HOME MINISTRY MUST TAKE LESSONS FROM SUKHMA KILLINGS
By Harihar Swarup
The disaster at Sukhma, where 25 CRPF jawans lost their lives, reveals many shortcomings in government’s Maoist policy. Absence of strategic clarity, over-dependence of states on Central forces, have crippled the fight against Maoist. It is also incomprehensible that there is no clarity yet about the strategic approach to Maoist problem even though the Indian state has been battling it for last 50 years. Shivraj Patil, when he was Home Minister in the UPA government, had described Maoist as “our brothers and sisters”. The Maoists took full advantage of this approach to augment their strength and built fire power. In 2006, a 14-point policy was announced which, among other things, talked of addressing the problem simultaneously “on political, security and development fronts”. The policy, however, never got implemented on the ground.
The next Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, summarized government policy in three graphic words in 2009: “clear, hold and develop”. It was a cryptic enunciation, but was executed by a massive deployment of Central forces in the affected regions. His approach was, however, not shared by everyone in the Congress. Digvijaya Singh openly criticized Chidambaram. As a result, the security forces felt hamstrung in their operation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2014, giving Nepal’s example, called upon misguided youth of the country to shun terrorism and Naxalism and opt for brotherhood and peace instead. During his visit to Dantewada on May 9, 2015, the Prime Minister again called upon the Maoist to shun violence and said, “only plough on shoulder bring development, not guns”. These were unexceptionable statements, but there should have been a strategic formulations by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
In the absence of any clear cut guidelines or directions from the central government, every state government has been dealing with problem as part of its assessment of the situation. There is no coherent strategy or plan.
The Chhattisgarh government has not covered itself in glory while dealing with Maoist problem. The state has witnessed the highest level of Maoist violence in the country. It has not extended the kind of support it should have to the central armed police forces, which, more often than not, are left to fend for themselves. In the Sukhma incident 25 CRPF persons were martyred, but there is no information yet about injuries to the state police personnel. Either they were not there or were in very small numbers. It is said the CRPF personnel were attacked by about 300 Maoist guerrillas. Obviously, these Maoists have been in the area for a couple of days. How did the local administration and intelligence have no scent of their presence? Such an intelligence vacuum is inexcusable.
The 74th battalion personnel also seem to have made tactical mistakes. It appears they were having lunch together and huddled in one place. This explains the heavy casualty suffered by them. Forces sent by counter-insurgency must have first-class leaders, first-class weapons and first-class training. The CRPF in Sukhma appeared to be lacking in the required level of training and leadership. What is particularly galling is that it was in Sukhma on March 11 and 12 members of another CRPF road-opening party were killed in an IED explosion. Apparently, no lessons were learnt.
The fact also remains that there has been a significant drop in the volume of Maoist violence. A decade ago, Chhattisgarh reported 350 killings, among them 182 were security force personnel, 73 Maoists and 95 civilians. In 2016, the figure dropped to 207 fatalities, which included only 36 security men, 133 Maoists and 38 civilians. At the all India level, the geographical area under Maoist influence has shrunk drastically. In 2010 when the movement was at its peak, 223 districts in 20 states across the country were affected by Maoist violence.
Today, the figure has come down to 106 districts in 13 states. Several members of the CPI (Maoist) central committee and politburo have been neutralized. The Maoists are in tactical retreat. This is, however, not to deny that they retain the capacity to launch lethal strikes. Besides, they have, in the past, shown enormous capacity to reorganize and reinvest. Clearly, there is no room for complacency. (IPA Service)