The government continues to repeat the same mistakes against the Maoists
The Maoists are on the rampage once again, hitting at will in places of their choosing. In a span of little over a week, they have hit twice in roughly the same area. While on May 17, they triggered a landmine blast killing seven CRPF men in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada region; on May 24, they ambushed a Chhattisgarh police party led by an ACP in the forest bordering Orissa, barely 150km away from the state capital Raipur. The ACP was leading a reconnaissance team of nine policemen in the forest bordering Chhattisgarh and Orissa following some leads on the Maoist movement in that area.
Their vehicle broke down forcing them to cross the state boundary into Orissa to borrow another vehicle. Somebody tattled about their movement inside Orissa to the Maoists and they were ambushed in superior numbers before they could return to Chhattisgarh. According to some reports, the Maoists numbered about 250.
Even if the policemen had the best of equipment (which they did not, even the vehicle was not serviced which is why it broke down during an operation), 10 of them barely had a chance against 250. Since the closest Orissa police location was 100km away, they could have hardly rendered any timely help, but if the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, is to be believed then the Orissa police did not even make an attempt to come to the rescue of their beleaguered compatriots. They apparently didn’t even come to pay homage to the fallen policemen when the Chhattisgarh police managed to retrieve the bodies from well inside the forest in Orissa, leading Raman Singh to say that not all states are serious about fighting the Naxal menace.
That not all states are serious about fighting the Naxal menace is not a state secret. Annual meetings of Naxal-affected states’ chief ministers with the Union home minister have repeatedly exposed this biggest chink in government’s counter-Maoist arsenal. Barring Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, no other state has seriously taken the war to the Maoists, with states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and indeed Orissa pussy-footing around the issue; endlessly debating the merits and demerits of ‘hard policing’ versus ‘hard economics’.
So non-seriousness of Orissa is not a revelation, but criminal apathy of Chhattisgarh is. Somebody in Chhattisgarh needs to answer some questions: Why was a party of 10 operating inside the forest travelling in one vehicle? Hasn’t consulting with retired military officers told them that in forests if you are travelling in vehicles it should be in a convoy of multiple vehicles moving at a distance from one another? And if it were a covert operation where they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves by moving in a convoy like fashion, why wasn’t the vehicle thoroughly checked before they left for the operation? How did it breakdown? The party was in the area following a tip-off about the Maoist movement. Why were they only 10 policemen when experience shows that Maoists always operate in big numbers? Most importantly, if they were operating close to the border of Orissa, had they informed their Oriyan counterparts about their movement or take them into confidence so that they covered one flank of the forest area from their side?
Chhattisgarh has borne the biggest brunt of Maoist violence. More lives have been lost in Chhattisgarh than any other state in India. And Chhattisgarh has taken maximum initiatives (not all sensible) to take on the Maoists, yet it ends up repeating the same mistakes, sometimes because of poor planning and sometimes because of over confidence. Still, the importance of Chhattisgarh in the war against Maoists cannot be overemphasised. It is, and will remain the frontline state if the government is at all serious about limiting the capacity of the Maoists to the extent that some developmental projects take off, for the simple reason that the forest region of Dandakaranya, Abujmarh, is the centre of Maoist territory. Abujmarh provides Maoists with not only a sanctuary but also sustenance. The forest produce helps them run their movement and the populace provides them with foot-soldiers.
This is the reason that both Chhattisgarh and the Union government must understand that this war cannot be fought by the state alone. The government can no longer treat Maoism as a state subject left to the discretion of different state governments. This is not to suggest that Centre should rough-shod the sensitivities of the states, but that it should force them to sit together, share intelligence and evolve common tactics and SOPs.
Moreover, since this war has to be fought both at the policing and psychological levels, the state needs to do better than distributing anti-Maoist pamphlets and haranguing civil rights activists for being Maoist sympathisers. It is a truism that police brutality has turned more people towards Maoists, than any good deeds done by the latter. For this reason, the government needs to co-opt the civil-rights activists to showcase it benevolent face to the people used to police actions. Death of each police or Paramilitary personnel means a loss of national asset. India certainly cannot win this war if it continues to lose its assets in vain.