The home ministry wanted to deploy helicopter gunships to carry out surgical air strikes at Maoist camps in the hard-to-reach jungles of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand but has been told to shove the controversial plan back into the deep freezer.
The home ministry plan was part of the ambitious proposal for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to deploy all available resources of the central government to scale up the battle against Maoists in their core areas.
The note – which also proposed deployment of 30,000 personnel of the army’s anti-insurgency force, Rashtriya Rifles – was sent to the CCS in early August last year.
As reported by HT in January, the home ministry couldn’t muster support for induction of Rashtriya Rifles at the meeting of the committee of secretaries that scrutinised the proposals for the CCS. The panel of secretaries, however, cleared other non-controversial aspects of the home ministry plan.
At these meetings, Army chief General Bikram Singh strongly advised against “quick fix solutions” to the battles that would need to be fought in the heart of India for many years.
Defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma pointed to a host of negative implications of air strikes including “considerable collateral damage”.
Former home minister, P Chidambaram was the first to go public with the demand for aerial attacks after Maoists massacred 76 security personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district in April 2010.
But he backed out after strident opposition to the plan, settling for choppers to provide logistics support and carry out rescue missions.
Behind the scenes, the home ministry not only worked to pump in funds for development in the Maoist heartland but also to raise the level of manpower, weaponry and logistics support to reclaim the over 70,000 sq km of territory where Maoists often have the last word.
The deployment of RR battalions and attack helicopters – the latter were extensively used by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the late eighties – quietly resurfaced in the home ministry’s wish-list drawn last year.
At the heart of this plan was the argument that the government stop dealing with Maoists with kid gloves. Home secretary RK Singh was clear that the Centre should deploy its full might and commit every available resource to the anti-Maoist theatre.
The view gained strength after Maoists shot an Indian Air Force chopper on a rescue mission this January in Sukma district close to the spot where 76 personnel were ambushed two years earlier.
The Maoists had already shown their brutal face a week earlier when they placed a 1.5 kg explosive inside a CRPF jawan killed in an ambush in Jharkhand's Latehar district.
Government sources said the home ministry had agreed to withdraw the twin proposal from the CCS note “at this stage” in view of the reservations.
But there is a strong view at the home ministry – articulated by home secretary Singh last year – that the State needs to use its “coercive power” as and when required and deployments should not only cater to the present situation but also futuristic situations”.