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Understanding Indian Insurgencies: Implications for Counterinsurgency Operations in the Third World

Authored by Deputy Inspector General Durga Madhab (John) Mitra. | February 2007

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Resurgence of Maoist Insurgency in Asia.

The recent resurgence of indigenous Maoist insurgencies in the South/Southeast Asia region is a destabilizing development that, left unchecked, can have significant implications for the Global War on Terror. Researcher William Latimer suggests that the United States, in its global counterterrorism campaign, must draw on the experience of India, which has an extensive history of counterterrorism efforts.

About India and Its Insurgencies.

India is a union of states. The Constitution of India provides for a parliamentary form of government, federal in structure with certain unitary features. The Constitution of India distributes legislative powers between parliament (national level) and legislative assemblies (state level). Apart from the states, there are centrally administered territories, called Union Territories.

According to the Indian federal structure, the fighting of insurgency at home is the responsibility of the concerned state government. This accounts for the diversity and inconsistencies in the Indian approach to counterinsurgency. However, there also has been a broad evolution of counterinsurgency strategy over the years because of involvement of the central (federal) government, army, central (federal) police organizations, Indian Police Service, Indian Administrative Service, and the linkages between provincial and central politics in counterinsurgency by state governments.

Theoretical Perspectives on Revolutions in the Third World.

The objective of this paper is to develop a theoretical perspective for analyzing the Indian experience with insurgency, and to discuss its implications for counterinsurgency in Third World countries. Understanding the affected population is essential for understanding an insurgency or planning for counterinsurgency. The contested population is not only the end; it is also an important means for the insurgent. The insurgents and government of the day compete with one another to control the population, as well as to gain the populace?s loyalty.

Skocpol holds that the probability of revolution against the state is determined by the degree of penetration of national territory by a state, the incorporation of socially mobilized groups, and the degree of bureaucratization of the state administration and its armed forces. India, with a history of democratic governance for more than 50 years, ideally should score high on all three dimensions. True to the model, at the macro level, India has been able to handle the many insurgencies it has faced since independence from the British Empire in 1947. However, this does not explain the emergence of insurgencies in various areas within India. The reasons for these insurgencies can be traced to the many attributes of the country which, like many other Third World societies, affect all three dimensions of Skocpol?s model. Based on these aspects, a slightly different model is developed.

Modeling Indian Insurgencies.

Based on scholarly works by many authors from various disciplines, I advance the following hypothesis:

In India, the degree of inaccessibility of an area, the strength of separate social identity of its population, and the amount of external unifying influence on it, determine the propensity of that area for insurgency.
To test this hypothesis, I examine all the major insurgencies in India since independence. A simple model is developed to explain the emergence and strength of insurgencies in India. Secondary and tertiary sources are used for collating data to test two out of three dimensions of the model. The third dimension, the amount of external unifying force, is not tested quantitatively; instead, it is supported through empirical evidence.

Based on the above hypothesis, the relationship between the variables can be expressed by the following equation:

I = Cxrel X rel + C xlangX lang + C xethn X eth + C yfor Y for + C yslope Y slope + Cz Z + I0

I 0 is the value of I when all the other factors on the right-hand side are 0,

Xrel is the SSI due to religion. Xlang is the SSI due to language.

X ethn is the SSI due to ethnicity.

Yfor is the average forest coverage of an area.

Y slope is the average slope of the terrain of an area.

C xrel, Cxlang, C xethn, Cyfor, C yslope, and C z are the coefficients.

SSI (The Strength of Separate Social Identity): Can be defined as the sense of separation from the majority population through religion, language, ethnicity, and any other distinct social attributes of the population as a whole.

I (Propensity for Insurgency): This is the dependent variable. It is defined as the level of insurgency seen in the past.

Z (The Amount of External Unifying Influence): Is defined as the proportion of persons among the top leadership of the main insurgent groups who are of outside origin or who spend much of their time outside the affected area.

Because of unavailability of data, only the X and Y dimensions of the model have been empirically verified for the entire country?by comparing data from 528 parliamentary constituencies of India?while the Z dimension is supported by empirical evidence. For verification by correlation, both the graphical method as well as the analytical method is used. For this, ArcGIS software and statistical tools are used for analyzing geographic data and for finding the strength of correlation through regression analysis.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

Acceptance of the model has significant policy implications for the Third World countries regarding the role of democracy, the desirability and extent of decentralization of political power, the desirability and type of economic development with respect to the ground situation, integration of the population, and the effect of forests on counterinsurgency. These discus- sions were the basis for the following recommendations.

  1. Economic development of inaccessible and hitherto economically unviable areas should be fostered by the state. Careful considerations should be undertaken regarding the likely outcome of the governmental efforts, particularly in the areas already dominated by the insurgents, and in the areas inhabited by relatively isolated tribes.
  2. Democratic decentralization, within the broad legal structure based on equality and human rights, should be adopted to politically mobilize the marginal population in the right direction.
  3. Outside influences inciting the insurgency should be denied access to vulnerable areas by constructing physical barriers.
  4. The structure of force and hardware for counterinsurgency operations should be appropriate, keeping in mind the terrain of an area and the presence of inhabitants.