The levelheadedness of suggesting deployment of air power in the battle against Naxals was never beyond nix and hence was met with disapproval, if not more, from all quarters. At the outset the mind would reallocate to Iraq, Afghanistan or other such classical war-torn nations, when Home Minster, P. Chidambaram’s suggestion of using the Indian Air Force is reflected upon. However might one tries to speechify the difference between air force and air support as if the idea proffered by the HM was misconstrued, the point remains that, true to all strategies talked of by the HM, this one too fell flat like a nightmare. E.N. Rammohan, the former BSF (Border Security Force) chief, has rubbished the proposal by calling it ‘nonsense’. He has in fact articulated that military operation itself is no solution to Maoism. Raman Singh had said that the IAF should play in, but he dolled up his statement by saying he meant logistical air support like evacuation and supplies and not bombing or air attacks.
Using air power to annihilate the Naxals was like letting one’s imaginations run wild. The EFR and CRPF have already been deployed and a security expert said that there exists a theory of ascending order which means the Army should now be installed since it precedes Air force and follows the paramilitary forces. Air power, by any means, is impracticable, many say. Of them, a few argue that it isn’t a good idea because of the fact that Naxals are Indian citizens. However, that argument doesn’t bode well given that the CRPF and the likes have already launched offensives against these ‘own citizens’. Astute minds have suggested that such propositions should better be termed as fanciful rather than pragmatic. The Congress veteran, Dijvijay Singh, whose line of thought somehow clashes with Chidambaram each time, said those who talk of IAF are unaware of the terrain of the areas (red corridors), taking a dig at the HM and indicating that IAF operations in jungles is unreal (The CRPF isn’t trained in jungle warfare either, experts have reiterated). Digvijay called for winning over the locals.
Air Chief Marshal, P.V. Naik, the IAF chief said he did not favor use of the Indian Air Force in anti-Naxal operations. He has told that it is imperative to make sure Naxals are the nation’s enemy. One has to be 120% sure of that and only then can air force be contemplated. Asserting that the three pillars of defense, Army, Navy and Air force are skilled to inflict the greatest damage, often lethal, to external enemies, he implied, and even stated, that the use of Air force within the borders would be unfair. He also spoke of technical complexities in carrying out air offensives against the Naxals and said the paramilitary forces should be able to succeed in anti-Naxal encounters.
Collateral damage must be kept in mind even before considering Air force as a viability, experts say. While Maoist sympathizers have gone gung-ho about this, there is a whopping majority in the nation who believe the use of air force would be imprudent and that includes people whose opinions matter — the IAF chief, the Cabinet ministers, the BSF stalwarts, etc. The defense minister, AK Antony has said IAF can be used only for surveillance, rescue, etc but not for anti-Naxal offensives. The use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) also popped up but is, at present, in abeyance. All in all, it would be rather dicey, reckless and injudicious to deploy the air force against Naxals for more than one reason and so many of them simply cannot get hold of the wrong end of the stick. Lastly, we don’t want a civil war, even by chance.
For possible solution and a substantial conclusion on the issue of Naxalism — India’s rabble-rouser, watch this space for the closing article in this ongoing series on Naxalism.
Follow the complete series here.