The Rebels strike back

Updated - April 02, 2016 08:04 pm IST

Published - April 19, 2015 01:36 am IST

On April 13, Maoists struck at a Border Security Force (BSF) camp in Kanker, killing one jawan. Hours later, four policemen were killed in a landmine blast in Dantewada. Both attacks came close on the heels of the biggest Maoist strike of the year, on April 11, in which seven Special Task Force personnel were killed and over 10 injured in Sukma district. Later that day, four Chhattisgarh Armed Forces (CAF) personnel were killed and seven injured. In April alone, 16 security persons have been killed.

Maoist insurgency has been India’s longest and most punishing battle, running for decades and claiming more lives than the Jammu and Kashmir conflict. The present day Communist Party of India (Maoist) was born of the merger in 2004 of two Naxalite groups, the Peoples’ War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. The PWG were communist radicals, initially based in Andhra Pradesh. Chased into hiding in Chhattisgarh, they regrouped with local tribes and grew in strength. In 1980, the PWG was formalised as a party. Its aim was to overthrow ‘the bureaucrat comprador bourgeois and big landlord classes who control state power’ using extreme violence, and to establish what it calls a New Democratic State under the leadership of the proletariat.

The Maoist graph has been uneven, with some significant peaks in the early years, followed by a steady weakening. Today, there is a marked drop in its potency but the bigger worry is the vulnerability of India’s security response.

April has exposed the chinks in the armour. The strategy to counter “Left Wing Extremism” (LWE, the government’s phrase to describe Naxal violence) received a rude jolt with the four attacks that took the year’s casualties from 58 to 74. Now, there have been 320 incidents this year, up from 280 last year (January to end-March). The increase points to how a situation, gradually brought under control since 2011, is slipping out of the state’s hands.

The lapses

The Draft National Policy to Combat Left Wing Extremist Insurgency is still awaiting Cabinet approval 11 months after the government has come to power. The draft lists 2008, 2009 and 2010 as the years of peak violence since 2004, when the CPI (Maoist) was formed. In 2010, more than 1,000 civilians and security personnel were killed in 2,213 incidents. The government adopted a two-pronged strategy, of enhancing security and improving development, to “win the hearts and minds of the local population”. In one year, the incidents fell to 1,760 and killings to 611. In 2014, the numbers had declined to 1,091 and 309, respectively.

Officials say that even a superficial study of the four attacks this month points to glaring failures, procedural lapses, and the lack of coordination between the Centre and State. The attack on the BSF camp, in Chhotebetiya forest in Kanker’s Pakhanjoor area, highlighted the absence of “local actionable intelligence” that security personnel could rely on, as an official in the Ministry of Home Affairs admitted, given that the Naxals tried to storm the camp and killed trooper RR Solanki. However, the alert BSF jawans “opened fire on the rebels”, said R.K. Vij, the State’s head of anti-Naxal operations. Combing operations yielded three 20 kg Improvised Explosive Devices, said Mr. Vij.

In the second attack near the CAF’s Cholnar camp in Dantewada, the four jawans were killed when Naxals blew up an anti-landmine vehicle. Ironically, the policemen were returning from “an area domination drive”. Emerging details show that the troops violated Standard Operating Procedures.

“There were simple and clear lapses: from Standard Operating Procedures not being followed to not informing the district SP about troop movement,” said an MHA official involved with the Centre’s LWE counter-strategy said. “There is a superior force on the ground, in far greater numbers, but the will to wipe out the rebels seems lacking,” he added.

Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand worst

Chhattisgarh is proving to be the worst theatre for the Centre’s counter-LWE strategy. MHA officials are quick to point out that the increased violence is a periodic spurt seen every year between March and the onset of monsoon, but the figures collated by the Ministry debunk the claim. In Chhattisgarh, there were 164 incidents till March 31 this year, compared to less than 100 last year. The number of deaths till March were lower, but the April incidents have pushed the number of casualties to 42.

Jharkhand, too, looks bad. Naxal deaths were 22 in 80 incidents (compared to 19 in 81 incidents in 2014) till March 31. The good news is that Naxal violence has come down in all the other States but, as experts point out, without resolving Chhattisgarh, the government can never claim success.

As per MHA estimates, 80 per cent of the incidents are confined to 23 most affected districts in six States. Of these, seven are in Chhattisgarh: Bijapur, Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma.

“There can be no justification now, with a BJP-led government at the Centre for coordination failures in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand,” said former BSF DG Prakash Singh. Both States have BJP-led governments. “It is plain and simple incompetence of the State police leadership.”

Shortly after the government took charge last year, the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh asking for more forces. The State already has over 50 battalions of paramilitary forces but needed 26 more, he said. The demand is still pending. Meanwhile, Naxal strikes have increased. Experts point out that the Centre-State disconnect has affected the morale of the forces and come as a boost to the rebels, who were otherwise pushed against the wall. Mr. Singh, however, has a different take. “Additional forces are not the answer. You can give them 100 more battalions and the situation will not improve till the local police takes the lead. Outside forces can only play a supporting role,” he said.

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