On April 11, approximately 400 Maoists opened fire on a group of Special Task Force personnel in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing 7 men, and injuring a dozen. In the next 96 hours, the Maoists carried out a series of attacks, which resulted in the death of two 14 combatants and injuries to 18 personnel.
The last of the four attacks was at Kirandul-Cholnar in Dantewada district in which Naxals used 100 kg of explosives and an under barrel grenade launcher (UPGL) to blow up an armoured anti-landmine vehicle. It was intended to send a singular message both to the forces and villagers. The reason was the setting up of a police post at Cholnar just two months ago. The Maoists were agitated ever since the police post was set up in February. This had barred them from entering 100 villages, over which they ruled earlier. What explains the recent spurt of violent acts by Maoists, killing and injuring men of the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force and the police in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh? Are these simply acts of desperation by a weakening force that is seeking to reassure its own cadre of its “potency” despite the organisational setbacks and loss of strike power?
Every year, Maoists organise a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC), which runs from April to July during which they step up their activities before the Monsoons set in. During this period, armed Naxal cadres undertake special violent action against security forces and others to gain ground, re-group and strategise their plan of action before the onset of rains. During the rains, police operations decrease as forces mostly remain inside their camps as it becomes difficult to trudge through streams and bushes.
As paramilitary and security forces in Chhattisgarh have gradually sought to retain “control” over Maoist strongholds, and their operations have resulted in the incarceration and death of several Maoist leaders, the rebels have reacted with sporadic “counteroffensives”, mostly ambushes. The recent attacks are thus Maoist backlash aimed at gaining moral ascendancy and consolidating gains. These are common in the summer months when they waylay and kill security personnel. This in turn invites the state to prolong its military campaigns and use strong-arm methods to “cleanse” villages.
Why are the security forces suffering losses? The attacks have exposed the lack of coordination between the Special Task Force, the state police and the Central Paramilitary Forces (BSF and the CRPF). Since the December 2014 incident, when the CRPF lost 14 personnel near Chintagufa in Sukma, the CRPF has strict instructions to its field offices to not undertake any operation without the headquarters’ approval. Stressing on the personnel safety, the CRPF Director General has even stated that the forces “don’t need to do Rambo-style operations”. Following this diktat, the Chhattisgarh CRPF has mostly remained in its barracks over the last few months.
As a result, the state force’s dedicated anti-Naxal force STF which has just two battalions comprising less than 2,000 is left all by itself over an area bigger than Kerala. If the state police now go into the retreat mode of the CRPF, and decrease their footfall in interior areas, the rebels could recover substantially in the year 2015.
Chhattisgarh is the only state where Naxal violence has been growing since 2012. An important aspect, which needs to be taken into perspective, is the record Naxal surrenders, which have taken place in the past 6-9 months in the neighbouring states of Jharkhand, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana. It seems as if the Maoists have instituted a strategic silence in these areas, focusing only on Chhattisgarh. The Naxal violence, unleashed just a couple of days before the inauguration of the Chhattisgarh government’s Lok Suraj Abhiyan, was clearly intended to jeopardise the government’s mass contact program in the Naxal-hit areas.
Does that mean it is quiet elsewhere? This silence in other states should not be mistaken for a faltering ideology. Most non-state groups observe a period of inactivity, spent in soft power skills, such as influencing and recruitment. At the moment, that appears to be the Maoist strategy. Any heavy retaliation by the provoked security forces will result in societal concern in the region, which the Maoists can fan to propagate against the government, and use as a recruitment tool. At the moment, the Centre seems willing to send in more troops to wage the Maoist war, but unless the states, with their critical asset of local manpower, take on the responsibility, the counter-insurgency operations will remain futile, and the threat of Maoist potential for resurgence intact.
Lt Col Sushil Pradhan (retd), is the Director, Consultancy and Services, MitKat Advisory Services.