The gunning down of 26 CRPF personnel by Maoists in Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh, so soon after similar killings in Dantewada and elsewhere, shows that the lessons from previous encounters have been hardly learnt by the security forces. They cannot be called even encounters; in all the cases the personnel became sitting ducks for well-informed and well-prepared Maoists. Reports suggest that the most elementary tactical preparations were not undertaken by the CRPF unit which moved in a single group below hills controlled by the Maoists after completing a road opening operation.
Even the need to secure the road opened by them was forgotten. The fact that the Maoists had given a bundh call was also ignored. Normally such calls are followed by an action to enforce the bundh.
The forces will take time to recover from the psychological damage caused by such setbacks. The government has decided to make a retreat which it calls tactical and redeploy Central forces to their pre-October 2009 positions. Pending finalisation of new operational tactics, this will mean leaving the field open to the Maoists for some months.
This might avert any big encounters for a while but will also help the maoists to consolidate their strength in the region. The very advisability of using the Central security forces and their efficacy in countering the Maoist challenge are coming into question. The idea of deployment of the Army, which the government has been toying with, is therefore still more questionable. The need for better local intelligence and for a greater role for state police have been emphasised. The involvement of common people in the fight against the Maoists is still more important.
But this is not easy when the people see the government as hostile and exploitative and the security forces as instruments of oppression. In spite of all the talk about bringing development to the country’s most backward regions and social and economic justice to the people, it is not translated into results on the ground. The mining wealth is sold off to outsiders, the use of forest produce is denied and basic health and educational facilities do not exist. Admittedly, it takes time to reverse the entrenched policies of neglect and oppression, but the claimed initiatives do not go beyond words even now. The home minister claimed that development is possible only after defeating the Maoists. If the government strategy is based on this idea it is bound to only fail.