April issue 2010
The Bad War
In the wake of what is believed to be the deadliest attack by Maoists on government troops since the leftists launched their revolt more than 40 years ago, Newsline looks at the questions that remain unanswered and the strategies going forward for the government of India and the Naxalites. Besides the political fallout and human loss, the booming Indian economy is a potential victim too.
It is a war emanating from within. It is a war that engulfs about a third of the landmass. It is a war that makes the marginalized tribal groups squeal. It is a war that perturbs the mind of the ordinary citizenry in the sprawling conurbations. It is a war with divided opinions. It is a war by virtue of which the country’s home minister proposed to put down his papers. And it is a war where even the armed forces are not overtly willing to take part.
Nonetheless, it is a war. And it is being fought in the ‘fat strip’ of land hanging from the Indo-Nepal border down to Nizam’s Hyderabad. The capital of the insurgency is concentrated in the dense forests of Dandakaranya in the Central Indian province of Chhattisgarh.
The latest blow inflicted on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the wee hours of Tuesday April 6 has surely given the biggest ever conceivable jolt to the authorities since 1967, when the ‘revolution’ actually started off. Security analysts and former army personnel have left no stone unturned in chastising the lack of preparedness of the CRPF jawans, in criticizing their top brass for improper assessment of the ground situation and in clobbering the infrastructural architecture of the region: for instance, a CRPF jawan has to tread an arduous three kilometres to access water.
A few pertinent questions still need to be answered.
First, what was or is the role of the state police in combating the terror unleashed by the leftist ultras. Since law and order is a state subject as per the Constitution, the affected states have to take up the cudgels and not ‘pass the buck to the Union government.’ Amusingly, on the day of carnage, which left around 75 CRPF personnel in the graveyard, there was hardly a sizeable contingent of state police along with them. As a matter of fact, only one state police officer was butchered. Does this indicate that the state police are not efficient enough to be included in such ‘combined’ operations or is the CRPF taking up too much responsibility?
Furthermore, the CRPF came back along the same route that evidently made them fall into the trap set by the Maoists, who are extremely adept in that forested topography. The ambush was carried out with the finest precision. The CRPF jawans were so terrorized that their first estimate of the numerical strength of the ultras was close to 1,000.
This is something that warrants surprise and rightly so. The basic tenets of guerrilla warfare do not recommend so many troops when they are fighting in favourable terrain. The forests and hills are their domains and moreover, the village of Chintalnar-Tarmetia, where the paramilitary was actually ambushed at around 7 am in the morning, is part of the core area of the Maoists. In fact, later reports indicated that about 200 to 300 guerrillas had surrounded the security forces. Also, the reinforcements to the paramilitary arrived quite late. By then the ultras had clinically finished their key job and even completed their ancillary work of looting the ammunition of the opponents.
How will the government react now? If spontaneity had prevailed, then the authorities would have stepped up the combing operations, brought in more troops into the region and even used the aid of the armed forces for logistical purposes. But these actions did not happen due to multifarious reasons. Firstly, the morale of the security forces has been severely dented, and if we go by recent media reports then one is led to believe that the CRPF is not really enthusiastic in carrying forward with the present operations against the ultras. Secondly, the option of using the armed forces received a jolt when India’s army general uttered caustic rhetoric regarding deploying them ‘against their own people.’ And thirdly, though the ‘wise heads’ of New Delhi have tripped on many occasions in dealing with internal insurgency, by no stretch of imagination are they fools. Presently, they are playing a ‘wait and watch’ game and most probably will strike back when the militants are off guard.
In this scenario, how shall the militants respond?
The militants have made their stand pretty clear. They have vowed that if the government does not release their top leaders and halt the ongoing operations, they would continue to harass the security forces. If it is Chattisgarh now, it can be West Bengal (eastern province of India) or even Maharashtra (western province) later. It is no clandestine affair that guerrilla tactics thrive on ‘unpredictability,’ and the Indian Maoists would tend to hold that line in the near future.
Undoubtedly, the decline in the security situation does not augur well for the development of tourism as well as foreign and domestic investment. As sources of foreign exchange and rejuvenating factors of the economy, these need to be bolstered. Thus the containment of this lethal insurrection is a sine qua non for the maintenance of Indian economy. Interestingly, even indigenous corporate houses have come up with solutions to tackle this imbroglio. For instance, Tata Steel has called for social infrastructure development in the Maoist areas.
But first, there are a few actions the government needs to take soon to change the course of events.
Kindly bring the ultras to the negotiating table. Yes, that portends the danger of letting them regroup and invigorate. Officials experienced with dealing the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh would bludgeon this argument. Nevertheless, talking seems to be a fair option. At the same time, it won’t be unwise to talk to the ultras from a ‘position of strength.’ Maybe a major counter-offensive by the police and paramilitary in some other Maoist stronghold would confer that ‘position’ on the authorities. Then again, the cycle of revenge may go on in an unending fashion.
Talking to the leftists shall grant “time” to the government too; something that is necessary so as to devise a coherent policy framework.
The “Andhra Model” of tackling the Maoists by unleashing “terror versus terror” may be kept in the reserve, lest the talks fail. But the ‘den’ of the ultras should not be attacked. Rather, the peripheral outgrowths in other provinces should be pruned first.
The human intelligence network of the police has to be improved. To achieve that, paying off the local population may be needed to alienate them from the ‘core elements’ and this should not be ruled out entirely. But a grisly methodology such as the ‘Salwa Judum’ (using tribals against the Maoists by supplying arms to them) has to be desisted.
Now for all these to fructify, the training procedure of the security forces has to be revamped, the political will has to be discovered and unity of command needs to be coordinated. A mammoth job indeed.