Low Intensity Conflicts in India: An Analysis
Low intensity conflict (LIC), as commonly understood, implies armed conflict between regular armies or law enforcement agencies and non regular armed militias which could include terrorist groups, guerrilla fighters, gangs, rioters etc. The participation or involvement of the local population is an important feature of most low intensity conflicts, which are generally intra-state in nature. India, the seventh largest country in the world in terms of geographical size, is home to several low intensity conflicts of varying nature, degree and contexts. Lt Col Vivek Chadha's book comes as a welcome input for all those who have been waiting for a comprehensive resource book on all the LICs in different parts of India.
Chadha, in four parts and 18 chapters in the book has managed to cover the LICs in Kashmir, Punjab, the North East, the Gorkhaland and the Naxalite Movement in great detail. These have been major security, economic and political challenges to the Indian State.
A common thread in the description of various LICs is the analysis of the likely causes of their origin from a socio- political and religious perspective. Chadha's detailed historical timeline and analyses of the situations in Kashmir and the North East and the Naxalite Movement is an attempt to move away from the traditional security framework within which both inter and intra state conflicts are seen as security threats to the state and which can be resolved largely through military intervention. By highlighting the non traditional sources of the various LICs along with the military and security dimension, he has emphasised that a meaningful and long lasting resolution or containment of LICs can only be achieved by addressing the underlying socio- political and religious issues at the root of the different conflicts. Chadha is not prescriptive in his analyes but only provides a framework within which these conflicts can be located and peaceful situations can be worked out.
He engages with the concept of low intensity conflicts in the introduction itself. He mentions the different connotations of LIC and their forms, making a useful distinction between High, Medium and Low intensity conflicts and between conventional and unconventional warfare.
Part one on Kashmir is one of the most detailed historical accounts of the conflict that one has read in recent times. It debunks the myth of the spread of Islam through the sword. Moderate Sufis brought the teachings of Islam to the Kashmir valley. The socio- political developments from the first historical account of the Rajatarangini to the present times are discussed lucidly and appropriately. Chadha also offers a nuanced understanding of various identity constructs like 'Kashmiri' and 'Kashmiriyat'. He also engages with the identity formations in the North East like the Ahoms, Bodos, Nagas, Manipuris, Mizos etc. The conflict over Kashmir has been holistically dealt with. The political decisions and changing stance of the state and the central leadership has been analysed at great length.
Part two of the book deals with the insurgency in Punjab. The causes of the conflict are mentioned in great detail. Punjab insurgency is seen as more of a political problem than the result of socio-economic causes. The initial demands of the Sikh community were manipulated at the highest levels and through petty politicking until it became an armed conflict against the state. Chadha does well to bring out the politics behind the Punjab insurgency. His armed services back ground comes to the fore several times but most usefully while describing the Punjab crisis. He sees it as a shining example of the victory of the state against insurgent elements. However, he does not think that the Punjab experience can be replicated elsewhere. It cannot be used as a model to deal with the other LICs, due to varying causes of each conflict.
Part three is a very comprehensive account of the conflicts in the North East. Chadha does well to study the problem in each state in great detail instead of treating it as a monolithic problem in a homogenous geographical region, as is usually the case with those studying the problems in the North East. He captures the diversity of the region, the people and their various problems. Though he does mention a few atrocities committed by the armed forces while talking about Kashmir and Punjab, it is in his study of the North East that he openly admits that the security forces went overboard like in Operation Bajrang in Assam. The external linkages of the insurgent groups in the region with Burma, Bangladesh and China are also mentioned. He concedes that most of the problems in the North Eastern states are the result of demographic changes and politics. The failure of the state to address the concerns of the people, and the general corruption and apathy of the local governments comes out explicitly especially in the problem of the Manipuris. The Manipuris, unlike the others in the North East,who are religious, ethnic or numerical minorities in the region, are predominantly Hindus.Their concerns reflect the indifference of the central and the state governments in dealing with the problems. Chadha aptly describes it as the "squandered legacy of opportunities lost", (page 307).
Part five of the book discusses the Gorkhaland and the Naxalite problem. But by the time Chadha reaches the Naxals his intellectual exhaustion is visible. Part five lacks the same depth and analysis as the other parts and he only manages to scratch the surface, leaving a number of questions unanswered. There is only a superficial engagement with the history and the external linkages of the Naxalite and the Gorkhaland problem, without going into the details about the socio-economic causes that sustain these conflicts. Moreover, clubbing these two people's movements as minor conflicts is a misnomer. The Naxalite problem is growing stronger by day as twelve states in India are affected by violence,targeted by Naxal groups against perceived state structures. Both these problems require a more in-depth analysis.
Chadha's book has to be read with great deal of attention as it contains a lot of data and arguments which he has used to bring out the complexities behind the different LICs in India. The structure of chapters is meticulously maintained and each chapter begins with the history and back ground of the conflict, moving on to the political causes and analysis. As already pointed out, it is a well structured resource book for all those who wish to understand various conflicts in India.
The book has some minor typographical errors. For example, on page 209, the dismissal of the state government in Punjab, in April 1997, should have been April 1987. On page 256, first paragraph, the group demanding independence is not Books but Bodos. However these are only minor errors and hence go unnoticed. What is perhaps more questionable and problematic is the detailed discussion on Siachen and Kargil as a part of low intensity conflicts. These were outright military interventions or wars without any involvement of the local population. They resulted out of the conflict in Kashmir, but they were not LICs.
Perhaps the title 'contemporary conflicts in India' would have been more apt, considering that the author has described at length different conflicts, including outright wars, armed intervention and military exchanges. On the whole the book offers a comprehensive and nuanced account of the different armed conflicts within India and should find a place on book shelves as a storehouse of information, data and analysis. Readers will be greatly enriched by the insight and information that the book contains.