Indian security personnel who’ve been fighting Maoists in the forests of central India over the last five years say their firefights don’t last more than 30-60 seconds. At the end, those who buckle—the untrained—are, more often than not, dead.
According to data from the Chhattisgarh police headquarters, the year 2008 alone saw 234 such encounters with the police, leaving 66 Maoists and 64 security personnel dead.
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The police estimate there are around 60,000 Maoists in the Bastar region, which comprises the southern part of Chhattisgarh. They are armed with light machine guns, AK-series guns, self-loading rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
For untrained police personnel, fighting in Chhattisgarh’s dense Abhujmadh forests is difficult. “In terms of firepower, (the Maoists) are equivalent to the army. We have to have more numbers to offset them,” says Chhattisgarh director general of police Vishwa Ranjan. And since October, when the Union cabinet approved ‘Operation Green Hunt’, Central paramilitary forces consisting of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and India Reserve battalions have been arriving in large numbers (unofficial estimates place the figures at 80,000) in Chhattisgarh.
It’s in this scenario that the Chhattisgarh Jungle Warfare (CTJW) College, set up by the state government in Kanker in 2005, assumes centre stage. At Kanker, near the state’s capital Raipur, police and paramilitary personnel get training in six-week modules—six each year, with each accommodating 600 personnel. The grey areas in police training are addressed, including “lack of soldierly and disciplinary traits; lack of physical and mental robustness; lack of knowledge of field craft and tactics and poor firing skills”.
Union home minister P. Chidambaram has denied the existence of an operation named Green Hunt, though the government does acknowledge the existence of an operation to reclaim areas from Maoists and establish government institutions there. For the Union government, it seems, Operation Green Hunt is a mythical creature, mostly denied, but resurrected when convenient.
Certainly, no major offensives have been launched so far. The state police and Union home ministry give several reasons for this, including lack of adequate preparation, the Jharkhand assembly elections and most recently, the observance of Republic Day.
But though no real gains have been possible, the preparations at least seem to be making headway. After training at the college, police personnel are inducted into the Special Task Force (STF). In a June report for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a Delhi-based defence think tank, Om Shankar Jha, a Border Security Force (BSF) commandant, observed that STF personnel perform better in anti-Maoist operations, with the fewest casualties, indicating some success for the training programme. According to the report, the Union government is conceptualizing another jungle warfare college for the state.
Despite it all, Lieutenant Colonel Joginder Singh, deputy director of CTJW College, observes that it is difficult for government forces to completely overcome Maoists. “What we can do is to establish government institutions and provide support. I think about 80-90% of those living in the forests are neutral and only about 10% are Maoists or their supporters.” The major part of the effort, he says, should be to woo them with civic action—apparently, the STF personnel are trained in this too.