The description of Jhiram Valley and Darbha Ghati in Chhattisgarh — where 15 security personnel were killed on Tuesday and where state Congress leaders got butchered in May 2013 — as Ambush Point -- took me back to a journey I’d made last year to another part of the state. I’d hit ground zero in Bijapur, neighbouring Sukma — also part of Bastar -- and I was being driven by CRPF men along a slim metalled road. The 21 km stretch had only just been constructed under the supervision of gun-wielding security personnel and had its own milestones.
“This is what we call Ambush Point. This is where we lost seven men to a Maoist attack,” said a voice in the dark as we drove down the road where turning on headlights was equal to committing hara-kiri. A little further is where 12 men had been killed in an explosion.
Most security personnel don’t want to be part of the ‘war’ — the same war home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on Wednesday vowed to fight with renewed vigour. On a day’s trip to Chhattisgarh, Shinde said, “So many jawans have lost their lives in the attack. We will take revenge.”
What Shinde did not address are questions often asked by these jawans. “We don’t know who is a Maoist and who is an Adivasi,” said one. In the jungles of Bijapur and Sukma or even in the thick foliage of Saranda in neighbouring Jharkhand, the state is almost absent and the Centre has one response — pump in more troops. Already, there is a clamour for more troops.
But are more boots on the ground the answer? Will the additional troops be able to distinguish a Maoist from a tribal? Will it help them understand who the enemy is, who they need to train their guns at? A senior home ministry official conceded there was a divide on how to tackle what he called the Maoist menace. As he said, “The problem is that the hunters have become the hunted.”
Thirty-eight percent of the CRPF’s 2,862 companies of about 286,200 men are deployed in the Red corridor in nine states and reveals a senior officer, “the number of men seeking premature retirement is growing”.
As for the Adivasis, they have been deprived of their due – their minerals and land rights are being signed off in MOUs with mining companies. And the state has already made the costly mistake of dividing the tribals through vigilante groups such as the Salwa Judum.
Shinde has once again declared the government’s intention of taking the war right into the Maoist camp through enhanced, intelligence-led operations. His predecessors too had scripted the ‘enter, hold and develop’ policy but said the home ministry official, “We need to relook our approach and focus on ways to win the hearts and minds of the tribals.” Clearly, that’s the only starting point for the present and the future.