Is the government losing the plot in tackling Maoist insurgency?
A day after hundreds of Maoist rebels trapped and killed 76 Indian security personnel in a heavily mined swathe of jungle in Chhattisgarh, a feeling of shock pervades the national psyche.
The nature of the attack, the detailed planning that went into it and the government’s reaction thereafter has raised the question that is being debated for some time now.
Is it time to involve the better equipped and better trained armed forces in ongoing anti-insurgency operations?
Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told a television news channel the central forces are on track in reclaiming thousands of acres of land under Maoist control and the decision to get the army into fighting Maoist insurgency is essentially a political one.
The April 6 attack, one of the deadliest in recent times, is seen by experts as retaliation to the government’s ongoing operation to root out insurgency in Maoist-hit states.
Indian newspapers reacted in rage and indignation the morning after with most dailies calling the massacre a “War” on the Indian state. Some of them expressed the need for calling in the army to counter such violence.
“As the one-sided battle in Chhattisgarh has shown all too glaringly, a military solution in tandem with state forces cannot be shelved,” the Hindustan Times newspaper said in an editorial.
The rebels have intermittently blown up power stations, railway tracks and called for shutdowns in their strongholds — mostly West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. They have, in the past, killed police informers and intercepted police patrols.
However the stepped-up offensive in recent months, aided by a tacit understanding with a section of locals who believe the rebels to be championing the cause of the poor and landless, indicates that the state and central governments must rethink their anti-insurgency strategies if they ever hope to win the war against the Maoists.
The security forces that patrol Maoist-affected areas are often ill-equipped to fight rebels armed with latest weaponry.
Frequently outnumbered, victims of poor information gathering and poorly paid — the foot-soldiers in the fight against rising Maoist violence need to be bolstered if the government hopes to take on the rebels on their own turf.
Voices across the country are calling for better information gathering, involvement of the armed forces, filling long-pending vacancies in stretched police forces tackling insurgencies, and most importantly — addressing the deeply-rooted grievances of locals, traditionally exploited by the rebels to fight the state.
The government recently declined the offer of talks from senior Maoist leadership saying the rebels must abjure violence before they come to the negotiating table.
Experts see the effectiveness of a multi-pronged strategy — that of continuing the crackdown in rebel strongholds and rounding up of senior leaders, combined with long-term, sustainable development in some of the poorest areas to lure the youth away from insurgency.
The road ahead will not be easy.
The rebels have proved that they are prepared for the long siege. The time for a concerted effort on behalf of the security forces must coincide with strong political will — often a quagmire in a nation battling multiple interests in its multi-party democracy.