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Maoist strikes should be expected to intensify in the run up to assembly elections in November 2023 as well as general elections next year
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
Addressing a rally at Indira Stadium in Korba city of Chhattisgarh on January 07, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that the aim of the Union government is to make the country free from Maoism before the 2024 parliamentary elections. Maoists fired on a helicopter in Chhattisgarh in January itself injuring at least six security personnel. This was followed by an encounter with Maoists in February 2023 in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma in which three security personnel were killed and two injured.
On April 18, 2023, Chhattisgarh Congress MLA Vikram Mandavi had a narrow escape after Maoists fired at his convoy on the outskirts of Bijapur town in Bastar division when he returned from a 'nukkadsabha'. Quick thinking by the driver of a vehicle following Mandavi prevented a static ambush as he accelerated the SUV towards a village despite one tire punctured with bullets. The attack on Mandavi came weeks after two BJP state workers were attacked and killed.
The Maoists have an effective system of surveillance. They would have had advance warning of the DRG travelling in an ordinary vehicle instead of an IED-proof vehicle plus absence of road opening parties.
On April 26, 2023, Maoists ambushed a team of District Reserve Guard (DRG) in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh killingat least 11 DRG personnel and the civilian driver of the vehicle when Maoists detonated a powerful 50 kg IED on a kuchha road and fired on the wounded jawans near Aranpur in Dantewada district of Bastar, about 400 km south of Raipur. Visuals showed the blast left a 10 feet deep and 20 feet wide crater covering the full road width which also uprooted trees. This attack was the worst in Chhattisgarh since April 2021 when 22 police and paramilitary personnel were killed and at least two dozen injured in a gunfight with Maoists in the Bastar region.
The South Chota Nagpur zonal committee of the Maoists reportedly circulated a letter on April 17, 2023 warning villages about IEDs in the Maoist-affected areas of West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand. Maoists issued no such warning in Chhattisgarh but IED’s have been used umpteen times in the Bastar region, which is a hotbed of Maoists. It is also known that years back a nucleus of Maoists was trained in IED and explosives by the LTTE under tutelage of Pakistan’s ISI. The LTTE had used IED’s profusely against the IPKF personnel, vehicles and even tanks.
The usual rhetoric inserted in the media after a terror attack anywhere is that “terrorists are getting desperate”. But the instigation for the Dantewada ambush could be the declaration by Amit Shah that the Centre intends to end the insurgency by mid-2024. A similar claim to zero terrorism in J&K led to the terror attack on an Army vehicle in Poonch on April 20, 2023, in which five soldiers were killed. Another reason is Maoists having launched their annual 'tactical counter-offensive campaign (TCOC)' from April to June with Chhattisgarh going for assembly electionsand Maoists wanting to influence the outcome of the elections. Maoist strikes should be expected to intensify in the run up to assembly elections in November 2023 as well as general elections next year.
Both China and Pakistan are directly interested in keeping the Maoist insurgency alive
The DRG comprises local tribal youth and Maoists detest locals joining security forces. Therefore, the DRG team was targeted. It is very easy to dig up portions of the roads that are not tarmac or dirt roads to lay the IED and camouflage it, which one individual can trigger from a distance. The Maoists have an effective system of surveillance. They would have had advance warning of the DRG travelling in an ordinary vehicle instead of an IED-proof vehicle plus absence of road opening parties and security forces pickets in vicinity of the ambush site.
There is no doubt that incidents of the Maoists attack have reduced in recent years but the following need to be acknowledged:
Security forces penetration of the Maoists including developing moles and planting information among insurgent cadres to create dissensions is found wanting
Chhattisgarh normally has a deployment of 65 battalions worth of police and of central armed police forces (CAPF); equivalent to about four and a half army infantry divisions. This deployment is known to have gone up to 135 battalion worth during elections in the past. Yet, the Maoist insurgency remains unresolved. This indicates lack of political resolve both at the state and centre levels and lack of coordination as well. The role of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is limited to dishing out CAPF units to the concerned states rather than assuming overall control despite the insurgency spanning multiple states.
As regards operations by security forces, the perpetual problem barring an odd case is that these are not led by officers resulting in high rate of casualties and lapses. This must change. A Maoist hotbed like the Bastar region must have an integrated security grid, not just a few more COPs/FOBs and an occasional sweep into the Maoists heartland. Finally, a guerrilla must be fought like a guerrilla; anything else will not do.