A disturbing sense of calm has enveloped Bastar in the past few weeks. The Maoist-hit region in south Chhattisgarh has seen few incidents of violence since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government was sworn in at the Centre. But, to the predominantly tribal population of Bastar, this uneasy stillness is more like the lull before a storm. After all, the Maoists are yet to show any signs of giving up the path of violence to achieve their goal of “overthrowing the Indian State”. The current respite from violence only means that the Red rebels are watching the new regime’s moves and waiting to strike at an opportune moment.
So, it’s no surprise that the Centre is all set to give a major boost to anti-Maoist operations across the country, and especially in Bastar — the vortex of the Red insurgency. The BJP had hinted during the run-up to the General Election that it was open to holding talks with the Maoists on being voted to power. But the new government at the Centre is clearly opting for a hardline military response to the Maoist threat, which it prefers to call “left-wing extremism”.
Sources suggest that several Maoist-affected states, including Chhattisgarh, are planning a coordinated operation against the Red extremists. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will be the nodal agency for the entire operation and work closely with all the affected states. The Centre has kick-started the operation by approving the deployment of 10 additional battalions of paramilitary forces in Chhattisgarh.
The Maoists are in a vulnerable position right now with recruitment of cadres having gone down significantly in the past few months. Their popularity among the tribals has also hit an all-time low. Both the Centre and the Raman Singh-led Chhattisgarh government are keen on seizing the opportunity to take down the Red rebels.
The stage has been set with a major shake-up in the police establishment in Bastar, the region most adversely affected by Maoism. There have been transfers of top police officials in five of the seven districts in Bastar. Most importantly, senior IPS officer SRP Kalluri, considered an expert in anti-Maoist operations, has been appointed the new Inspector General (IG) of Bastar. An advocate of direct confrontation with the Maoists, Kalluri is credited with driving the rebels away from Sarguja district in northern Chhattisgarh, making it a Maoist-free zone. On the flip side, he earned the ire of human rights activists who accused him of being responsible for the burning down of 300 tribal homes in Tadmetla and Morpalli villages in Sukma district in 2011. The activists also alleged that he was behind the attack on Swami Agnivesh when he was on his way to visit Tadmetla after the arson.
The decision to post Kalluri as the Bastar IG signals a more hardline anti- Maoist policy. To finalise the policy change, on 16 June, Raman Singh called a meeting of the Unified Command set up for better strategising and improved coordination among the paramilitary forces (CRPF, ITBP and BSF) and the local police personnel deployed in the region. The Unified Command is headed by the chief minister. Former CRPF chief K Vijay Kumar, who is now security adviser to the MHA, flew down from New Delhi to attend the meeting in Raipur.
Following the meeting, Kumar, who has a good understanding of the ground reality in Chhattisgarh, left for the battle zone in Bastar. Raman Singh announced a slew of measures related to infrastructure development, which will facilitate the anti- Maoist operation. The national highway connecting Raipur with the Jagdalpur, the headquarters of Bastar district, and Konta, deep inside the Maoist-affected region, will be repaired with assistance from the CRPF. This will make it easier for the security forces to enter the Maoist heartland. Moreover, 181 new mobile towers will be installed to enable better communication among the forces deployed in the region and all police stations will be equipped with solar power.
Earlier, in a meeting in New Delhi with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Raman Singh had been assured of all possible help from the Centre in putting an end to the Maoist menace in Chhattisgarh. Rajnath Singh also extolled the courage with which Chhattisgarh is fighting against left-wing extremism. Presenting the blue print of the anti-Maoist operation to the home minister, Raman Singh said that the fiercest battle to end left-wing insurgency in the country would be fought in Bastar. He added that a permanent solution to the Maoist problem can be found by improving the state of education, healthcare, communication, employment and infrastructure across Bastar, which would prevent the locals from being misguided by the rebels.
Currently, of the total 36 battalions of Central forces in the state, 29 are deployed in Bastar alone. Two battalions are deployed in Sarguja and five in Rajnandgaon, Dhamtari and Gariyabandh. The 10 additional battalions approved by the Centre will also be deployed in Bastar, taking the total to 39. As each battalion comprises around 780 personnel, nearly 30,000 paramilitary personnel will be available to take on the Maoists in the region.
The Centre has also sanctioned four helicopters for anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. Additional DG of Chhattisgarh Police RK Vij clarified that the choppers will not be used to mount air strikes on the Maoists. “The choppers will be used for transporting security personnel quickly to places where their presence is required,” Vij told Tehelka.
Though the Centre sanctioned 10 additional battalions, Raman Singh had sought 26. Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi, believes that it is wrong to blame the inability to counter Maoism on the lack of large numbers of security personnel. “Chhattisgarh should learn from Tripura, where they fought the insurgents with a relatively smaller force even though the northeastern state has denser forests than Chhattisgarh,” says Sahni. “The problem can be tackled only by formulating an intelligent strategy.”
Sahni adds that setting the targets before assessing the ground reality adequately may not be wise. “While it is commendable that both the Centre and the state government are determined to fight Naxalism to the finish, they should first come up with the correct plan and then set the target,” he says. “Until now, the opposite has happened in Chhattisgarh. They set the target first and then tried to achieve it by all means — fair or foul. If the anti-Naxal mission is goal-oriented, any means would be adopted to achieve the goal. It cannot be stopped. This is why Chhattisgarh must learn from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura. In those states, a workable plan was formulated only after completely understanding the nature of the problem. You cannot end Naxalism just by deploying forces.”
Police officials in Chhattisgarh, however, are upbeat about the resolve shown by both the Centre and the state government to take on the Maoists. “We will now be able to deal with Naxalism the way we want to. The Centre is at least listening to us patiently now. Earlier, they used to raise all sorts of questions. But this time, they not only heard us out in the very first meeting, but they also immediately cleared several of our demands.”
The Centre has also proposed to provide better incentives to the personnel deployed in anti-Maoist operations. Sources reveal that the proposal to give out-of-turn promotions and special allowances to paramilitary personnel posted in Maoist-hit areas will be implemented soon. However, it is not clear whether the same incentives will be extended to state police personnel.
Aware of the new Central government’s resolve to crush them, the Maoists are mincing no words in criticising it. “Hearing ‘Acche din aanewale hain’ (good days are ahead), some people are under the illusion that this is the beginning of ‘good governance’ and that Modi will bring about ‘change’. Some also naively believe that the BJP will not run its government on the basis of its Hindu-fascist agenda as in Gujarat but on the basis of a development agenda. However, Modi and other champions of Brahminical Hindutva will never fulfill these aspirations. On the contrary, the conditions of the masses will deteriorate further on all fronts,” read a press release by CPI(Maoist) central committee spokesperson Abhaya.
No doubt, Maoism has inhibited economic growth in Chhattisgarh. The backwardness of Bastar is reflected in the deplorable condition of the national highways passing through the Maoist-hit areas. Moreover, the tribals have little access to even basic amenities like education, healthcare, electricity and drinking water. This makes the region a fertile ground for the Maoist insurgency.
“We have a new strategy in place to tackle the Maoists and have deployed experienced officers in Bastar. But we also want to promote development so that there is no scope left for Maoism to rise again. This is why, alongside the police, we also have the PWD, education, water resources, communication and other development-oriented departments in the loop,” says ADG RK Vij.
Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman