Change strategy to deal with Maoists

A Maoist attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district has claimed the lives of at least 27 police person­nel. A CRPF team of 90 personnel were reportedly at a road-opening ceremony in the Burkapal-Chintagufa area of Bastar when they were ambushed by around 300 Maoists. The exchange of fire lasted around three hours.  A little over a month ago, Sukma witnessed an ambush of another road opening patrol of the CRPF. That incident left at least 12 of its personnel dead and another four injured. Monday’s ambush is the deadliest in terms of fatalities in seven years. A Maoist ambush of a CRPF team on an area domination exercise near Chintalnar in April 2010 had left 70 police dead.

The central and state governments have been claiming major gains in their military operations against the Maoists. It is true that several Maoist commanders and cadres have been killed or taken into custody.

Surrenders too are said to have increased. However, recent Maoist attacks reveal that the rebels remain a force to contend with. The fact that they are able to amass 300 fighters to take on the CRPF indicates that they retain their capacity to stand and fight the security forces. Military operations cannot by themselves defeat an insurgent group, especially one that enjoys local support, knows the local terrain and has youth joining its ranks in large numbers. It is time that the Narendra Modi government takes a relook at its anti-Maoist strategy. Instead of pressing on with a strategy that has yielded limited returns, it needs to consider other options. It must explore the dialogue option seriously.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has often said that his government is willing to talk to the Maoists. If he is serious, he must create conditions and atmosphere conducive for such talks. He has not done that so far. On the contrary, he has accelerated the militarisation of Bastar by allowing the unleashing of state-sponsored vigilante groups on the Maoists, the unarmed Adivasis and civil society activists. The Chhattisgarh Police are known to be intimidating those who lay bare their atrocities. Recently, Sukma’s Superintendent of Police said at a programme in Jagdalpur that human rights activists should be crushed using advanced motor vehicles. Nobody reined him in. The Chhattisgarh government was silent. There is little confidence in the state among Adivasis in Chhattisgarh today. Raman Singh will have to change that attitude as he needs civil society activists to mediate in talks with the Maoists. Persisting with a failed military strategy will only leave our security forces vulnerable to more attacks and empower the Maoists over the long run.

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