January 19, 2021
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'Misunderestimating' The Maoists

The alarming succession of daring and bloody Naxal attacks, coherently fine-tuned under a long-term plan, continues to be met with a confused, incoherent, delusional and dangerous denial: that it is an 'internal problem' that can be 'easily contained

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'Misunderestimating' The Maoists

Once again, the rampaging Maoist movement has violently drawn attention to itself with a succession of daring and bloody attacks that go to the very core of governance, the credibility of administration, and the sagacity of political leadership across extended areas along India's eastern board. The most significant of these was the February 28 landmine blast in Dantewada in Chattisgarh that killed, according to the official record, 26 villagers and injured another 40, while they were returning in trucks after a meeting of the state-sponsored anti-Maoist Salva Judum campaign. While this was probably the worst attack in the history of the Maoist movement, the current year has already seen a significant number of major Maoist operations:

February 6, 2006: Ten Nagaland Armed Police personnel were killed and eight injured when a powerful landmine exploded as their vehicle was moving through a forest in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh.

February 9, 2006: Eight Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were killed and several others injured when a large group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres attacked the National Mineral Development Corporation store in the Hirauli area of Dantewada District. Mining officials feared that about 50 tonnes of explosives were looted.

February 28, 2006: 26 tribals were killed and 40 others sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered near Eklagoda Village, in the jurisdiction of Errabore police station of Dantewada District, when they were returning from an anti-Maoist Salva Judum meeting in two trucks and a bus.

March 3, 2006: Maoist cadres, mainly women, posing as marriage party revelers, attacked a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and a police outpost near Chandrapura in Bokaro District, Jharkhand, killing seven Security Force (SF) personnel.

March 5, 2006: Over 100 Maoist cadres attacked the Umaria Police Station in Bihar, close to the Jharkhand border, damaging the police station and adjoining residences. Three Maoists were killed and two policemen injured in the attack.

March 5, 2006: Maoists blew up a major portion of the Bhansi Railway Station in Dantewada District. A railway engine and a major portion of the platform were damaged, but no person was killed.

By the end of February, a total of 115 persons had already been killed in Maoist violence in 2006, including 61 civilians and 28 SF personnel �" with Chhattisgarh accounting for the largest number, 74, including 49 civilians and 22 SF personnel.

This Maoist onslaught comes after another crucial year has been lost to vacillation, incoherence and neglect, as the steady creep of Maoist extremism continued across wide swathes of the country, penetrating unexpected areas with an array of unsettling tactics. On February 21, 2006, Minister of state for Home, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, conceded in Parliament that Maoist violence had increased dramatically in 2005, with 892 persons killed (516 civilians, 153 police personnel and 223 Maoists), compared to 653 persons (466 civilians, 100 police personnel and 87 Maoists) killed in 2004. The enhanced lethality of the Maoist conflict was demonstrated by the fact that, while incidents of Maoist violence had increased by just four per cent between 2004 and 2005, total fatalities registered an increase of nearly 37 per cent.

The growing audacity of the Maoists has been reflected in actions involving hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of cadres in operations that increasingly mimic the now-established tactics of their Nepali counterparts, involving coordinated attacks on police stations and posts, as well as on administrative headquarters and well-guarded government establishments. The first of these "at that time an extraordinary" attacks occurred in Koraput, Orissa, in February 2004, when a few hundred cadre overran the District Headquarters, including the City Police Station, the Sadar (town) Police Camp, the Office of the District Superintendent of Police, the Treasury and the Orissa Special Armed Police 3rd Battalion centre; simultaneous attacks were also launched on three police stations at Laxmipur, Narayanpatna and Kakriguma, all in the Koraput District. The Maoists looted some 200 weapons and killed four SF personnel in this raid.

While there were lesser experiments of this nature thereafter, the Jehanabad Jailbreak set a new benchmark on November 13, 2005, in the midst of the processes for the Legislative Assembly Elections in Bihar. An estimated 200 Maoist 'hard core' cadre, backed by over 800 'sympathisers', attacked the Jehanabad District Jail, freeing 341 prisoners and abducting more than 20 activists of the Ranvir Sena (a private militia of upper caste landlords), and looting a large quantity of arms and ammunition. Seven persons (three Maoists, two Ranvir Sena cadre and two police personnel) were killed in this attack. The Maoists subsequently executed nine of the abducted Ranvir Sena cadre. The Maoists took control of all the entry and exit points to the town, and carried out simultaneous attacks on the District Court, Police Lines, District Armoury, the residence of the District Judge, and the SS College, where a Para-Military Forces Camp had been set up.

Earlier, on November 11, over a hundred Maoists had attacked a Home Guard Training centre at Pachamba in the Giridih District of neighbouring Jharkhand, killing five persons and decamping with 183 rifles, some pistols and a substantial cache of ammunition.

June 23, 2005, had also witnessed synchronized attacks across nine locations in the Madhuban Block of the East Champaran District, Bihar, when large groups of Maoists attacked the Police Station, Block Ofice, Post Office, two Banks, a Petrol Pump, and the homes of Rashtriya Janata Dal Member of Parliament from the Sheohar constituency, Sitaram Singh, and two supporters. The resulting gun-battle spilled over into the neighbouring Sheohar and Sitamarhi Districts, and twenty Maoists, four SF personnel and two civilians were dead by the time the assault ended.

The Jehanabad Jailbreak represented a major tactical shift in the Maoist strategy. As a Maoist Press Release on November 14, 2005, declaimed, the Jehanabad attack demonstrated that,

…the well-equipped, well-trained, and numerically superior mercenary enemy forces can be dealt heavy blows by a numerically weaker but determined, fearless and politically motivated armed force of the people through concrete survey of the weak points of the enemy force, meticulous planning and effective execution based on the principle of taking on the enemy through surprise at lightening speed.

The Press Release declared, further,

The guerrilla forces of our Party as well as the revolutionary masses of our country have to undertake more and more such actions in a big way so as to strengthen the guerrilla armies and to transform them into the People's Liberation Army in due course. Vast masses have to be mobilised to expand and deepen the ongoing people's war in our country.

The increasing effectiveness and organization reflected in the Maoist attacks has worried SF leaders. J.K. Sinha, the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has its personnel deployed across all the Maoist afflicted states, admitted, "We are not much concerned about 20 small acts of violence because these activities can be controlled by us, but the bigger attacks are worrisome… They (the Maoists) are now trying the ambush our men so they can have the maximum impact on the morale of the Force."

In the meanwhile, state responses grind on in the established rut, throwing more men and more money into the conflagration, with little concern for strategic consistency, operational efficiency, or effective coordination. Large amounts of money have been allocated by the centre to the states for Police modernization, but remain largely unused, or are misdirected into other expenditure. In May 2005, Jaiswal complained: "The money is under-utilized despite the centre relaxing norms and by reducing amount of matching grants which have to be given by the states from 50 to 40 per cent, 40 to 25 per cent, and 25 to cent per cent (sic)". Utilization of funds was particularly poor in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Jharkhand, for instance, received Rs. 360 million for police modernization for the period 2005-2006, but till the end of December 2005 had utilized just Rs. 20 million. In the meanwhile, Police proposals to purchase 15 anti-landmine vehicles were on hold because of 'lack of funds', many of the state's 400 police stations were housed in decrepit hired buildings, and funds intended for the modernisation programme were diverted to buy luxury cars for state Ministers and bureaucrats.

In July 2005, after the breakdown of the talks between the Maoists and the state government in Andhra Pradesh, the Task Force on Naxalism declared a policy of 'zero tolerance' towards the Maoists, unless they gave up arms. However, reflecting a habitual confusion, the Task Force simultaneously encouraged affected states to initiate talks with the Maoists 'provided they are within the legal framework' (though it is not clear how talks with an anti-state group that has been responsible for killing thousands of civilians and security personnel can be 'within the legal framework').

A Naxalite Coordination Centre has been established under the union home ministry, with the National Coordination Committee (NCC) as part of it, since June 1998. There is, however, little evidence of coordination between the various states afflicted by the Maoist terror. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh observed, for instance, "Some states want to hold talks with them. Some would like to take a tough stand. Such individual policies are not going to help."

Worse, the Constitutional scheme, which places law and order management squarely within the purview of the states' jurisdiction, clearly obstructs any enlargement of the Central role, even as it undermines effective cooperation between often-fractious states ruled by polarized political formations. After the February 28, 2006, landmine explosion that killed 26 tribals in Chhattisgarh, union home minister Shivraj Patil stated in Parliament, on March 1, 2006, "We are all responsible; we are all sorry." Nevertheless, he noted further that the centre had given prior information to the state government regarding such an incident, and that the centre was 'extending all cooperation and had also drawn plans with adjoining states'. Further, 26,000 central police personnel were already 'at the disposal of the states. However, 'it was for the states to utilize these forces and the centre would not like to direct them, since it would amount to interference'.

It is not clear how this unwieldy scheme can lend itself to effective operational coordination against as highly motivated, relentlessly violent and strategically oriented an adversary as the Maoists. Even as Patil apologized in Parliament for the February 28 incident, and as criticism of the Salva Judum campaign mounted across the country, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh declared that the Salva Judum 'would continue' despite the attack: "The government will redesign the strategy and give a new direction to the campaign," he said, while describing the Maoist attack as "desperate and cowardly".

While the state continues to flounder in confusion, taking refuge in clichés about terrorist 'desperation' and 'cowardice', there is clear and accumulating evidence that the Maoists are work according to a coherent long-term plan. The continuous extension of the sphere and effectiveness of violent activities is, no doubt, the most dramatic manifestation of this strategy, but it does not exhaust it.

In West Bengal, where Maoist activities currently remain at a low key, a Maoist 'central committee member' identified as 'Comrade Dhruba' explained in July 2005 that, apart from Bankura, Purulia and Medinipur Districts, "our mass base in Murshidabad, Malda, Burdwan and Nadia is ready. After five years, we will launch our strikes." These are the time frames of execution of a methodical and detailed strategy that is currently being executed across large areas of the country that are not currently afflicted by Maoist violence, and that are in still in the initial stages of 'mass political mobilization'.

Across these areas, security professionals remain largely oblivious to the dangers, till the stage of violence is actually reached "years after the consolidation of the Maoist 'mass base'. Regrettably, apart from throwing in more resources" manpower and funds" into areas afflicted by high levels of violence, and general declarations of intent regarding economic development, and political and land reforms, there appears to be no coherent or consistent strategy to contain the systematic extension of the Maoist advance, and no accurate and consistently held assessment articulated within the national policy establishment of the magnitude of the danger to national security.

The dangerous delusion that this is an 'internal problem' that can be 'easily contained' does not appear to have been diluted in any measure by the many decades across which the country has failed abysmally to contain the menace of Left Wing extremism and violence

Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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