Tying up loose ends
The 15 anti-Naxal security personnel slain in what has been termed as one of the worst attacks on counter-Naxal forces in the last 15 years, was not off-charts. Maoists have time and again assured the establishment of their presence despite state operations aimed at dismantling the Red Terror. And, with the ongoing elections, time was just ripe for them to strike. The Quick Response Team (QRT) was slain while en route to provide reinforcement to Police in Kurkheda Taluk, nearly 60 km north of Gadchiroli, where the Maoists had torched several vehicles meant to assist road construction work in Dadpur village. Prima facie the incident was deemed as a retaliation to the killings of two senior women cadre of the rebels by the anti-Naxal forces in an encounter in South Gadchiroli on April 27. But Maharashtra Director General of Police, Subodh Kumar Jaiswal admitted that there was information regarding such attacks during elections that clearly precedes the anti-Naxal operation on April 27. Intelligence inputs cited that Maoists had planned attacks in retaliation to the heavy losses inflicted on them last April when 40 of their comrades were gunned down by security forces. An impactful strike by security forces last April got a response of the same magnitude from rebels. While reports cite lapse in following security protocol hinting how the incident could have been prevented, it failed to connect the dots. The preceding incident of torching vehicles in Dadpur was the bait which QRT took. The urgency to reach Dadpur does not make sense since the incident had already occurred on Tuesday night. Specifically rushing to the spot without following standard operating procedures (SOPs) perfectly fit the narrative of Maoist ambush. With intelligence by their side, QRT's sacrifice outlines carelessness on their part. If we have a hostile setting and rebels have outrightly plotted to attack owing to intel input, acting recklessly should be the last thing, especially when Gadchiroli anyway remains a Maoist hotbed with past incidents serving as a reminder that the area is unsafe to act without SOPs in effect. Outlining the need for preventive actions exits the fray when those are not followed in the first place. Acting on intel besides sticking to preventive measures was what Pulwama taught the nation. The threat, whether internal or external, has definitely highlighted the national security narrative of BJP. But neither of these threats are new. They have been around and many governments have failed to prevent it. Tightening security means nothing when lapses plague the security apparatus. What happened in Sri Lanka is a case in point. So while BJP advocates the fact that India is secure, incidents like Pulwama and Gadchiroli only mock that claim. It creates an urgent requirement to consolidate intelligence and enforce strict compliance of SOPs. Maharashtra Police's encounter which delivered a significant blow to Maoists last April had definitely loosened the Maoist grip in the area but a year's time has made them reappear strongly. Hiding in deep forests, these extreme-left rebels have made their point that they are not dead. And, with the elections on, the additional vigilance was anyway a standing prerogative. With the Centre having notified Maoist violence-affected states to be on guard, there should not have been any loose ends left for Maoists to capitalise on. The security forces have themselves to blame for not anticipating the trap and heading straight into it. But, their sacrifice builds up strong vigilance and compliance of security protocols all the more. While Maoist crackdowns through special operations by anti-Naxal security forces remains a priority, being defensively prepared and ensuring safeguards to avoid such unfortunate incidents is equally important. Gadchiroli serves as a wake-up call for states to be prepared and certainly not embark on such misadventures which may cost precious lives. While it is impossible to not act in the Maoist hotbed, our resources and security apparatus remain adequately equipped to counter such attacks. Compliance to security protocol remains non-negotiable and utterly essential for safety in these areas. We must tie up loose ends otherwise casualties will only rise. It must be understood that there is no scope of giving Maoists an opening while incessantly focusing on dismantling them!