The Union Government has to ensure that the bureaucracy and grassroots politics works in tandem with the security forces to tackle the Red insurgency. It must ensure that the acts of symbolism come to a grand halt, paving way for ground-level action
The brutal attack on security forces in Sukma on April 24 and death of 25 CRPF jawans has once again highlighted our vulnerability in dealing with matters of internal security. This attack came in just over than a month after 11 CRPF jawans were killed in an ambush in the same Maoist hotbed of Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The State sequence of attacks raises several questions regarding issues of leadership, logistics, intelligence and coordination. In 2008-09, 76 CRPF personnel were ambushed in Sukma, 18 Congress workers and leaders such as VC Shukla and Mahendra Verma were killed by the Maoists in the middle of a forest at Darbha in May 2013. And in December 2014, 13 CRPF personnel were killed. In 2015, STF and BSF had lost 13 jawans; many more were injured in various attacks in the State.
In between, there had been several attacks by the Left-wing extremists killing lives and damaging property. According to the replies by the Government of India in Parliament, from January 2008 till November 2015, Chhattisgarh had witnessed 3,703 Maoist incidents and the number of deaths was 1,500 during this period. A very pertinent question arises: Why has Chhattisgarh become a soft target of the Maoists and why is the problem growing bigger by the day — and that too against the trend in neighbouring States?
Maoism in Chhattisgarh is an extortion operation. It runs between the beedi manufacturers, the Maoists, the bureaucracy and the Government. We need to de-link this economic supply line. The Maoists concentrate their dominance where the state power is weak. The ascendancy of Maoists in Chhattisgarh is a glaring example of weakening of legitimacy of State Governments. The lack of modernisation of police force and also the lack of adequate capacity building are affecting anti-Maoist operations severely in the State. We need modern weaponry and adequate and trained personnel to operate them, particularly in view of reports of armed preparedness of the Maoists. A thana is a basic unit of policing, so it needs to be strengthened along with local intelligence units.
In 2007, the UPA Government had approved an intelligence revamp plan for Chhattisgarh. In the same year, the Centre had given its nod to the Chhattisgarh Government to use helicopters in anti-Maoist operations so that the movement of security personnel during any operation is not hampered due to the Maoist tactic of mining roads used by the troops. But, the State Government played politics and did not act on the policies of the Centre. The Integrated Action Plan was another initiative by the UPA Government for providing public infrastructure and services such as school buildings, Anganwadi centres, primary health centres, drinking water supply, village roads, electric lights at public places in Maoist-affected areas. But the scheme was discontinued by the Modi Government.
The scale and magnitude of the attack that took place recently must have been preceded by long-term planning and movement, but the CRPF did not get a hint of the entire exercise. It may surprise anti-insurgent experts but the fact is that there is an apparent lack of trust between the State police and the intelligence and paramilitary forces operating in the Maoist-prone areas in the State, and this is contributing to severe causalities of security personnel. Despite considerable investments, the effectiveness of police in Chhattisgarh continues to be poor. Unfortunately, the police is used as political tools by State administrations to crush the voices of human rights activists rather than to professionally deal with the problem. There is a lack of professional approach thus leading to periodic incidents of such killings. There is a need to ensure that security forces review their scale and drills for operations so that opportunities for ambush are avoided. Greater capacity building is called for particularly in Left-wing extremism-affected areas.
The first and foremost duty of a Government is to protect the lives and dignity of its people. In Chhattisgarh, it is clear that there is a wide chasm between promises and their eventual deliverance. There is an urgent need to conceptualise, plan and carry out operations with clarity of aim, strategy and determination. We also have to ensure that the Government learns from past mistakes and works towards development rather than just falling back upon the use of force.
Until the Government implements employment, poverty-alleviation and land reform programmes (ensuring land and forest rights to the tribals), counter-insurgency measures cannot achieve much. Development should come simultaneously with counter-insurgency measures. Without development, more boots on the ground would not be able to reverse the success of the Maoists on their own.
Money has never been a problem for anti-Maoist operations and for the development of Maoist-affected areas. What is important is proper monitoring of the allocated resources, to minimise the leakage to ensure that allocations are reaching the real beneficiaries. The nexus between the Maoists and their political and economic patrons needs to be destroyed. Skill development programmes should be customised to meet requirements of the youth in these affected areas, and regions that are potential targets of the Maoists. This will have a significant impact in resolving the problem of Maoism.
Social justice and inclusive growth are the planks on which the Government must build its programmes. The Forest Rights Act (FRA), which protects the rights of tribal people and forest-dwellers over their forests, should not be diluted. Only with consolidated efforts on the part of the legal and political framework, socio-economic reforms can be implemented and the problem of Maoism tackled in an efficient and effective manner.
The task for New Delhi is also well cut out. Vacancies in security forces should be filled up on urgent basis. After the superannuation of K Durga Prasad in February this year, the position of Director General of CRPF remained vacant for two months, which led to policy stagnation in the country’s largest paramilitary force. The Union Government has to find a way to instil a sense of purpose among the state as well as the Central forces. It has to ensure that the bureaucracy and grassroots politics works in tandem with the security forces. And it must ensure that the acts of symbolism come to a grand halt, paving way for ground-level action.
(The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer and national media panelist of the Indian National Congress. Views expressed here are personal)