If any proof was required that India’s anti-Maoist strategy is floundering, it came on Monday when a civilian bus was blown up killing at least 40 people. The audacity of the attack is all the more stark coming as it does a little over a month after the horrific massacre in the same place, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh on April 6 when the Red Army killed 76 CRPF personnel. The first outrage led to a great deal of soul-searching: a committee was set up to inquire into it and there was talk of finessing the existing anti-Maoist strategy. But all this lay in tatters on Monday when civilians and security personnel perished in the daring attack. Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said that the government would talk to the Naxals if they gave up violence for 72 hours. But this seems unlikely at the moment. It is clear that no lessons were learnt from the first attack. The security personnel, in both incidents, didn’t follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). By taking civilian transport, which is against the SOP, the special police officers not only endangered their own lives but also that of many innocent civilians.
Instead of working out a rigorous security drill and addressing the problems that security personnel face in this hostile terrain, the debate today seems more focused on secondary issues. The Union government accuses civil rights activists of providing oxygen to the Maoist movement, the activists counter that an armed approach will only lead to more bloodshed. There is also a difference of opinion between the states and the Centre on the challenge. Then there’s the debate over whether development should precede any armed intervention. Such arguments and counter-arguments will always be there, especially when the issue itself is so contentious. But blaming the activists for questioning collateral damage will only take away the focus from the primary goal of the government: to tackle the Maoists issue holistically, which includes providing basic necessities to the tribals.
The State also seems to lack human intelligence on the ground. The Maoists, on the other hand, have over the years developed a solid network. In addition they have the advantages of knowing the terrain well. But these issues are neglected because so much time is frittered away in passing the buck. There are bound to be various positions on how to tackle the problem. The government, however, needs to follow a unified policy, even if there are setbacks in the short run. At present, the State seems to be firing in different directions and missing the target each time.