Mao Zedong's famous aphorism on guerrilla war is taught at counter-insurgency courses across the world: “the enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” It is unlikely the 24 police officers slaughtered by Maoist insurgents in West Bengal's Silda area earlier this week, or the forces who failed to respond to the massacre of villagers in the Bihar village of Kasari, had ever heard of the dictum – or had the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to fight the war they had been thrust into. Like police officers across the country, the forces who failed to defend innocent lives in Bihar, and to protect their own in West Bengal, had received only rudimentary training. Neither State has the facilities to impart anything other than routine parade-ground drills and outdated firing-range training to their armed forces. India's Maoist insurgents are not the fearsome adversaries the media sometimes make them out to be. Like the police, they are badly trained and equipped. However, the insurgents have the advantage of knowledge of the terrain and the ability to melt into the population. In Andhra Pradesh, the crack Greyhounds counter-insurgency force has demonstrated that Maoist units crumble when confronted by skilled adversaries. The tragedies at Silda and Kasari have made it clear that simply pumping ill-trained police into the countryside will do nothing to win the insurgency.

If the battle against the Maoists is to be won, States will have to show the vision and resolve to create infrastructure of the kind Andhra Pradesh has built. The task, sadly, will need years of work. As this newspaper has pointed out on several occasions, India just does not have the numbers of police personnel needed to ensure law and order in normal circumstances, let alone protracted insurgencies. The United Nations recommend that 222 police officers be available for every 100,000 population; India has an average of just 125. In Bihar, the ratio is as low as 60 for every 100,000. Some of the States worst affected by Maoist violence also have an extremely poor presence of police, given their geographical area. Where New Delhi has 3,953 police officers in every 100 square km of its territory, Chhattisgarh has 22, Jharkhand 50, and Bihar 59. Police stations — the basic unit on which any security response depends — are decrepit, and often lack modern communication systems. In addition, the forces available have almost no meaningful training in counter-insurgency tactics. The Union government has sought to fill the void by pumping in Central Reserve Police Force units. While central forces have succeeded in restoring a semblance of order in some areas, their record of successful counter-Maoist operations has been poor. The central and State governments need to work together to draw up a map for building modern police infrastructure — or India's citizens will continue to pay a horrible price.

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