There will be no respite from Maoist attacks such as the one in Chhattisgarh as the government has lost many opportunities to strike at the heart of the insurgency

In 1973, the social activist Baba Amte set up a small facility in Hemalkasa village of Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. The area was mainly inhabited by people of the Maria Gond tribe, who led a severely impoverished life. Often businessmen and traders from the nearby towns came to them, collecting dry fruits and other non-timber forest produce in exchange for a pittance. They were also exploited by forest guards and other government functionaries.

Diseases were rampant, and in the absence of roads or healthcare facilities, the poor tribals would die of malaria, tuberculosis, bear attacks, or snake bites.

Seven years later, in June 1980, a group of Maoists entered this area from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. They swung into action, interacting with the people and gradually making them aware of how they were being exploited. In a matter of few years, many from this area joined the Maoists.

More than three decades later, Hemalkasa and other villages around it are Maoist strongholds. Gadchiroli is a part of the Maoists’ main guerrilla zone, Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee. Baba Amte’s small facility is a big hospital now, run by his son Prakash Amte and his family. But even in these 34 years, not much has changed for the people there, beyond Baba Amte’s hospital. To this date, people come to his hospital from as far as about 200 kilometres, many of them even brought on string cots by their family members. In the rains, the area can get cut off for days from Gadchiroli town.

Hemalkasa is the heart of the state run in absentia by New Delhi.

The ongoing war between the Maoists and the Indian security forces has only complicated the lives of millions of people living across the red corridor in villages like Hemalkasa.

In the last two years, the Union Home Ministry has concentrated on eliminating the top leadership of the CPI (Maoist). The strategists at the North Block think the Maoists will just disappear once they are left bereft of their leadership. But the March 11 ambush in Chhattisgarh, that left 15 CRPF personnel dead, is a stark reminder that something is wrong with this assumption. Currently, a majority of the top Maoist leaders are either in jail or have been killed in police action. A number of senior leaders have deserted the party, citing serious differences with the leadership.

There is no doubt that sustained security operations across their areas of influence have forced the Maoists to retreat. In the last two years, their grip over certain guerrilla zones has loosened. The Maoists are surely down. But as the recent ambush reaffirms, they are not out at all; they are still able to launch lethal attacks on the state and inflict severe damage.

The immediate cause of casualties from the security personnel side is, of course, that in battle zones, they sometimes fail to follow the standard operating procedure. The other deficit is the coordination between the police and other security agencies, and sometimes, even between different units of the same force.

But the main reason why the fight against the Maoists cannot go beyond a certain level is that New Delhi has failed to address issues that lie at the heart of this conflict.

Change in ideology

The Maoists started on a different note, promising to change the lives of the poor and the marginalised in central India. In the process, they led themselves to a ‘revolution.’ But soon their focus shifted to fighting the state rather than changing peoples’ lives. In the last few years especially, Maoist watchers say, the party ideology has gone haywire. Some of the senior leaders who quit the party recently say that often the Maoist leadership has been made aware by many within the party of deviations that have taken place in the party line. They say they have been trying to get the leadership to debate over issues like the random killing of civilians after accusing them of being police informers, or obstructing development by preventing the laying of electricity lines. They say it is unlikely that the leadership will ever take note of such issues and make amends.

In several Maoist bastions, many former supporters or sympathisers are getting disillusioned. What the Maoists have managed to achieve though is remarkable. In the absence of the gun, the government would have never as much as looked at these areas. For decades, areas like Hemalkasa remained off New Delhi’s radar. After the war in the heart of India was brought to drawing rooms through television, the Centre was forced to acknowledge, though reluctantly, that there was indeed some problem with its functioning.

Now, with a few years of sustained security operations, the government should have managed to bring about tangible changes in the political and developmental landscape. But sadly there seems to be no blueprint for this.

Many people living in the red corridor may look at the government with hope, but the government looks away. As night falls, the Maoists return, and every gain made with months of security operations comes a cropper. In the meantime, the Maoists are able to bolster the morale of their cadres by ambushes such as the one in Chhattisgarh.

With every such attack, the fight against the Maoists takes a severe beating. But with elections round the corner, the political establishment hardly seems bothered about the loss of soldiers.

Towards the end of May, a new government will come into being in New Delhi. Whether it will continue to blindly push soldiers into the war without empowering the tribals will eventually decide how long this terrible civil war of sorts will continue to bleed India’s heartland.

More In: Comment | Opinion