely outdated onboard sensors to locate and identify enemy aircraft, as China had only one operational Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft. In addition, except for the Flankers, they were limited to within-visual-range engagements, as China’s domestically-produced aircraft were not equipped with BVR missiles. China’s electronic warfare capabilities were minimal as well.

However, 10 years down the lane, the picture seems to be quite different. The PLAAF has lost ‘mass’ to stress on efficiency. In fact, it has cut down approximately 100,000 personnel – roughly a quarter of the force – and has halved the size of its fighter force. A top-heavy organizational structure has also been streamlined, with the PLAAF eliminating one entire organizational level – the corps-level.

The number of second-generation fighters in China’s arsenal has been reduced by two-thirds whereas the number of fourth-generation fighters has more than quadrupled.

There have been improvements in other dimensions as well. Many of China’s fighters are now capable of carrying BVR missiles. Also, many Chinese fighter pilots are now believed to receive roughly the same number of training hours as theirU.S. counterparts. Grossly half of all new officers in China’s air forces are now graduates of China’s rigorous civilian universities.

In 2004, China’s National Defense White paper stated that “the Air Force has gradually shifted from one of territorial air defense to one of both offensive and defensive operations.” This programme got a further fillip in 2007 when the Xinhua News Agency announced that an “air intelligence radar network” covering the entire country had been completed.

There is another aspect of PLAAF’s modernization that is noteworthy. During the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, most of the PLAAF’s hardware were imported, largely from Russia, with some technologies and equipment acquired fromIsrael and other countries. In recent years, however, this equipment has increasingly been domestically produced. In the area of fighter aircraft, for example, China now produces a single-engine fighter, the J-10 that is comparable in performance to the U.S. F-16. The J-11B (a heavy fighter) is an improved version of the Russian Su-27. China also produces early warning aircrafts comparable to the U.S. E-2 Hawkeye and E-3 AWACS.

Along with these, China is developing long-endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are comparable in range and endurance to the U.S. Predator and Global Hawk. In the area of munitions, China now produces a BVR active radar-guided air-to-air missile, the PL-12 which is comparable to the U.S. AMRAAM or Russian R-77 (AA-12).

The upshot is that the new PLAAF no longer belongs to that of the third-world. Improvements in China’s air force capabilities, coupled with improvements in the conventional missile capabilities, mean that an air war with China will be increasingly challenging, even for the Americans.

Further, the Chinese missile threat to the USAF base at Kadena and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) base at Iwakuni inOkinawa are similar to that faced by Taiwan’s air bases. Combined with the lack of good bases for land-based fighters in the area around Taiwan, the United States is unlikely to be able to counter the Chinese threat in the Taiwan Strait. And this is basically what the RAND study opines. Interestingly, nearly a decade ago, this same institution had predicted an easy victory for the US over China in a war over Taiwan.

Well, the PLAAF has really progressed.

Now, a PLAAF bubbling with a newly acquired arsenal, including Su-27 and J-10 fighters, AA-12 and PL-12 missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles is assumed to defeat the Americans. Actually, the RAND's analysis "suggests that a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air force has even fired a shot. Threats to Blue air bases paint a very troubling picture."

Lack of Clarity

However, there are problems for China too. In a possible war over TaiwanChina will have to think twice before striking sovereign Japanese territory in Okinawa, or sovereign US territory in Guam. Nevertheless, the major bottleneck in positing any definite outcome in a Taiwan-like eventuality is the lack of transparency exhibited by the Chinese in their defence preparedness.  

Though China’s white paper provides a reasonably good discussion of military doctrine and the generic types of capabilities needed to execute doctrinal requirements, it however, falls short compared to some other white papers of Asia-Pacific countries. The PRC’s White Paper hardly discusses how current and projected military capabilities will helpChina attain its national security objectives. In fact, this raises doubts about whether China’s stated objectives are congruent with increasing defense spending.

Such a lack of clarity by the Chinese and their concomitant rise in defence capabilities does not portray an amiable nation-state; neither for the Americans nor for any other Asian power, including India. Naturally, PRC’s proclaimed concept of ‘peaceful rise’ turns out to be more of rhetoric than reality.