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Confusing strategy in tackling maoists

There are those in security circles who believe the indiscriminate use of paramilitaries in operations against Maoist rebels has—most notably in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa—led to state police pulling out of anything but bare bones law-keeping in rebel zones.  Photo: Hindustan Times (Hindustan Times)Premium
There are those in security circles who believe the indiscriminate use of paramilitaries in operations against Maoist rebels has—most notably in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa—led to state police pulling out of anything but bare bones law-keeping in rebel zones. Photo: Hindustan Times
(Hindustan Times)

From the security perspective of states there is much to be gained by replicating a force like Greyhound

In this busy season for play in the Maoist universe of India comes talk of creating special anti-Naxal police forces in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, along the lines of the Greyhound force in Andhra Pradesh. This ministry of home affairs-managed scheme will apparently be monitored and implemented by a senior army officer on deputation to the ministry’s naxal management division, who will directly work with police in these states.

Whatever the efficacy of this information-sharing with the media, there are several issues to consider, besides a re-booting of that clichéd query aimed at the ministry: Anybody home? More charitably: what now?

On the face of it, from the security perspective of states there is much to be gained by replicating a force like Greyhound. Over the years, diligent application of both the operational hammer and the scalpel by Greyhound, and some velvet glove plays—shoring up police infrastructure, enhanced training, penetration of rebel networks, ruthless anything-goes operations, surgical strikes, schemes of surrender and rehabilitation—led to the near-destruction of Maoist forces in Andhra Pradesh. The rebellion exists today only in the border areas of the state along south-western Orissa and southern Chhattisgarh—the eastern periphery of the Maoist hub in Dandakaranya region. (Or, to qualify the statement: at least, in-your-face armed rebellion, not the resentment that continues to upwell; domination of Maoists by arms hasn’t been effectively replaced by development and governance, thereby encouraging future conflict.)

Similarly, but to a far lesser extent, C-60 commandos of the Maharashtra Police have had occasional successes against superbly motivated and deeply entrenched rebels in the western parts of the Dandakaranya region that the state shares with Chhattisgarh. The most recent success came on 20 January when a C-60 posse ambushed a group of rebels returning from a village meeting in Gadchiroli district. Police claims six rebels died and several others were injured in an operation planned with gathered intelligence and stealth.

The Xeroxing of such approaches also signals existing and confusing application of personnel and strategy. What of the “special forces" that already exist among the police in, say, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa? What of the several tens of thousands of ill-briefed paramilitaries, mostly of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), but also from the Border Security Force and the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force, deployed in rebellion-affected states?

What, indeed, of CRPF’s own anti-Maoist crack troopers—CoBRA, or Commando Battalion for Resolute Action—several thousands of whom are deployed in and around areas of rebel dominance?

There are those in security circles who believe the indiscriminate use of paramilitaries in operations against Maoist rebels has—most notably in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa—led to state police pulling out of anything but bare bones law-keeping in rebel zones. This was further cemented, say some security experts, when CRPF, during the tenure of its recently demitted director general K. Vijay Kumar, assumed a more combative role for that force in operations against Maoists.

This provided the trigger for the police in several states to pull back, letting CRPF be both cannon fodder and battle axe, and in several cases deepen the already deep operational divide between state police and centrally-run paramilitaries. I have heard senior paramilitary commanders rant about the deliberate lack of intelligence sharing and logistics coordination by state police forces. Equally, I’ve heard police officials complain that for all their vaunted training edge, CoBRA, CRPF and other paramilitaries were mostly unwilling to cooperate with police in India’s zones of internal conflict; often let valuable intelligence about rebel movement be wasted by not acting quickly on it; and displayed stolidity when fluidity was required: paramilitaries are generally reluctant to actively patrol, preferring instead to remain barricaded in their camps. And when they do react, it could end in over-reaction, leading to non-combatants dying or getting hurt.

A combination of such factors plays into the hands of the Maoists. Far quicker in mind-and-matter reaction, the rebels are able to leverage their vastly inferior numbers—estimated at fewer than 10,000 cadres and active militias—and depleted leadership—jailed, killed and a few surrendered—into operating in immense geographies across central and eastern India.

In future columns, I shall discuss some of the operational approaches several security insiders have been suggesting against Maoist rebels: micro-managing of the conflict, as it were, focusing on smaller battlefield grids like the guerillas. It appears that this group of insiders has made some headway with their sustained campaign for greater use of human intelligence, and the need to act quickly and emphatically on the basis of such intelligence.

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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