Monday, April 23, 2012

Evolution of Guerrilla Warfare in India since medieval times

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Around great men, legends are inevitably woven. These legends, which may or may not be factually correct, speak a lot about the character of the persona involved. One such legend woven around the life of King Shivaji. He was not a coronated Chhatrapati, when this incident allegedly happened. In fact, he was a fledgling king in his early 20s, struggling to carve a niche for himself. The analysis of Shivaji can be found on this blog here and here.

When the province of Kalyan near Mumbai was captured by Marathas, the Persian daughter-in-law of the the provincial Subhedar was captured along with other "war-spoils". She was trying to escape and was captured in the process. As was the tradition in Mughal and other Islamic armies of the time, this captured woman was "offered" to Shivaji. Shivaji's aunt Godavaribai was similarly abducted by Mahabhat Khan, an incident which had a marked impact on the psyche of child Shivaji. 

This captured lady, the legend says, was extremely beautiful and young Shivaji could have kept her in his custody, building harem. He, however, let her go saying that she reminded him of his mother. To be exact, Shivaji allegedly said,"You are indeed beautiful, lady. I wish I had a mother as beautiful as you, I would have been much more good-looking too".

No one knows, whether this incident is historically correct or not. But it is so popular in the folklore of Maharashtra and Marathas that it does not matter now. And this tendency of letting the enemy women "go" attracted a controversial ire by Veer Savarkar. Savarkar who idolized him (well, almost all nationalists all over India, have been idolizing Shivaji for past 300 years), criticized Shivaji for letting this woman go. Of course, Savarkar was writing in context 1920s and 1940s, at the backdrop of Moplah riots in Malabar and Partition riots in Punjab and Bengal. But this analysis of Savarkar that Hindus required a strategy to wage all-out unethical war against invaders demands a scrutiny. 

Pardoning of captured woman is metaphor. The issue is how to integrate Indic values of accommodation and Dharma with unscrupulous hawkish mindset required for a successful guerrilla campaign.

Ghanim-i-Qavvait (गनिम इ क़वैत)

This term for Guerilla warfare technique, which was used and perfected by Marathas, was introduced in Deccan by a person named "Malik Ambar". While the technique itself is very old (Krishna himself was a master of Guerilla warfare, his war against Kaal-Yavana is an excellent example of his genius), it started becoming a common practice in  Krishna-Godavari Antarvedi (present day MH, AP, KN) region after Malik Ambar's time. Until advent of Malik Ambar, this technique was more of an exception than rule. Marathas from Seuna Yadava empire were waging traditional styled wars with their neighbors after disintegration of Rashtrakoota and Chalukya Empire.

The Arabic term गनिम-इ-क़वैत (Maneuver of the successful) implied that those who fought by "Koota-Neeti" were always successful. The Arabic word Ganim (successful) is absorbed in Marathi but with the meaning "Enemy". What prompted the Mughals and Adilshahs to brag themselves as "Ganim" so much so that the word became synonymous to word enemy?

The answer is "Total war" which was waged upon India. 

Guerrilla warfare and India's Dharmik Scaffold

Total war is not a recurring phenomenon in Indian narrative. Except for war of Kalinga waged by Emperor Ashoka, the instances of an Indian state or a kingdom waging a war on entire country of enemy and not just on enemy's military, are rare. By and large in pre-Islamic India, it was the professional and enlisted soldiers who fought in a battle, the local population remained unscathed. And history tells how Emperor Ashoka repented having waged a devastating total war against the population of Kalinga. Even the Dik-vijaya of Samudragupta and Chandragupta Vikramaditya do not describe them having waged a similar war against barbaric foreign tribes of Scythians and Huns. 

Barring invasion of Arabs on Sindh, India was relatively at peace after defeat of Hunnic King Mihiragula by Yashodharma and Baladitya Gupta. Hence Indians did not feel necessary to wage a total war on their internal rivals and competitors. India faced her first massive onslaught of an all-out total war when Mehmood Gaznavi invaded India and crossed Hindu-kush to leave a trail of massacre and loot until Somnath. While this was new to India, India responded in the only language known to barbarians on the battle field of Bahraich. It was this response which kept  India immune of any invasions for next 170 years. However after 1192, India's depression started. India forgot that total war has to be responded by total war. Dharma-Yuddha (Ethical war) cannot be the right response to a sustained total war spanning generations. When total war is responded by Dharmik war for generations, the dharmik side inevitably emerges as eventual losers.

The accounts of Khafi khan, Ibn Batuta and others are full of references which describe how Sultanate armies tricked and massacred Hindu armies time and again. It is not that Hindu armies never emerged victorious, they did on many occasions. But as stated above, they eventually emerged as losers. The famous saying निर्लज म्लेंच्छ लजै नहीं, हम हिंदू लजवान (Shameless Mlechhas have no scruples, We Hindus have honor), describes the overall psyche of the Indics. While there were innumerable instances of Rajputs and other parts of India waging guerrilla warfare to sustain an defeat Sultanates and Mughals, somehow this "dishonorable" way of fighting, it seems, had not percolated in the Indic psyche completely.

It was Shahaji and his son Shivaji who reinvented this guerrilla techniques, now called Ganim-i-Qavvait (Ganimi Kaavaa in Marathi) OR the maneuver of the successful and institutionalized it as an honorable way of fighting. The necessity to abandon the mode of fighting which the scriptures preach about, and take up warfare based on "Koota-Neeti" as almost exclusive means of offense was a slow transition and a bloody one. All the forces all over the world fighting against a dictatorial omnipotent centralized power with all the machinery of state available at its disposal to act against dissenters, have resorted to Ganimi Kaavaa. 

Shivaji's Ganimi Kaavaa

In Shivaji's ganimi Kaava, the honor of victory is immaterial. What counts is attrition of enemy with respect to self-attrition. As long as enemy's attrition is order of magnitude more, the method legitimises the "running away" from the field. Typical of Rann-Chhod Daas strategy of employed by Shri Krishna described in one of the links provided above. It involves giving promises, breaking them first, back-stabbing, pillaging villages, burning crops avoiding direct confrontation; basically making the territory inhospitable for enemy, even if it hinders one's own productivity and development. 

It is also a tactic when the onus of struggle falls on the shoulders of those people who are do not have any experience or tradition of military career. This method was (and is) more efficiently employed by unorthodox fighting clans (in Indian terms Non-Kshatriya Jaatis) when the traditional kshatriya force has either fled the country OR killed OR compromised with enemy. The non-specialist fighters have no option but to resort to Ganimi Kaavaa, in order to survive. And in a way, it is they who can internalize this method of fighting most successfully. A Kshatriya with inflated ego, would find it difficult to run away when being challenged OR when soft points (family, for eg.) are being targeted by enemy to draw you out in open. The emphasis here is on survival and out-lasting the enemy, not out-fighting him.

Throughout the life of Shivaji, we see this focus on "outlasting the enemy". The gruesome Mughal-Maratha war of 27 years was essentially about outlasting the Mughals. 

Post Maratha attempts to revive Ganimi kaavaa.

After decline of Maratha empire in 1818, there were many instances where Ganimi Kava was used to varied degrees of success against the British. The famous Anglo-Indian war of 1857 was epitome of Ganimi Kaava waged by Pro-Independence forces. They were outmatched because they did not have answer to systematic cold-blooded violence unleashed by EIC on the country side which supplied to the logistical column of Indian forces. Other attempts like Sanyasi rebellion, war against British by Santhal tribe (Birsa Munda), Vasudev Phadke's Ramoshi rebellion of 1875-1882, all attempted to recreate Shivaji's model but against an enemy who was on much higher technological plain as compared to contemporary adversaries of Shivaji.

Naxalism and Maoism

As happened with factions of Vijaynagar kingdom which kept on fighting Deccan sultanates for long time, the folks and streams of resistance against the centralized Indian power based in Delhi (both before and after transfer of power in 1947) continued in various pockets of India. The infamous dacoits of Chambal valley and other regions are continued streams of earlier guerrilla resistance groups. As the uneven development began happening in India, people in certain remote pockets took up arms and started fighting against the Indian establishment. This marks the beginning of Naxalite movement in India. Where other Indic guerrilla movements against centralized and oppressive Indian power were not much successful in "lasting long enough", the Naxalite movement transformed slowly to a Marxist and then Maoist movement. This transformation was essentially a game changer. The example of Paritala Ravindra discussed on this blog earlier, also casts light on the changing scenario in India.

Marxism removed the "inhibitions" on Indic mind to be "more violent and unscrupulous" than the power ruling from Delhi (which they perceive as Asurik). Maoism refined these methods and further removed the inhibitions on Indian/Hindu mind and emerged as a "menace". Here Hindu mind refers to those Indians OR Hindus who choose to enter this Chakra-vyuha of Maoism to commit suicide against fellow Indians. This engineering of mind which Marxism and Maoism has done, has been a great evolutionary step in history of Guerrilla warfare in India since the days of Shahaji and Shivaji Maharaj. The irony of India is, while Guerrilla movements have become more unscrupulous and violent, central Indian government, after 1947's transfer of power to Indics, has become less aasurik and violent in comparison to their British predecessors. Given these scenarios, it is more than likely that Maoists just might "outlast" Government of India in her current form, especially in their stronghold pockets. Maoists may succeed in long run where naxalites like Paritala Ravindra failed.


Ganim-i-Qavvait is without any doubts an Asurik and Adharmik way of resisting. However when left with no chance, Indic mind took it up and institutionalized it. At times, it worked for benefit of India (Shivaji and Marathas, 1857, Sanyasi, Santhal, Phadke et al) whereas as after 1947's transfer of power, it has been working against republic of India's interests. The fault lies with Government of India machinery as well which has modeled itself along the lines of Mughal and British Predecessors forcing many groups to do what Shivaji did. Since Indic ideological pool could not provide any alternatives which could motivate and justify the Indic resistors to overcome the scruple-barrier required to outlast the British Empire, the resenting population sought elsewhere and found the answers in Marxism and Maoism. So far, it does not look like GOI has found an anti-dote to this "astra".

There are two ways ahead. Either one has to present an alternative to Maoism which is more effective. We have traditions and legends of "Parshurama" which can be the ideological source of the subsequent iteration of future Indian Guerrilla fighters from Indian narrative. 


GOI takes sincere measures and drastically reduces corruption and delegates more power to people, bringing in a genuine decentralized democracy in the country, taking it nearer to the golden times of Sri Raama and Vikramaditya.

In both cases, India will preserve her "Swa-tantra" (Self-system). Else, bondage under foreign system is assured.


Major.srikanth said...

As usual a superb piece, but would like to know more about guerrilla warfare of the ancients and Krishna also. And where do you carry out your research for these blog posts.

Watcher said...

Good article, but I would like to add that although the name and formal tactics of Guerilla Warfare may have come from Ambar, the style has been used since millenia by tribal fighters. The Shabara Sena of Kalinga was a formidable fighting force which rendered the jungles of Orissa impassable even for Ashok. There was a region called Aatvik inside occupied Kalinga which Ashok never conquered, that was the home of the Shabaras.