First Person | More Deaths in the Jungle

Without an effective policy, the war against the Maoists cannot be won

Ghazala Wahab

Following the killing of 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on April 24, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told the media that government will ‘review’ and if needed ‘revise’ its counter-Maoist strategy.

Once again he qualified the attack as ‘an act of desperation’ and added for good measure that, “We have accepted it as a challenge.” Accepting a challenge on the bodies of 25 soldiers, to my mind, is a bit insensitive, especially when 12 soldiers were killed just about a month prior to this attack in roughly the same area.

But first, the government’s counter-Maoist strategy. What is it and will its success or failure be determined only by the number of hapless soldiers we carry on our shoulders, if not on our conscience? Since January 2017, 38 soldiers have been killed by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh alone. According to media reports, all of them have been from the CRPF. Not one from the state police, or any other force.

Former director general, CRPF, and now a senior security advisor to the ministry of home affairs, K. Vijay Kumar explained the high rate of CRPF casualties by saying that, “CRPF is bound to be the major target because, willy-nilly, 90 per cent of the force that acts against the Naxals in the Naxal-affected area is the CRPF.”

In October 2014, the government had declared that the strategy employed by the earlier government was vague and long-term, while the problem needed short-term, targeted measures. Hence, a new anti-Naxal policy was devised with immediate objectives, meant to clear targeted areas of the Maoists’ presence. According to this new approach, it was essential that the government had access and control to the remotest parts of the forest into which the security forces had not entered so far.

This was to be done in two ways: build and strengthen infrastructure, especially roads, so that the troops could move easily; and two, seek greater involvement of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for troops movement, supplies, rescue, relief and in some cases to assist ground operations from the air. The home ministry also said that the ground operations would be led by the state police forces, with the CRPF providing support.

However, given that even today ‘90 per cent’ of anti-Maoist operations are being carried out by the CRPF, it is safe to say that the so-called new strategy remained largely on paper. On the ground, life carried on as usual. Just as it will even after the present attack. As in the past, driven by revenge, the security forces, CRPF/ police, would try their best to hunt down the Maoists involved in the latest attack, and most likely will eliminate them sooner than later. And once again, senior government officials will claim that Maoists are on the back-foot, as they have been nearly for a decade now.

As an aside, I am tempted to quote a couplet by Kaifi Azmi here:

Ab garibi jaane hi wali hai mulk se/ Yeh sunte umr ke sattar baras gaye (Poverty is about to go from the country/ Hearing this, 70 years of my life are gone). Come to think of it, if indeed poverty goes, a lot of our problems will go too.

The truth is that the government’s counter-Maoist strategy begins and ends with three words: Kill the Maoists. This is the sum total of its thinking, approach and instructions to the security forces. Hence, operations are carried out on a day to day basis. Some days are good, some days are bad. In that sense, 2017 has started badly for the CRPF, which unfortunately has to bear the brunt of government’s absence of ideas, and perhaps, inclination. Just as long as we keep honouring the dead with epithets like martyrs, out-shout anyone who questions government’s lack of policies and denounce as anti-national anyone who raises the issue of human rights, we are doing a fine job.

Dying soldiers are acceptable to us as a nation (even in peacetime) as long as appropriate comments about the bravery of the dead are made. Some celebrities also pitch in with offers of financial support to the families of the dead. Please do that by all means, but also question why did they have to die? What is the government doing to ensure that more of our soldiers do not die defending themselves against enemies they understand little about?

Why is it that after each such attack, learned analysts lament about troops not following SOPs, about poor leadership and training? Why haven’t these issues been resolved after all these years? Why do these soldiers forget to follow the SOPs? Why their leadership continues to be poor? Why is their training ad-hoc? And most importantly, why are these poorly-trained, poorly-led young men sent in such a theatre? Are they mere cannon-fodder?

Of course, the 25 who died in Sukma were brave, just as those who died before them were; but more than that they were poor, desperate people who joined the forces to be able to provide two-square meals to their families. If they had a choice would they be marching 15km in 40 degrees carrying roughly 10kg on their backs in a terrain where every tree, every rock is an enemy. Aren’t their human rights being violated by an indifferent and insensitive government?

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