It must be abundantly clear that Chhattisgarh simply does not have even the numerical capacities to contain an insurgency of this magnitude. Worse, existing capacities remain enormously under-utilized and misdirected, and there is increasing evidence of a progressive collapse of political will at the highest levels of the state leadership to confront the challenge of the Maoist onslaught. Sadly, that means that many more SF personnel -- thrown without plan, preparation or purpose into the conflagration -- will fruitlessly lose their lives in the foreseeable future.
-- So Who's Losing Sleep Over Chhattisgarh? July 16, 2007
102 security force personnel have been killed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh in just the first seven months of 2009 [till July 22, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal data. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) figures are consistently and significantly higher], adding to the 414 killed over the preceding four years (MHA data). Since 2006 -- when it overtook the then-frenzied Andhra Pradesh -- Chhattisgarh [with 388 total fatalities, according to MHA data] has led the states in Maoist violence.
Much learned analysis has been expended on the most recent of Maoist massacres, on July 12, at Madanwada, Khoregaon and Sitagaon under the Manpur police station in the Rajnandgaon district which lies just 90 kilometres from Raipur. A total of 29 policemen, including a Superintendent of Police, Vinod Choubey -- the highest ranking officer to be killed by the Maoists in the state till date -- were killed in these interlinked incidents. Commentators have waxed eloquent about the ‘impunity’ and ‘brazenness’ with which Maoists are able to execute attacks, despite the "massive deployment of central paramilitary forces". This would be laughable, were the situation not tragic. The sheer and obdurate ignorance of such commentary ignores the most basic facts of the ground in Chhattisgarh and the persistent and criminal neglect of even the most rudimentary requirements of counter-insurgency response over the entire period of the state’s existence (Chhattisgarh came into being on November 1, 2000) and, indeed, across the expanse of what is widely spoken of as the ‘red corridor’.
The harsh reality is that the entire disposition of forces -- both central paramilitary forces (CPMFs) and state police -- in Chhattisgarh is irrational. The current allocation of force, in any conceivable distribution, cannot secure any coherent strategic goals against the Maoist challenge. What political and bureaucratic advocates of the ‘battalion approach’ -- the arbitrary allocation of available central forces across the country in the wake of successive ‘emergencies’ -- and of incremental capacity augmentation in the forces, fail to recognize is that there is a critical mass that has to be achieved before counter-insurgency (CI) can even begin to be effective. Anything less creates no more than the illusion of a ‘response’, without adding substance to security. Worse, any concentration or dispersal of forces below this critical mass abandons these personnel to unacceptable and pointless risk -- making them sitting ducks for targeted insurgent violence.
This, precisely, is the situation in Chhattisgarh. A quick review of capacities is useful in this context. The total sanctioned strength of the police -- both civil and armed -- in Chhattisgarh currently stands at 42,895 for an estimated population of 20,795,956, yielding a relatively healthy ratio of 206 per 100,000 population (compared to an end-2007 all India average of just 125/100,000). The state government has made some incremental efforts to increase both sanctioned and actual strength over the past years, driving up the ratio from 128/100,000 in end-2007. These numbers are, however, grossly deceptive. Against the sanctioned strength, there is a deficit of nearly 24 per cent, yielding a total of 32,785 personnel. Worse, the armed police -- the crucial element in CI operations, stands at a sanctioned 17,303, with a deficit of 36 per cent, yielding just 11,078 personnel (another 5,500 are to be recruited by August 2009). This means that the ratio of armed police to population currently stands at just 53.3/100,000.
To this, let us add the "massive deployment of central paramilitary forces". The total current deployment of CPMFs in Chhattisgarh stands at 16 battalions [14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and two Shasastra Seema Bal (SSB)]. In most interpretations, this would mean 16,000 CPMF personnel in the state; however, actual deployment on the ground works out to just about 400 personnel per battalion -- that is, a total of about 6,400 CPMF personnel in the state. Adding this to the Chhattisgarh Armed Force strength yields a still-anaemic ratio of 84/100,000.
Add another dimension to this. Chhattisgarh is a relatively large state, with a total area of 135,194 square kilometres, with some extra ordinarily difficult terrain. This gives us a total density of 8.2 policemen per 100 square kilometres; add on the CPMF strength, and we have 12.93 armed personnel per 100 square kilometres.
It is useful to take a quick look at the "massive force" available in the Bastar division -- the region worst affected by Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh, and indeed, in the country. Total deployment in Bastar amounts to just about 6,800 personnel (11 battalions or about 4,400 CRPF personnel and six battalions or 2,400 personnel of the CAF) for an area of 39,114 square kilometres, yielding a ratio of 17.4 armed personnel per 100 square kilometres.
How does this compare with what is really needed? There can, of course, be no absolute criteria for CI Force ratios to population and area -- and divergent results have been secured with the most diverse ratios possible. It is useful to note, however, that Manipur, has a police-population ratio 627 per 100,000. This state of just about 2.4 million people, has 10,749 state Armed Police, and an additional deployment of almost 42 battalions of Central Forces for counter-insurgency operations, as against just 16 CPMF battalions in Chhattisgarh, for a population that is just over one-ninth of Chhattisgarh’s, and a land mass that is one sixth that of Chhattisgarh’s. Indeed, Manipur’s geographical area (22,327 square kilometres), is just over half that of the Bastar Division (39,114 square kilometres).
Significantly, the US Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual recommends a ratio of 20 armed personnel per 1,000 population (or 2,000 per 100,000 population) in counter-insurgency operations, a ratio that has never been achieved in any theatre in India.
Absolute deficits in the force are compounded by even graver deficits in force leadership. For its size and population, Chhattisgarh has the smallest of sanctioned Indian Police Service (IPS) cadres -- at 81 sanctioned posts. The state ranks 9th in terms of size, but is 25th in terms of IPS allocation. Worse, there are just 64 of the sanctioned 81 IPS officers available in the state on policing posts, and another 10 on deputation to other departments. Indeed, at one point, the state did not even have as many SP ranked officers as it had districts. This particular problem was, over time, addressed by the simple expedient of directly appointing newly recruited Assistant SPs as SPs immediately after completion of training. Chhattisgarh now has as many as 24 SPs with less than three to four years of service. At the cutting-edge rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), the sanctioned strength stands at 212, but available strength is just 135 -- a deficit of 36.32 per cent. In the ranks between Inspector and Assistant Sub-Inspector, the deficit stood at as much as 40.5 per cent, according the the NCRB Crime In India 2007 report. In many police posts and camps, in fact, the force operates without the leadership of any officer ranks. Operations are led by havildars or constables -- and this has become a critical point of dispute in joint operations with CPMFs.
The state police, moreover, have a transportation deficit of nearly 50 per cent against requirements. While 70 per cent of the police stations have been ‘fortified’, at least 30 per cent continue to operate in improvised barracks, often in the most vulnerable areas. Significantly, moreover, sources disclose that, of about 5,000 CAF personnel trained at the Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Kanker, hardly 800 have been deployed in CI duties.
The July 12 incident tells us precisely how Chhattisgarh’s current Force dispositions impact on the ground. First, the Maoists killed two personnel of the Chhattisgarh Special Armed Force (SAF) at a poorly protected camp at Madanwada. The circumstances of this attack are itself revelatory -- the two men had gone out of the camp to relieve themselves, as was the routine, since the camp was not provided with any toilet facilities. On hearing of the incident, Vinod Kumar Choubey, the District Superintendent of Police, proceeded to the incident location with reinforcements. This force was attacked on the way, and there has been much criticism over Choubey’s failure to follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and proper Road Opening Processes (ROP) before proceeding to the camp. But wars are not fought on SOPs.
Given the strength of available forces, no possible relief could have been provided to what was believed to be a besieged camp if the SP had gone ‘by the book’. It is questionable, moreover, whether Choubey had the force and facilities available to execute and maintain ROP across a distance of 150 kilometres between Rajanandgaon and Madanwada within any timeframe that could have been meaningful in terms of providing relief to personnel in the camp. The problem, as one senior officer in Chhattisgarh explained it, was "terrain and distances". If force commanders fail to respond quickly to reports of an attack at one of their camps, the consequence would be extreme demoralisation of the forces and a loss of both legitimacy and authority in an already weakened leadership. If they take a calculated risk in response, on the other hand, the very dispersal and infirmity of forces means that tragedies like Madanwada will occur again and again.
In the wake of the Madanwada incident the entire situation is being interpreted within a centre vs. state and a CPMFs vs. CAF confrontation. The CRPF has, since June, been refusing to send out its forces for CI operations without a local Inspector-ranked officer on the grounds that, operations where just a havildar or constable of the CAF accompanied the force, had ended in disaster in the past. The CRPF has, moreover, virtually ceased offensive operations in areas of deployment in the state, given the extraordinary vulnerabilities to which its forces are exposed. The state police leadership insists that it needs at least 55 battalions of CPMFs to ‘deal with’ the Maoists.
In the interim, the bulk of the available force is thinly spread out across the affected areas, overwhelmingly locked into postures of permanent (and consequently unsustainable) defence. Virtually the entire initiative is in the hands of the Maoists, who choose the time, the place and the circumstances of the attack, or design elaborate traps for the SFs in movement. Crucially, the available police and paramilitary force in the affected areas is simply too small even to protect itself -- as has been evident in the numbers of successful attacks to which it has been subjected -- leave alone to act forcefully against the Maoists. In the Bastar division, for instance, an additional Force of over 80 companies is required for the protection of existing police stations, police posts and important government establishments and projects.
How do the Maoists regard the situation? They make little secret of their assessment, and Communist Party of India -- Maoist (CPI-Maoist) Politbureau circular of June 12, 2009, titled "Post-Election Situation -- Our Tasks" , recognizes the government’s escalating threat assessment and increasing ‘determination’ to tackle the threat.
As the circular expresses it, "the unfolding state terror and state-sponsored terror under Sonia-Manmohan-Chidambaram combine will be far more brutal, deadly and savage than under any other regime hitherto witnessed." The Maoists apprehend that a "blue-print for a massive military offensive was prepared by the centre for gaining an upper hand over the Maoists… All-round preparations are in the final stage for launching the massive brutal offensive on the guerrilla zones and guerrilla bases."
The document recognizes, further, that
…the present government will remain relatively more stable than the preceding one and will be in a position to carry out the pro-imperialist policies and suppression of the revolutionary-democratic movements more ruthlessly. We have to keep in mind that the results have given scope for the UPA government to enact more draconian legislation, and implement more fascist measures and suppression of the people’s struggles. (Emphasis added).
Besides, the current political situation in South Asia arising out of the geo-strategic needs of US imperialism is also likely to provide some flexibility to the rulers to use the state’s forces for carrying out fascist repression on revolutionary struggles, nationality movements and other people’s movements.
Crucially, however, the Politbureau realizes the current infirmity of the state and its forces:
Though the enemy is itching to suppress our Party and movement by deploying a huge force in all our areas, he has severe difficulties in implementing this at present; he has plans to increase the number of central forces in the next few years, to set up and train special forces like the Cobras, but in the immediate context it is quite difficult for the Centre to send the forces required by each state to control our movement. Keeping this in mind, we have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas on the one hand and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas so as to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area; hence the foremost task in every state is to intensify the war in their respective states while in areas of intense enemy repression there is need to expand the area of struggle by proper planning by the concerned committees; tactical counter-offensives should be stepped up and also taken up in new areas so as to divert a section of the enemy forces from attacking our guerrilla bases and organs of political power. (Emphases added).
It is evident that the Maoists will escalate violence across the areas of their dominance in the proximate future, even as they extend violence into newer areas. As Maoist disruption intensifies across widening areas of the country, the agonizingly slow and essentially incremental augmentation of central and state forces in the affected areas will fall progressively behind the demands of the situation, even where it represents significant absolute additions to capacity. The age of incremental response is, in fact, long past. What is needed now is a reverse assessment of the quantum of force and resources that are required, and processes of acquisition and deployment on a war footing. Embedded and obstructive political and bureaucratic processes will have to undergo urgent reform before this becomes possible.
Unfortunately, far from provoking any coherent policy or strategic response, political points are being scored, even as some idiot solutions do the rounds. Among the latter is the repeated demand from several quarters, for deployment of an already overstretched Army, as well as, in Chhattisgarh, the Opposition’s demand for imposition of President’s rule.
It would be easy to blame the Chhattisgarh government for many of the deficiencies in the state’s policing and CI capacities -- and substantial blame certainly lies there. But it must be evident that the rot goes deeper, into both the structure of the all-India services -- particularly the IPS -- and the available capacities of CPMFs. Further, the same afflictions, in different measures, can be found in a number of other states, and it is not just the security of particular regions that is now at risk, it is national security that is threatened. It is crucial that the rule of law be brought urgently -- indeed, abruptly -- to the centre of governance. Unfortunately, this is unlikely within as criminalized and venal a political-administrative system as India’s.
Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal