By Avalok Langer
THE MAOISTS in Chhattisgarh are becoming increasingly tense as the army carries out a survey of the area in Narayanpur district the state government has earmarked for its jungle warfare school. The second in the country — the first was set up in Vairengte, Mizoram, in 1970 — the military school will not be a fighting unit. However, the army will be well dug in, fortified and a solid defensive unit.
Though the ‘rules of engagement’ are yet to be set by the home ministry, under the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, the army can fire in self-defence if attacked. As a Maoist press release sent out on 22 January stated, “Though the army is saying they will fire only in self-defence, everyone knows that using self-defence as an alibi, the truth of who attacks first will remain lost in the jungle.”
The military school, which will be situated on the edge of the Maoist-controlled Abujmarh forest, has been pegged as the ‘first contact’ between the army and the Maoists. No wonder the news has fuelled speculation of a full-scale military deployment against the Maoists.
The state government has already set up a Counter- Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College under the command of Brig (retd) BK Ponwar (former commandant, Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School) to train police personnel.
Though the army has categorically stated that it will not participate in anti-Maoist operations and that their role and infrastructural orientation will be restricted to training, military experts and Maoists alike suggest that the direct and indirect implications of a 600-900 sq km army school in the heart of Maoist territory is huge — boosting morale, bringing roads, schools and fostering a local economy.
Commenting on the school’s location in a Naxal stronghold, Ponwar said, “The Vairengte camp was set up in an area where the rebels were active. But despite its close proximity to the underground camp, it was never attacked by the insurgents.”
An army officer explained, “Due to the shrinkage of training areas caused by urban and rural expansion, there have been talks over the past 10–15 years with various state governments on the availability of training areas away from the population centres. Narayanpur and Raigarh have been offered by the state government and not selected by the army.”
Ironically, the Maoists are calling this an ‘illegal occupation’ and warning that it will lead to a civil war. They have appealed to the masses to “pick up whatever weapons they can” to fight the army.
They kidnapped five policemen on 25 January demanding, among other things, that the setting up of an army school be halted. But they would not mount a direct attack, says Lt Col (retd) RSN Singh, as in his view the Naxals only attack “when they know that their success is guaranteed”.
Military sources explained further. “There are two patterns that have emerged in Maoist tactics. First, they follow the classic tenet of avoiding major conflict for area domination. Like a ‘touch-me-not’, they shy away from contact and expand into areas of isolation. Second, after the Dantewada massacre, the CRPF has adopted a ‘fortress mentality’. Operating out of fortified camps, they may have lost out on area domination, but it has been seen that Maoist are less willing to attack a fortified, well-defended CRPF camp.”
GIVEN THAT the terrain of Chhattisgarh is different from the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir, it would be suicidal for the Maoists to carry out ambush and IED attacks on the army’s perceived soft targets: convoys, road opening parties (ROP) and outposts. That’s because despite the presence of hills, the terrain in Chhattisgarh is much flatter, so the difference between the visual distance and the on-ground distance is minimal. An attack on an army convoy of 20-30 trucks with armed personnel or an ROP interlinked through radio would result in Maoist casualties, breaking the central tenet of guerrilla warfare — inflict losses without incurring casualties.
When asked if the army is discounting Maoist aggression, an army officer clarified, “We are sure that there will be no interference in our training activities.”
Talking about the indirect impact of the army’s presence, Singh said, “The army will not only establish the writ of the State, but with the army comes development. Like in Leh and Arunachal, roads will be built, cleared and held — keeping them open. A local economy will be created. Schools will come in. Civil actions teams will be sent in. The local people will benefit.”
Ponwar believes that while the army’s presence serves as a morale-booster for the paramilitary forces, it will also push the Maoists into a corner, giving a psychological advantage to the State.