More than a decade after former PM Manmohan Singh described left-wing extremism as the biggest internal security challenge, the governments both at the Centre and in the state seem to have been found wanting once again, resulting in the death of more than 20 security personnel in an ambush by Maoists in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh. Administratively, the government seems to have done little to improve things on the ground through development and providing basic amenities. These provide fertile ground for insurgents to hold sway among the common people. Even officials in the government and the security forces acknowledge that it is the writ of the rebels, not of the state, that runs in parts of Chhattisgarh.
Besides a failure at the government level, tactically too, the Maoists seem to have outsmarted the forces again. While a detailed inquiry will throw light on what led to the heavy casualties, initial reports point to another failure to learn from past experiences and not adhering to standard operating procedures. While returning from the operation, the security personnel, instead of taking the ridge and occupying the high ground, seem to have walked down below, making them sitting ducks for the Maoists who were lying in wait. Such errors underline the poor quality of leadership at the ground level.
The Bijapur encounter has brought into focus the debate over the suitability of central armed police forces in fighting the Maoists. Most states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha, where also left extremism was a scourge until recently, have managed to curtail the Maoist menace by strengthening their own police force and intelligence apparatus. While policy planners and the security establishment must be aware of the advantages and limitations of an outside force vis-a-vis the local police, for some reason it is only Chhattisgarh that is so dependent on the Central Reserve Police Force and its elite guerilla warfare wing, the CoBRAs, for anti-Maoist operations. Most security czars are now convinced that the state police is best suited to tackle the insurgents because of their familiarity of the area, terrain and language. It is time to take a relook at all the current strategies so that more blood of our security forces is not shed.