New Delhi: India’s police are ill-equipped and sometimes afraid to fight Maoist guerrillas whose growing strength poses the biggest internal security problem and threatens investment, experts said on Wednesday.
This week, 29 policemen were killed by the Maoists in a forest ambush in the mineral-rich central state of Chhattisgarh, which experts described as a glaring example of policemen ignoring combat safety doctrine.
“If you don’t follow the rules of the red light while driving, you will surely meet an accident ... if the police do not follow the basics of jungle warfare, they will continue to meet the same fate,” B.K. Ponwar, head of a state-run jungle warfare institute in central India, told Reuters.
“Policemen are flouting the jungle warfare rules over and again.”
The government banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist) last month, but experts say the ban will have little impact in the battle against the Maoists.
While the economic impact may be small compared with India’s trillion dollar economy, the insurgency and the sense that it is worsening signals that India does not fully control its own territory and adds to risks for companies mulling investments.
Nearly 500 people, mostly security personnel, have been killed in Maoist violence this year so far compared with 700 in all of 2008, government data says.
Senior officers who analysed more than 1,100 incidents of Maoist violence this year say police have often walked into traps laid by the Maoists without carrying mine detection equipment, sniffer dogs or adequate firepower.
On the ground, police fight Maoist insurgents with outdated weapons and are often outnumbered by Maoists, who are skilled in jungle warfare and are well-equipped with rocket launchers, automatic rifles and explosives.
The Maoists are estimated to have 22,000 fighters, and have spread to more than 180 of the country’s 630 districts from just 56 in 2001, government and independent data shows.
Internal security threat
The Maoists started their armed struggle in West Bengal’s Naxalbari town in late 1967, and have expanded their support among villagers by tapping into resentment at the government’s recent pro-industry push.
The Maoists, described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest internal security threat, regularly attack police posts as well as railway lines and factories, aiming to cripple economic activity.
“It is a big mindgame that the Maoists play with the police and they use hit-and-run tactics to scare everyone,” said Kuldiep Singh, a senior police officer leading anti-Maoist operations in West Bengal state.
This week, 29 policemen refused to attend an orientation course on jungle warfare before being deployed in central India. Other officers refused to attend the course last year.
“All 29 police were reluctant to go to a 15-day orientation course before being deployed for a 4-month period posting in Maoist areas,” S.K. Jha, district police chief in Chhattisgarh, told Reuters. “I had no option but to suspend them.”
The effect of the Maoist insurgency has already taken its toll on business.
Maoists sided with farmers during violent protests by farmers, which forced the scrapping of a Tata Motors’ Nano car plant and a $3 billion chemicals hub complex in West Bengal.
Security experts say authorities are still approaching the Maoist insurgency as a police problem. The government has refused to deploy the army to fight the Maoists.
“We don’t have adequate manpower. We also don’t have a helicopter,” Sanjeev Panda, an inspector-general of police in the eastern state of Orissa.