To improve anti-Maoist strategy,it is important to understand its failures as well as its successes
After Saturdays Maoist attack on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh,which resulted in at least 27 deaths,talk has expectedly come round to a toughening of the anti-Naxal strategy. While there had been a significant decline in the intensity of Maoist violence through the last year,consolidating a trend visible in 2011,this attack is a throwback to the April 2010 ambush of a CRPF patrol that saw 76 security personnel killed in Dantewada although the men in uniform were not the primary target this time. Plans are afoot to enhance security for politicians on hit-lists and increase counter-insurgency operations,even as the air force prepares to provide helicopter support in Jagdalpur and a debate rages about the lack of intelligence coordination and the reported failures of the NTROs Heron UAVs to gather data.
The decline in Naxal-related violence is attributed to the success of the two-pronged strategy of paramilitary operations and development the former taking the physical space away from Maoists and the latter denting their capacity for recruitment by constricting their ideological space. This modus operandi exposed the insurgency for the cynical war against the state it is why schools,roads,bridges,etc typically earn Maoists wrath,as these deprive them of their raison detre. So,it pays to distinguish between tactic and strategy,and between the short and long terms. A special forces battalion here,a few more CRPF personnel there,or a few drones or helicopters,cannot be equated with the decisive blow. These win individual battles,but this conflict is a long haul,demanding focus on each affected states police forces,which need to be expanded,trained,equipped and deployed. Ground-level intelligence matters most and a states own police personnel have the advantage of familiarity with the terrain and local life. Andhra Pradeshs success against Naxals,for example,resulted from a systemic overhaul of police and intelligence units. The Greyhound forces only provided the tactical edge. To ensure an end to Maoism,development initiatives and Central counter-insurgency assistance must have compatible local capacity.
Victory against the Naxals is about reaching the state where its absent,reclaiming the ground and peoples lives. That is why any mainstream political activity is a sign of the insurgents shrinking space. As strategy is modified in the Darbha failures aftermath,it is important to bear in mind its successes too. The real challenge is to build on those successes.