Fourteen CRPF personnel laid down their lives while fighting Maoists on December 1 in Sukma district, the hub of Maoist activity in Chhattisgarh. Maoists claim to have transited from guerrilla warfare to mobile warfare in this area. According to the Maoist tactical commandment, in guerrilla warfare, “when the enemy [that is, the security forces] advances, we retreat; when the enemy camps, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when the enemy retreats, we pursue”. However, mobile warfare is what a “regular army wages by concentrating its forces in a vast area with fluid battle-fronts and deployments and often changing from one place to another”. Further, this kind of warfare has “the mobility of attacking the enemy at his relatively vulnerable spots and withdrawing quickly and the potential for changing tactics when the conditions change”. In this attack, the security forces had ventured into one such base area. Though this was a slight departure from the earlier trend of ambushing road-opening parties and convoys, Maoist tactics broadly remained the same.
Despite a few serious setbacks in the past, the security forces have continued to make advances into Maoist strongholds. New security camps and police stations have been established and Maoist movement restricted. Due to continuous attrition in their cadre, Maoist formations have fragmented. Their expansion into new areas in order to extend “the red corridor” has also been checked to a large extent. Passenger buses now ply on roads that had once been blocked to disrupt the movement of security forces. People’s support for Maoists has weakened and more security camps are being demanded. It can undoubtedly be claimed that the Maoist hold has shaken.
But the question that looms large is: What next? How do we intend to defeat this insurgency, which thrives on the premise of a socio-economic-political deficit, but ultimately wants to capture power through armed struggle? Recently, the Union home minister said that it is a challenge and that we accept it with the ultimate objective of dislodging the Maoists. As an insider, I can appreciate the efforts made by governments so far to tackle the insurgency. Both our capacity and capabilities have increased manifold. Still, till their base areas and guerrilla zones are totally dismantled, no one can guarantee that such attacks will not be repeated. The ground reality must be understood in a holistic manner.
About three decades ago, before the Maoists forced their way through Andhra Pradesh, under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War Group, into the peaceful district of Bastar, spread over an area of about 40,000 square km, with more than 70 per cent of the population consisting of tribals, not much policing was required in the area. A single police station was considered sufficient to control more than 2,500 square km of jurisdiction — some had as few as 13 personnel. But the hilly terrain, with its dense forests, provided Maoists cover suitable for a guerrilla war. During the 1980s, they formed a couple of dalams (training camps) and gained people’s confidence. In the 1990s, they enhanced their military strength, forming special guerrilla squads and then platoons for carrying out attacks on police forces.
During this period, the brunt of Naxal attacks was borne mainly by Andhra Pradesh, which created a fighting force, the Greyhounds, along with a Special Intelligence Branch (SIB). The state of Chhattisgarh, formed in 2000, adopted an aggressive policy only in the third decade of the insurgency. On September 21, 2004, not long into the peace talks between Naxalites and the Andhra Pradesh government, the CPI(ML)PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) announced their merger. They formed the CPI (Maoist) and started strengthening the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA). By the time the local populace of west Bastar, organised as the Salwa Judum (formed in 2005), revolted against Maoists, the latter had raised only one military company. This too was a consequence of well-planned attacks in the Koraput district of Odisha in 2004, during which more than 500 weapons were robbed from various police units. Their second military company was formed in 2005 to crush the Salwa Judum. By 2010, there were 10 such military companies.
To combat the rising insurgency, the Central government rushed in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) battalions to assist the state and liberally sanctioned India Reserve Battalions. Initially, the thrust was on securing relief camps created next to police stations to provide security to those who had been forced to leave their villages. The state responded by raising its own SIB and a Special Task Force (STF), largely on the lines of the Andhra Pradesh model. But in the meantime, the Maoists had managed to form two military battalions by merging two companies each in 2010 and 2012, to scale up the level of attacks on security forces.
Though still in their infancy, the specialised off-shoots of the state police have gained sufficient experience to set their house in order. But there are still many security vacuums, each no less than 1,000 square km in size, in south and west Bastar. The forces are deployed only along the fringes in Abujhmad, which sprawls across an area of more than 4,000 square km. Many more camps are needed to move into such vacuums and restrict Maoist movement. The setting up of mobile towers over the next year may improve telecom connectivity around the security camps but the construction of roads remains a major challenge. Approach roads to security camps are essential to maintain their supply lines and meet other administrative needs. Effort must also be made to devise improved technologies to detect improvised explosive devices, which remain the most potent weapon deployed by Maoists.
The PLGA pyramid consists of main forces, that is, companies and battalions, at the top, secondary forces, or local platoons and guerrilla squads, in the middle, and base forces, or the militia, at the bottom. The main forces, capable of waging mobile warfare, move in their base areas and the secondary forces operate in guerrilla zones. The base forces not only act as their eyes and ears, providing information about the movement of security forces, but also join the other two forces in all operations. This PLGA pyramid needs to be countered by security forces organised in a similar fashion — a strengthened STF to tackle Maoist base areas, district forces to dislodge them from guerrilla zones and police stations to disarm their jan-militia.
More than a thousand security men have already made the supreme sacrifice in Chhattisgarh since the state was formed. The road ahead may be full of risks and challenges. More setbacks and sacrifices may be lying in wait, but we have to move forward with determination. The nation must honour its martyrs. It is at their cost that a long-lasting peace will be achieved.
The writer is additional director general of police in Chhattisgarh