Wisdom in war is a rare thing. It’s rarer still in places like, say, Twitter, which presupposes instant wisdom at some remove from conflict zones except that of the self. In late-April 2017, when several hundred Maoist rebels attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) patrol in Sukma district, a conflict hotbed in southern Chhattisgarh, a Lok Sabha MP from Odisha demanded “mine-resistant vehicles for jawans". On Twitter.
On 13 March this year, after Maoist rebels attacked with explosives an MPV, or mine protected vehicle in Sukma, killing nine CRPF troopers and injuring others, the same MP tweeted that, “If it was indeed an anti-landmine vehicle, then alternatives must now be thought of".
Naturally, neither Maoists nor CPRF or other security forces for that matter plan warfare based on such direction, and Twitter-squalls that follow for some minutes. Such vehicles have been in use in Maoist battle zones for over a decade. And so has debate raged, both in and out of conflict zones, as to the best way of minimizing deaths while containing India’s greatest war with itself.
Some would of course argue that all-round governance and delivery of the criminal justice system are best inoculations against rebellion—especially one that has persisted in one form or another for more than 50 years. But incidents such as the one in Sukma earlier this week also led some social network and television pundits to, typically, rail about “intelligence failure", alongside demanding that armed forces be employed to rid India of Maoist rebels once and for all.
If rebels employ explosives to blow up “mine-resistant" troop carriers, there are calls to make troopers walk. If a foot-patrol is attacked, as happened in Sukma in April 2017, often the same pundits insist troopers be driven in such carriers. Some insist they ought not to have stopped for a quick meal, providing Maoists an opportunity to ambush. The incident in April 2017 was a replay of an attack in April 2010 when rebels attacked and killed 75 CRPF troopers as they similarly took a break.
These are both hardly the only incidents in Sukma and across the Maoist theatre, of attacks in a war of stealth and savagery that continually searches for weak links and optimum advantage—moves adopted by rebels and security forces alike. This week’s incident is also not the only one in which a so-called MPV has been attacked. Maoist rebels have repeatedly used the approach in Chhattisgarh, and more intermittently in eastern Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Odisha. As any security expert worth his Twitter handle will tell you—as will security personnel on the ground—there is no sure-fire method of avoiding such incidents except to, in good time, unearth IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, that are placed by, and placed under, tracks of both dirt and slim tar that lace this rural war zone.
As to monikers like “mine-resistant", “anti-landmine" and “MPV", Maoists don’t follow manufacturers’ specifications. They simply stuff as much explosive as they practically can into such a device. Sometimes, the vehicle is pulverized, like the troopers inside them. Sometimes the vehicle is relatively intact but thrown some distance away, troopers inside dying and injured from the shock of the explosion and jostling of the vehicle. Sometimes rebels rain fire on those who manage to escape the vehicle, before melting away; sometimes a few rebels are killed or injured in counter fire by troopers.
On occasion, rebels have even moved away from “jungle". Some among you will recall an attack on Chandrababu Naidu’s motorcade along the Tirumala ghat road in October 2003. The current chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh at that time, was lucky to survive, with a bloodied face and some fractures. In November 2008, West Bengal’s chief minister at the time, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, two Union ministers and senior executives of JSW Ltd escaped with their lives when Maoists exploded a massive IED in the path of their motorcade near Salboni, not far from Medinipur town.
More on-ground realities and approaches next week.
Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun and Highway 39. This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, and runs on Thursdays.