Beefing up the war against Maoists

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On 8 January, a group of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel walked into a deadly ambush in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, while trailing a 150 to 200 strong Maoist squad. The ambush left 13 jawans dead. As if the killings were not brutal enough, the Maoists inserted Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) into the corpses of the jawans. The IEDs exploded later, killing four villagers who had gone to collect the bodies under instructions from the security personnel. That the brutality shows the growing desperation of the CPI (Maoist) was one of the most heard statements after the attack.

Less than two weeks after the incident, 13 CRPF jawans were grievously injured in a landmine blast in Bokaro district, Jharkhand. In response to the setback, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is coming up with a new blueprint to combat Left-wing extremism. The plan, it seems, is geared more towards using force rather than some well though-out strategy.

After the Latehar attack, the MHA is seriously considering the deployment of 10,000 more CRPF personnel to fight the Maoists. It was in October 2012 that this move was first proposed. This would mean that 75,000 CRPF personnel, along with state police, SPOs and other paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indo- Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), would fight “the biggest internal security threat”. “These are not untrained men who are being sent to the jungles. CRPF jawans are extensively trained… I would definitely welcome deployment of forces as it would increase our strength,” says Pankaj Kumar Singh, Inspector General of Police (Operations), CRPF.

Apart from increasing the number of security forces, the MHA is considering the creation of new counter-insurgency force in all the Naxal-affected states on the lines of the Greyhounds — the highly effective anti-insurgency forces set up in Andhra Pradesh. There is also a proposal to pump in funds to the tune of Rs 280 crore during the 12th FiveYear Plan period for managing these forces.

However, all talk of “clinical efficiency” and “prompt action” in using force to crush the Maoists has ignored the human costs of this war. “The Operation Green Hunt that began in 2008 is now reaching the attritional battle stage. The confrontations will now get bloodier,” says civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha. “The Latehar incident is an example of how gruesome this kind of war can turn out to be. The government has opted for area domination by placing troops in every nook and corner. Don’t forget this is a war being fought keeping in mind India’s policies regarding its mineral wealth.”

It is not just activists like Navlakha who are opposed to deployment of more forces in Naxal-affected zones. EN Rammohan, former director general, BSF, who authored an assessment report after the April 2010 Chintalnar massacre in Chhattisgarh, in which 76 CRPF personnel were killed by Maoists, is also against any such move. “This is absolutely crazy. You cannot expect the CRPF — a force meant for handling law and order — to also carry out counter-insurgency operations. Jungle warfare is simply not what the CRPF has been trained for. Their purpose is different,” he says. “I hope they don’t deploy the army next. The government must change its attitude towards this situation… You cannot call for war against your own people like this,” says Rammohan.

Even though the findings of the damning report were accepted and the necessary changes brought in, the MHA never made Rammohan’s report public. To further insult the memory of the 76 martyred jawans, all the 10 accused, who were arrested for involvement in the Chintalnar massacre, were acquitted two weeks ago. That shows the ineffectiveness of the investigating bodies in Maoist-affected regions.

The MHA data shows that over 2,065 men from the security forces have been killed fighting the Maoists from 2001 to 2012 in 106 most affected districts of nine states. Juxtaposing that statistic with the number of civilians killed reveals a horrific picture. Just between 2009 and April 2012, 1,856 unarmed and innocent people have become casualties in this bloody war.