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Eyeing bigger targets

The killing of 76 CRPF men by Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district on Tuesday has raised two serious questions: Are the Maoists changing tactics? Have they switched to big ambushes instead of smaller offensives?

kolkata Updated: Apr 07, 2010 00:17 IST

The killing of 76 CRPF men by Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district on Tuesday has raised two serious questions: Are the Maoists changing tactics? Have they switched to big ambushes instead of smaller offensives?

If in Lalgarh the Maoists worked towards organising a mass movement while raising a people’s militia, in Chhattisgarh and other places, they were targeting larger groups of security personnel and important government installations.

Maoist sympathiser and Telugu poet Varavara Rao felt that the ultras have changed their strategy. “The CPI(Maoist) has been calling upon its cadres for some time to transform the guerrilla army into a mobile army.

Tuesday’s ambush is the outcome of their success in this transformation,” he said. In Chhattisgarh, the Maoists are no longer a guerrilla force.

They have formed a ‘mobile army’ by bringing together units from different areas.

Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, CPI(Maoist) Politburo and Central Military Commission member, had earlier told HT, “Our People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army now has battalions and we’re ready to launch big offensives. A

company, including 70 to 100 guerrillas is our general formation in Chhattisgarh.”

Home Ministry reports say the Chhattisgarh Maoists have two battalion formations, each consisting of 700 to 1,000 guerrillas. P.V. Ramanna of the Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses (IDSA), however, was unaware of any changes in Maoist strategy.

He said the rebels follow three strategies — mobile war, positional war and liberated zone — with the first being used in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday.

“In mobile war, they behave like the typical guerrilla army, attacking government forces. Unlike in positional warfare, they don’t hold on to the territory. At present, Bastar is the only liberated base area,” he said.

Explaining the modus operandi of the Maoist ‘mobile army’, a West Bengal police officer said that during the February 2008 armoury raid in Orissa’s Nayagarh town, guerrillas from various parts, including Bastar in Chhattisgarh, conducted a joint operation.

“The guerrillas walked through the jungle for over three months to reach the spot and camped. After the operation they disbanded and returned to their original posts,” said the official.

Even during the attack on West Midnapore’s Silda paramilitary camp in February, which left 24 Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel dead, around 100 rebels had struck. “They gathered from different parts of the district, including Lalgarh and neighbouring Jharkhand. Police learnt that the ambush was planned at least three months in advance,” the official said.

Is the state losing the war against Maoists? While Chidambaram steadfastly refuted this, former bureaucrat and expert on Maoists D. Bandopadhyay believes that the state’s armed offensive is backfiring.

“Apart from a few theoreticians, guerrillas include rural masses who have been oppressed for years. They are angry as they have been denied justice. More than 1.5 crore tribals were evicted from Dantewada and Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh,” he said.

IDSA research fellow Ramanna, however, felt Tuesday’s attack was a temporary setback for the state forces.

“Such setbacks happen in any war. Both the state and the rebels know that it’s a matter of one step forward and four steps backward,” he said.