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Targeting the Maoist core

The state must address the root causes of a rebellion. Else, combat operation will remain in the realm of firefighting.
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First Published: Thu, Jan 31 2013. 07 35 PM IST
A file photo of Maoists in a forested area of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP
A file photo of Maoists in a forested area of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP
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Last week I had hinted at a deeper dive into suggestions by some security insiders for combating the Maoist rebellion. The heart of it is a combination of intelligence penetration and surgical strikes built around that most basic and crucial of rebel structures: local guerilla squads or LGS.
They enforce the writ that passes down from the Maoist zonal committees to divisions, and further to area committees and “local organizational committees” that are tasked with recruitment, training, collection of levies and knitting together grassroots support structures. LGS form the “armed backbone”, as a security document describes it. As recruitment into rebel ranks hasn’t kept pace with depletion on account of death, arrest and surrender, the flip side of LGS strength is its new weakness.
“It has also been found that of the cadres constituting the LGS,” a government security document comments on the situation in Chhattisgarh by way of example, “half are new cadres who are generally dissatisfied and willing to surrender/desert as soon as encounters start taking place.” This is also true of the cadres from the rebel heartland in, say, Bastar, who are now compelled to operate in newer geographies to establish sanctuaries and secure routes for movement of cadres, and pipelines for weapons and ammunition.
To capitalize on this perceived reality of rebel vulnerability, some insiders reiterate their suggestions by encompassing several methods. The most basic is of course the ramping up of “assets” and relying on their reports to build information about each specific LGS, including cadres, weapons, area of operation, hideouts and facilitators. After studying their movements and the topography—enhanced by satellite imagery—the information would be used to brief teams of between 15 and 20 highly trained police and paramilitary troopers enabled with sniper rifles besides regular assault weaponry, GPS (or global positioning system) locators, night vision devices: forces that have the ability to lie low in ground zero, as it were, without exposing themselves.
The insertion of such troops being tricky, the call is to “ingress” under cover of darkness at an opportune moment; until then such troops would be in a holding pattern of sorts at a base nearest to the area of this operation. Here, they would continue to be briefed with the latest intelligence reports, both from “humint” or human intelligence, satellite imagery and other sources.
There are various suggestions for operations with a stress on the element of surprise that security forces so often lack, to the extent of withdrawing from the operation should the raiding party not encounter rebels. “Without exposing themselves,” a document suggests, “thereby allowing for future operations.” Another suggested method is to place these combat units in the operational vicinity of a rebel safe area, and then use regular police and paramilitaries for a normal “area domination operation” to drive rebels into a place of ambush close to their sanctuary.
Of course this is already the stuff of special force manuals and legends of the armed forces—to an extent even CoBRA, or Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, units of Central Reserve Police Force engaged in combating Maoist rebels. Proponents of such action among the police are driven by the need to engineer operational successes against Maoist rebels, especially in their stronghold of the Dandakaranya region that encompasses contiguous areas of southern Chhattisgarh, eastern Maharashtra, southwestern Orissa and northern Andhra Pradesh. Equally, they are driven by the need to reduce what is chillingly termed collateral damage, where non-combatants are mercilessly driven into the orbit of conflict both by the police and paramilitaries who have a free run from the administration, and the rebel machinery which as often as not uses the heavy, “weaponized” hand propping up the cause.
There is another aspect. I have repeatedly mentioned in this column, my books, and other forums that Maoist rebels mirror India’s failings as a nation. No operation against them can diminish this truth; and alongside any success against the Maoist rebellion—or any rebellion, for that matter—the state must equally address the root causes of rebellion. Else, combat operation will simply remain in the realm of firefighting for years after India’s indolent, callous and corrupt political and administrative leadership has lit the fires.
I have found this evolving conviction mirrored in the views of several police and paramilitary personnel, from the lowest to the highest ranks. In private, they support the rationale of the Maoist rebellion, but maintain they are duty-bound to combat rebels to extinction. Such complexity continues to form the cornerstone of India’s war with itself.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business.
Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jan 31 2013. 07 35 PM IST
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