The recent spurt in violence in Chhattisgarh has again brought into focus the gravity of the Maoist insurgency in the country. The government has unfortunately not paid adequate attention to internal security, which continues to be as fragile as it was during the UPA regime. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Maoists, after a period of respite and regrouping, struck in a big way.
There were a series of four incidents in quick succession. On April 11, Maoists ambushed a Chhattisgarh STF party in Sukma, killing seven and injuring 11. The next day, they set ablaze 18 heavy-duty vehicles in Kanker. A BSF jawan was also killed near Bande, Kanker. On April 13, Maoists blew up an anti-landmine vehicle, killing five Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) personnel and injuring seven others in Dantewada district. Thus, a total of 13 security forces personnel lost their lives within a space of three days.
What provoked this rash of violence? A number of explanations have been given. It is said that the Maoists undertake tactical counter-offensive before the onset of the monsoon. It is also possible that they were desperate to demonstrate their potential. Their leader, Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi, in a recent interview, admitted that the party had weakened in the areas it existed, and that there was need to “intensify” the movement.
Whatever may have been the reason, the fact remains that much remains to be done from the government side. The Central and state governments are both to blame for the weakness of the counter-insurgency grid. The Centre, on its part, should have by now formulated its strategy to deal with the Maoist problem. We are told that the Ministry of Home Affairs is working on it. It is high time that the strategy was finalised. The UPA government had a simplistic and yet reasonably effective strategy of “clear, hold and develop”.
The state government is to be faulted for not having built the capability of the state police to take the Maoists head on. There is a feeling, even if it is not expressed, that it is a national problem and, therefore, the onus lies on the Central Armed Police Forces. There is too much leaning on the shoulders of the Union Government.
There are three other areas where the state government will have to pay special attention. The head of the police force must be an officer who has the capacity to plan, strategise, lead from the front, inspire and motivate the men, and establish good synergy with the Central forces. There is no dearth of talent in the country. The state should, if necessary, get the services of such an officer from another state. This was done in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. Secondly, the state government should ensure full involvement and contribution of all the departments to minimise the hold of Maoists in the interior areas. This is not happening. The police have to fight the battle on their own with very little support from the other wings of administration. Thirdly, the intelligence network is pathetic. There can be no other explanation for the security forces being surprised every now and then.
The chief minister will also have to wield the whip to get results from the field. Raman Singh is too much of a gentleman and the officers take advantage of that. Mamata Banerjee, with all her eccentricities, was ruthless in erasing Maoist influence from the Jangalmahal area.
The aforesaid incidents had a silver lining which also needs to be recognised. The Sukma ambush and the Dantewada incident, both show that the state police is coming out of its shell and trying to engage the Maoists. Besides, R K Vij, the Additional DG (Naxal Operations) emphatically claims that they killed at least 20 Maoists in the Sukma encounter, where the STF team (50) was heavily outnumbered by the Maoists (250).
The battle being fought in Chhattisgarh will decide the fate of the Maoist movement in India. Maoists would like Chhattisgarh to be the Yan’an of India. Government will have to ensure that the Maoists are comprehensively defeated—and that is possible with good strategic planning and better tactical coordination.
Singh is a former DGP of Assam and an expert on Naxal affairs