In the last four days, Maoists have killed 16 security personnel in the Bastar region of BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh. On Monday, five Chhattisgarh Armed Forces personnel were killed in Dantewada, where the rebels blew up an anti-landmine vehicle with a powerful IED. The strike came close on the heels of an ambush in Sukma on Saturday that killed seven security personnel.
Surprise attacks have been the hallmark of Maoists. Yet what is surprising is that despite years of experience and training, the security forces more often than not find themselves on the losing side in these assaults.
A day after the Sukma ambush, a senior security official told a national daily that Chhattisgarh’s Special Task Force “misread the situation” and put only 49 of its men on the job to catch Hidma, one of the most wanted Maoist commanders, when it is known that he moves around with at least 100 armed cadres. Why did the force show such bravado? There are no clear answers yet.
Such is the grip of the Maoists in the southwest forests of Sukma that they did not permit 300 heavily armed CRPF and STF personnel to retrieve the bodies of their seven colleagues from the forest. Finally, local journalists were asked to help the forces retrieve the bodies.
What’s interesting is that the Maoists were not even at the site of the attack when they were negotiating with the security forces over the bodies. Yet they managed to keep an eye on the scene thanks to villagers.
This is the kind of support that Maoists have and rely on for successfully conducting operations. They depend on tribal communities not only for food and shelter but inputs on the movement of forces.
According to the home ministry’s figures, there were 2,258 violent incidents in Maoist-affected states in 2009. There were 2,213 incidents in 2010, 1,759 incidents in 2011, 1,415 incidents in 2012 and 1,129 incidents in 2013.
Even though the State would make us believe that it is managing to wean tribal communities from the Maoists with its policies, the truth is that the tribes people are still strongly behind the Maoists and continue to help them in every possible way and they continue to see the Indian State as an enemy.
That the State is short of ideas when it comes to getting the tribes people on its side will be clear if you read the ruling NDA’s draft national policy and action plan to effectively combat Left-wing extremism. In the section on “Perception management-related measures”, the government plans to bring the tribes people to its side by “giving due recognition to Adivasi icons, production of short films, organising excursions of tribal children, seminar and conferences”.
I have travelled extensively in Chhattisgarh and I can assure you none of these will win the perception battle in the minds of the tribes people, who are the key to winning the war against the Maoists.
Only two things would do that for the government: Proper implementation of rights-based laws that will help tribal communities to better their lives and the assurance that they will get a fair hearing at the hands of the police and courts.
There are several other problems in the draft policy: In an article on the website of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, security analyst Bibhu Prasad Routray writes that the new 29-point action plan evolved by the home ministry for addressing Left-wing extremism point towards the “continuation of the past policies and does not indicate a radical departure from the approach pursued by the previous government”.
Three principal assumptions mark the new policy to counter Left-wing extremism: Security force operations must precede developmental initiatives; the Communist Party of India-Maoist’s military capacities can be crippled by targeting its top leadership, and security force operations, with modest gains so far, can be made effective by deploying additional forces and augmenting intelligence collection.
“While each of these assumptions is relevant, whether such measures can be implemented without broad-based security and governance sector reforms, remains a matter of debate,” added Routray.
The new action plan also directs the Intelligence Bureau to “infiltrate into Maoist ranks” and speaks of creating a series of incentives for “good officers” to serve in Maoist-affected areas by offering them monetary incentives and career benefits.
These are not new measures but “none achieved much success” due to several factors, and technical and human intelligence gathering mechanisms continue to suffer from serious shortcomings.
That shortcoming of human intelligence was again evident in both the Sukma and Dantewada attacks. In the first case, the security forces were lured into the forests by villagers and when they decided to rest on a hillock, the Maoists began firing from all sides. In Dantewada, an IED was placed strategically and the security forces had no tip-off whatsoever.
What is unfortunate in the Sukma incident is that it has happened in the same place (Dornapal-Chintagufa area) where 76 personnel were killed in 2010.
In fact, analysts say major attacks in Chhattisgarh take place in summer because the oppressively hot weather dries up the thick foliage of jungles and gives the Maoists a clearer view of troops.
The attacks should have been expected considering that the government was about to launch a month-long programme of Lok Suraaj Abhiyan from April 14 in Bastar, and the Maoists are always keen to disrupt such efforts by the government.
India’s foot soldiers will continue to be cannon fodder in this war and no amount of “top-level” coordination will be effective as long as the State doesn’t get its basics right in these areas.
More importantly, does anyone really want to end a money-spinner of an insurgency? You may call me a pessimist but I am not putting my money on it.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal. She tweets at @kumkumdasgupta)