India’s surge against the Maoist insurgency in the so-called liberated zone of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh grew stronger with the deployment of four battalions (4,000 soldiers) of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), normally used only along the border with China.
As that happened, Maoists on Saturday blew up a rail track in West Bengal and called a 24-hour shutdown to protest the arrest of tribal ideologue Chhatradhar Mahato, who police said was linked with professors and students at the state’s Jadavpur university.
The surge will peak after the Maharashtra polls with at least 75,000 paramilitary and other state forces becoming part of the first coordinated, nationwide offensive against the 40-year-old Maoist insurgency. In comparison, western forces fighting to stabilise Afghanistan do not exceed 100,000.
The ITBP has joined the offensive against the Naxals, as the Maoist rebels are called, for the first time.
It will assist the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the forests of Dantewada, where a Maoist administration has pushed out the Indian state.
For more than 10 years, Dantewada has been a battleground with security forces and a government-sponsored armed village militia (Salwa Judum or Peace March) ranged against the Maoists.
“The Home Ministry had asked us to deploy four battalions in Chhattisgarh as of now. But as the offensive intensifies,” said an ITBP officer who did not want to be identified, “we may send more forces.”
Of the 455 people killed in Naxal violence in the first six months of 2009, 285 died in Chhattisgargh, the ministry said.
“The Centre is preparing for a decisive battle to systematically flush Naxals out of their strongholds,” the official said.
While seven states — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bengal, Andhra, Jharkhand, Maharashtra — are Naxal hit, a ministry estimate suggests the extremists have pockets of influence in nearly 20 states, affecting 223 of India’s 625 districts.