Numerically, Saturday’s loss of seven STF personnel in Sukma might not count much in the battle against Maoists in a state that has seen over 1,050 personnel killed in the last 14 years. However, this attack has a strategic and operational significance that goes far beyond the numbers and might just give the space the rebels needed to regain their ground in interior villages.
While in the last two years the Maoists successfully launched a few major attacks in Bastar, they also faced a general depletion of ammunition and eroding of popular base in their capital. Though the absence of civic services in Bastar continues to provide a sufficient base for the rebels among tribals, it is generally believed that the enhanced deployment of forces and operations in interior areas led to the decline of Maoist activity.
The trend, however, has seen a quiet reversal since the December 2014 incident, when the CRPF lost its 14 personnel near Chintagufa in Sukma. Rattled by its biggest casualty since Tadmetla of April 2010, the CRPF bosses in Delhi issued strict instructions to its field offices to not undertake any operation without the headquarters’ approval. Stressing on the personnel safety, CRPF Director General Prakash Mishra even stated that the forces “don’t need to do Rambo-style operations”.
The CRPF has nearly 30,000 personnel posted in Chhattisgarh and provide crucial support to the state police. Following Delhi’s diktat, the Chhattisgarh CRPF has mostly remained in its barracks over the last few months.
Resultantly, the state force, which has much lesser personnel earmarked for Naxal ops, is left all by itself. Chhattisgarh’s dedicated anti-Naxal force STF has just two battalions comprising less than 2,000 men that are deployed over an area bigger than Kerala.
Intelligence inputs and local reports of the last few months confirm that the Maoists have made significant recruitments in south Bastar, and are attempting to recover the territory ceded to forces.
With Saturday’s attack on STF, its biggest casualty in a day in recent years, its already weakened force will come under more pressure.
For the Maoists, the best period for making an offensive is before monsoon begins. During rains, police operations decrease as forces mostly remain inside their camps as it becomes difficult to trudge through streams and bushes.
From February-June therefore, Maoists observe Tactical Counter-Offensive Campaign, when trees shed leaves, sky is clear, ground dry and its easier to trace, attack and chase forces. Almost all big attacks in Bastar have come during this smaller period of a few months. Forces are well aware of this tactic, but are nevertheless defeated every year.
Nevertheless, the rebels managed to utilise the tiny space they had as they attacked a smaller contingent of just nearly 60 STF personnel Saturday morning. The present ambush confirms that the Maoists retain their agility and control of interior areas.
If the state police now go into the retreat mode of the CRPF already finds itself in, and give a window of just a few months to the Maoists, marking a decrease of footfall in interior areas, the rebels could recover substantially in the year 2015, which also marks the 10th summer after Salwa Judum.