The Maoists have perpetrated another ghastly act of violence in Chhattisgarh. They ambushed a road opening party in Bastar on March 11, killing 11 CRPF jawans and four state police personnel in Sukma district, at a place not far from the spot where earlier almost the entire Congress leadership of the state had been wiped out in May 2013. It is learnt that about 300 Maoists ambushed the joint CRPF/police patrol; they were also able to loot six AK 47 rifles, eight INSAS rifles, one LMG, two SLRs and three grenade launchers.
The government had been tom-tomming that there was decline in Naxal violence, that the Naxals were in a state of tactical retreat, and that they were undertaking “course correction”. Not that these assertions were factually incorrect, but the authorities should have remembered that the core strength of the Maoists remained intact and, as stated by the Home Minister himself, they retained the capacity to launch “spectacular attacks”. It appears that a sense of complacency had crept in both at the central and state levels. Meanwhile, the Maoists were itching to demonstrate that they were far from finished and that they still packed considerable lethal punch. Besides, they have always been opposed to elections—they have already given a call for “Chunao Bahishkar” (Boycott the Polls). It was, therefore, just the appropriate time to perpetrate an act of violence which would boost the morale of its cadres and, at the same time, jolt the administration.
The greatest problem in handling the Maoist problem is the absence of any clarity at the highest levels in Delhi. The Prime Minister has said more than once that it is the greatest threat to the internal security of the country and yet there has been no effort to formulate a strategic plan at the national level to deal with the problem.
At the state level, there are a plethora of problems. Intelligence deficiency, if not vacuum, is a huge problem. In the aforesaid incident, it is surprising that 300 Maoists were lurking in the area but the security forces had no clue of their presence. The IB drew a blank. The State Intelligence had no information. The local thana at Tongpal, it seems, had been reduced to an island. CRPF’s own intelligence was also zero in this case. It is absolutely essential that the intelligence machinery is geared up and the administration makes its presence felt in the remote areas and wins, to some extent at least, the support of the people. Once people are supportive, there would be natural flow of information.
The situation is compounded by the fact that police leadership in the state is in complete disarray. Internal squabbles and rivalry among the senior police officers for the post of DGP had a deleterious effect on anti-Maoist operations. Then, there is lack of coordination between the state police and the CRPF deployed in the state. There was also a report that the Ministry of Home Affairs was not happy with the results of anti-Maoist operations. A meeting presided over by the Cabinet Secretary had noted that “the state STF had produced sub-optimal results.. basic policing practices are absent in worst affected areas.. joint operations with Odisha and Jharkhand are not happening regularly”. No wonder, the Maoists are able to strike at will and also manage to get away.
The Home Minister’s response to the incident marked by his call for “revenge” was unfortunate. Operations have to be stepped up, but such a message to the security forces could be counter-productive.
On the positive side, some states have done exceedingly well in the recent past. West Bengal has almost cleared the Jangal Mahal area, where Maoists had entrenched themselves. Odisha has had signal successes against the Maoists, thanks to its police leadership. Maharashtra has also made significant dent in Gadchiroli. There is no reason why these successes cannot be replicated in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. What is needed is political will backed by comprehensive counter insurgency operations under the leadership of officers who are dedicated and lead from the front. The government must set its house in order to ensure that elections are held without any serious disruption by the Maoists.