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Dealing with Maoist violence

Dealing with Maoist violence
Earlier this week, militants of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) group ambushed a Centre Reserve Police Force contingent in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, killing 26 personnel. Reports indicate that this was the worst attack on security forces in the region since the April 2010 attack when Maoists killed 74 men of the CRPF in the nearby Dantewada district. Monday's attack, however, raises serious concerns about the ground situation in the tribal belts of Chhattisgarh, where the Indian State has engaged in a nearly two-decade-old conflict with Maoists. In the event of such a major attack on security personnel, the State's initial reaction to events would look a little like this—condemnation of the attack, pay homage to those killed in battle, look into what went wrong and propose solutions for the same. This time, however, the government went a step further and took on unidentified "human rights activists", and accused them of their "baffling silence" over the attack. In an official statement published on the government's website, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said: "I am constrained to infer that such motivated acts of violence are being resorted to with tacit support from the so-called human rights advocates." Nowhere in the statement does Naidu explain the identity of these activists, and how he had come to such a conclusion. The government has more urgent matters to take care of in their own house than to "build strong public opinion…against human rights activists" caught on the wrong side of the Indian State's narrative against left-wing extremism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Naidu is a part, controls both the Chhattisgarh government and Centre. It is their responsibility to maintain law and order and ensure the safety of its citizens, not to mention the CRPF personnel posted in the strife-torn area. It is also imperative to note that Monday's attack comes at a time when Maoists have ratcheted up their operations in the area. Just last month, there was an attack on a CRPF contingent, in which 12 security personnel were killed.


In an official statement published on the government's website, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said: "I am constrained to infer that such motivated acts of violence are being resorted to with tacit support from the so-called human rights advocates." Nowhere in the statement does Naidu explain the identity of these activists, and how he had come to such a conclusion. The government has more urgent matters to take care of in their own house than to "build strong public opinion…against human rights activists" caught on the wrong side of the Indian State's narrative against left-wing extremism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Naidu is a part, controls both the Chhattisgarh government and Centre. It is their responsibility to maintain law and order and ensure the safety of its citizens, not to mention the CRPF personnel posted in the strife-torn area. It is also imperative to note that Monday's attack comes at a time when Maoists have ratcheted up their operations in the area. Just last month, there was an attack on a CRPF contingent, in which 12 security personnel were killed.
In response to the dastardly Maoist attack that claimed the lives of 26 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, earlier this week, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said that the Centre would review its strategy to tackle left-wing extremism. Describing the Sukma attack as a "cowardly act", he said the Centre and states would work together against left-wing extremism. "It is an act of desperation. Such groups are anti-development," Singh said. There is some truth to Singh's assertion, as the Indian State makes further ground into the Maoist heartland, opening up villages that have until recently remained cut off from the world and relegating Naxals further into the dense forests. The construction of roads and mobile towers under heavy security cover on a war footing by the Indian State is a definite sign of the changing circumstances. In fact, the slain CRPF personnel were part of a unit overseeing the construction of a road. Personnel on the ground argue that the building of these roads is also a part of the government's counter-insurgency strategy, allowing security personnel to deploy and control the area quickly. Pitched battles between the Maoists, who are hell-bent on delaying the construction of these roads, and security forces in the area present some context to Monday's attack. The Maoists have grown so desperate that they've also begun to target villages where they once held sway, killing or torturing suspected 'police informants'. It's not as if the Indian security forces have their hands clean, especially as reports have emerged of heinous human rights violations against tribal communities. One also remembers the Chhattisgarh government's harebrained policy to patronise a group of vigilantes (called the Salwa Judum) who it said would help the police fight Maoists. Besides gross human rights violations, the vigilantes ripped apart local tribal communities from within and gave the Maoists the higher moral ground. Fortunately, the Supreme Court stepped in and deemed the deployment of these vigilante groups to be illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered that they are disarmed and disbanded. Monday's attack isn't the first time the CRPF has incurred significant casualties in the fight against Maoist groups. Although the details of what went down on Monday are still not very clear, observers in the know have once again raised serious questions about the institutional and strategic failures on the Indian State's part that have led to such massacres.

It's not as if the Indian security forces have their hands clean, especially as reports have emerged of heinous human rights violations against tribal communities. One also remembers the Chhattisgarh government's harebrained policy to patronise a group of vigilantes (called the Salwa Judum) who it said would help the police fight Maoists. Besides gross human rights violations, the vigilantes ripped apart local tribal communities from within and gave the Maoists the higher moral ground. Fortunately, the Supreme Court stepped in and deemed the deployment of these vigilante groups to be illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered that they are disarmed and disbanded. Monday's attack isn't the first time the CRPF has incurred significant casualties in the fight against Maoist groups. Although the details of what went down on Monday are still not very clear, observers in the know have once again raised serious questions about the institutional and strategic failures on the Indian State's part that have led to such massacres.

Given the CRPF's critical role in the key areas of conflict, from Kashmir to Sukma, it is astonishing that the organisation has been without a full-time head for two months. By not appointing someone to lead India's largest counter-insurgency force made up of over 3 lakh personnel, the government is playing with fire. As per the incident itself, leading counter-insurgency experts have raised some rather uncomfortable concerns about the events leading up to the massacre of 26 CRPF personnel from the 74th Battalion. "The 74 Battalion personnel also seem to have made serious tactical mistakes. It appears they were having lunch together and huddled in one place. This explains the heavy casualties suffered by them. Forces sent for counter-insurgency must have first-class leaders, first-class weapons and first-class training. The CRPF in Sukma appeared to be lacking in the required level of training and leadership. What is particularly galling is that it was in Sukma, on March 11 that 12 members of another CRPF road-opening party were killed in an IED explosion. Apparently, no lessons were learnt," wrote Prakash Singh, retired DG BSF and DGP of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, in a recent column for a leading Indian news daily. Senior CRPF officers have in fact argued that the attack was reminiscent of the April 2010 attack when 74 men died in Dantewada district, besides issuing complaints of a chronic lack of equipment and gear. The Home Minister's assertion that the Centre would rework its strategy to take on the Maoists is welcome, considering the absence of a coherent strategy or plan in the first place. Security experts have also called out for the modernisation of the Chhattisgarh police and their greater deployment in the battle against Maoists. "Chhattisgarh, however, has been sluggish in building the capacities of its police forces. There are about 10,000 vacancies in different ranks in the state police. Twenty-three sanctioned police stations have yet to be set up. And, shockingly, there are 14 police stations without any telephone link. A fundamental flaw in the anti-Maoist operations today is that the state police forces in most states — undivided Andhra Pradesh was a singular exception — are heavily dependent on the Central Government. The mindset seems to be that Maoism is the government of India's problem and, therefore, the Central forces should bear the brunt of

Twenty-three sanctioned police stations have yet to be set up. And, shockingly, there are 14 police stations without any telephone link. A fundamental flaw in the anti-Maoist operations today is that the state police forces in most states — undivided Andhra Pradesh was a singular exception — are heavily dependent on the Central Government. The mindset seems to be that Maoism is the government of India's problem and, therefore, the Central forces should bear the brunt of extremist violence," Prakash Singh goes on to add.

The Centre needs to take a look at the counter-insurgency template established by various State governments in the past. Under the leadership of KPS Gill and his effective counter-terror strategy, the Punjab Police managed to wipe out Khalistani terrorism from the country in the 1980s. In the undivided Andhra Pradesh, the use of a specialised anti-Maoist force called the Greyhounds enlisted from the State police force, took down the Naxal menace in the state. State governments have to lead the line in this battle against militants, and the Centre must confine itself to a supporting role. Needless to say, the Centre would be wise to take in such suggestions.
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