The ongoing war between the State and the Maoists in Chhattisgarh is set to take a new turn. Last week, the Union home ministry green-signalled the formation of a battalion in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Bastariya Battalion (BB), to tackle the Red Army better. The BB will comprise solely local men from the scheduled tribes (ST) and a special drive will be started in Sukma, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Bijapur (all three Maoist-hit areas) soon to find new recruits. The official reason for raising the BB, which is somewhat similar to the India Reserve Battalion (IRB), is to provide employment to local youth. The unofficial reason is not too difficult to guess: Local youths with their knowledge of terrain and language can be an asset in this fight against the Maoists.
This decision comes on the heels of a Cabinet decision in January to raise 17 new IRBs for Jammu and Kashmir and Left-Wing Extremism-affected states. In the BB, the government has decided to relax the norms for physical standards for induction since the locals are shorter. Age and educational criteria could be relaxed by the states, if required, for new IRB recruits. However, the Centre’s decision to use tribals to target tribals, the foot soldiers of the Maoist movement, is raising eyebrows, and for good reasons: The Chhattisgarh government, which must have had some hand in this decision to augment the CRPF, has a long history of trying half-baked anti-Maoist security schemes.
A few years ago the state backed the Salwa Judum (SJ) campaign, which pitted one tribal against the other and led to disastrous consequences, and finally the Supreme Court had to stop it, calling it “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. The Judum was followed in 2009 by Operation Green Hunt, which, according to academic and author Nandini Sundar, was a more organised version of the Judum.
While the Centre has all the right to augment its forces in this fight, it must ensure that the BB does not go the SJ way and realise that there is no substitute for development.