The killing of 15 Central and State police officers in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday is just the latest in the string of hideous losses India’s anti-Maoist counter-insurgency has suffered at regular intervals. India has, for the most part, accepted these as the inevitable costs of a war inflicted by insurgents whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described as the most serious threat to the country’s internal security. The sacrifice, if that is what it is, appears to be paying off. The Maoist insurgency has been in steady decline since 2010. From a peak of 1,180 lives lost that year, the authoritative South Asia Terrorism Portal database records, fatalities fell to 421 in 2013. The slow choking of the Maoists is evident. Key leaders from Chhattisgarh and Odisha have left the party, and its efforts did nothing to stop a large turnout in the Assembly elections held in Chhattisgarh last year. The Maoists’ efforts to expand into small towns and cities has yielded little success. The fourth central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) issued a resolution admitting to the stark fact of declining public support, even in the party’s heartland regions.
Yet, the truth is that much of the loss of life the Indian forces have sustained in their war against Maoist insurgents were avoidable — even inexcusable. The succession of tactical errors which enabled Tuesday’s ambush is depressingly familiar: near-identical mistakes were made in disaster after disaster, from the annihilation of an entire Central Reserve Police Force company in Chintalnar, to last year’s slaughter of Congress leaders. The ill-fated patrol, as The Hindu has revealed, headed blithely into an area where State and Central intelligence services had warned Maoists were preparing an ambush. It used vehicular transport, and traversed a fixed route repeatedly, both lethal mistakes in areas where ambushes using improvised explosive devices are common. Little effort seems to have been made to initiate regular offensive patrols along the routes being used by the CRPF and the police, a standard means of making ambushes more difficult. Just as worrying, India’s multi-million dollar fleet of surveillance drones, not for the first time, failed to pick up any signs of an attack that involved over 200 insurgents. These errors all point to the fact that, many years into a counter-insurgency campaign that has been billed as the country’s most important, deficits of training, technology and leadership remain endemic. As in the case of past attacks, New Delhi and Raipur have busied themselves criticising each other for the loss of lives. It is time for both to step forward and admit that they are accountable for mistakes made, and lay out a blueprint to make amends.