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Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, May 26, 2013
The mafia-style elimination of the entire state Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh in one clever sweep may have surprised many, but not the powers that be in Delhi -- despite the government celebrating a sharp decline in Maoist violence.

Home secretary RK Singh minced no words when he told state police chiefs leading anti-Maoist operations about eight weeks ago that although the forces appeared to have contained the Maoists, the police ended up with a higher body count in almost every shootout.

He cautioned that the security forces hadn't been able to really curb the guerrillas' capacity to strike back. And the Maoists proved him right by coming back with a bang at a time and place of their choice - at Dabhra in south Chhattisgarh's Jadgalpur district.

There are more than 1.2 lakh central and state policemen deployed to fight 10,000 guerrillas for nearly three years across the Red corridor. But an official associated with the anti-Maoist offensive said, "Maoists are avoiding a face-off unless they are confident of winning... They are engaging the forces on their terms, and turf."

Last evening, a landmine first brought the convoy of the state Congress leadership to a halt on the unsecured national highway, setting the stage for a typical -- but unexpected every time -- Maoist ambush, which left 24 dead and more than 30 injured.

Like always, as there was arguably no specific intelligence about the ambush, the security establishment didn't even bother to stick to the standard precautions taken when political leaders venture out in the Red territory. And Dabhra is right in the middle of Chhattisgarh's red country.

It is not clear whether the security establishment believed in the official line about its own success against the Maoists, or they were just far too optimistic. For, 2012 did witness the lowest Maoist violence in the past decade.

In Chhattisgarh too, 63 civilians were killed in 2012 against 124 the previous year.

This time, the rebels chose their target carefully. Politicians are soft targets and get them disproportionate publicity and helps strike the fear of god in lower-level political functionaries.

The Maoists, after all, had been itching to get back at the state ever since thousands of central and state security forces made forays into the Abujmaad jungles in Chhattisgarh.

Abujmaad and the Saranda forests and Koel-Sankh in Jharkhand had practically been off-limits for the state for decades.

The only result that could now be of help is the attack could bring the centrally-coordinated anti-Maoist operations back into political discourse.