India’s biggest armed offensive against Naxalites got a push on Thursday. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cleared the home ministry-driven coordinated offensive against Maoists that will see deployment of nearly 75,000 central security personnel.
The personnel are being trained alongside the army to fight the naxals and regain control of the so-called liberated zones across the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Maharashtra.
Indian Air Force (IAF) choppers will assist in movement of forces — for operations or rescue and evacuation — and have Garud commandos onboard in case of a Naxalite attack.
“It is not that we will be undertaking free-for-all Rambo-like operations,” said Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, who had asked for the defence ministry’s permission to shoot down Naxalites in self-defence.
“We have received a proposal from the IAF. We are examining it,” Defence Minister AK Antony said.
The CCS, the top security panel chaired by the Prime Minister, however, is learnt to have given its in-principle nod to the home ministry strategy plan on Thursday evening, on a day Naxalites killed 17 policemen in Maharashtra’s Gadchirol district.
“The CCS discussed the Naxalite situation for two hours,” National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said after the meeting of the highest policy body — Antony and Home Minister P. Chidambaram are among the other members — for decisions related to national security.
The offensive, which will see the largest mobilisation ever of central forces outside the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir, is expected to gather momentum after the Maharashtra elections when the government moves the full complement of the available forces, nearly 40,000 personnel, into the states.
The central forces would focus on the heavily forested areas along inter-state borders of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.
Home Ministry officials, however, made it clear that only the first part of the offensive would be fought with guns. The next, was to deliver a big dose of development.