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Maoists may unleash wave of deadly attacks
Krishnakumar P
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February 03, 2009 17:46 IST

Maoists have planned to unleash an intense Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign across the country starting from February and Sunday's ambush of 15 policemen in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district may be just the first of a wave of devastating attacks, highly placed police officials in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh have told

"We have with us information that they were planning to begin a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign in February," said Pankaj Gupta, Additional Director General of Police (Anti-Naxal Operations), Maharashtra, who is helming the investigation into the brutal ambush where Maoists gouged out the eyes and chopped the limbs of surviving policemen before killing them.

A highly-placed intelligence officer in Chhattisgarh, where the perpetrators of Sunday's ambush are suspected to have fled for cover, said that state also had information about the Maoists planning to begin a TCOC from February. "From what we know, the Maoists were supposed to begin a TCOC around this time. We came to know that their central committee met in October. And it takes this much time to launch such a campaign. So, all pointers -- especially the timing -- are that this may be a TCOC," he said.

Expert on left wing extremism and journalist with The Hindu K Srinivas Reddy however said though the ambush had all the signs of TCOC, it would be prudent to wait for documentary evidence. "The thoroughly planned and well-executed ambush means this might be the beginning of a TCOC. But we do not have any documentary evidence as of now," he said. [Maoists usually release a statement claiming responsibility for attacks and also reveal the motive behind the move]

A Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign is a no-holds barred violent spree where the Maoists try to gain the upper hand against the State and consolidate their strongholds with deadly ambushes on the state machinery and by singling out soft targets like political leaders to ascertain their supremacy in a given region. It has no fixed timeframe and will last till the Maoists are convinced they have dealt a crippling blow to the State.

In a research paper, Reddy defines: 'The TCOC, as explained by the Naxalite leadership [to the author] was the only strategy that could provide some space for the revolutionary movement to sustain itself in the face of a severe state repression.'

A TCOC is launched mostly when the Maoists are on the back foot and is used to boost the morale of the cadre.

Among the first campaigns was the one launched in Andhra Pradesh in 2002 when the administration had dealt severe blows to the Maoists. The Maoists resorted to TCOC, which culminated in a landmine attack on the foothills of Tirupati on the then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu [Images], which he survived.

The most recent campaign was launched in 2007. While Chhattisgarh bore the brunt in terms of casualties in the security forces -- the state lost 437 security personnel including 56 in one single attack in Rani Bodhi -- Jharkhand lost the most political leaders.

Sunday's ambush is the first major attack of 2009. The police team had gone into the remote area to investigate an incident of arson -- an age old Maoist trap.

"The security forces in these parts [Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border area] had kept them tied down. Even the Chhattisgarh election was relatively smooth compared to the previous election. In fact, across the country, the only major incident was the ambush of the Greyhounds [crack anti-Naxal security force] in Orissa." a senior Chhattisgarh intelligence officer in the Bastar region said.

On whether the ambush could be the beginning of a sustained and intensified TCOC, he said: "Seized Maoist literature say the local levels are to set aside 15 days of a month in preparation for such strikes. In 2008, we thwarted a lot of their major efforts. It was just a matter of time before they struck back and this is the first big strike of 2009. So, yes, this could be the beginning of a campaign."

Security analysts also agree. "2008 was a quiet year for the Maoists. There was a lull in the past few months and there was nothing spectacular," P V Ramana, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, said.

And there was no major operation against the Maoists in the recent months for the Gadchiroli incident to have been a mere retaliation, he said.

"They wouldn't have planned such a major assault if it was retaliation for some other attack. It is too well-planned.

"It is now possible that the central committee or the politburo had met towards the end of 2008 and plotted the plan for 2009," Ramana said.

The Maoist Central Committee meets at least once in roughly six months and the last known full fledged meeting was in December 2007. "So one can assume that according to the six month pattern, a meeting might have happened towards the end of 2008," he said, adding that the dissemination of the plan through various levels of the Maoist hierarchy would have taken at least till the end of January to reach the lower levels which carry out the operations.

"The decisions are taken in the central committee meeting and it is passed on through a human chain of communication and is implemented by the local units," Ramana said.

The attacks also are worrying for another reason. The Maoists usually escalate the scale of violence ahead of elections. "Even in the Chhattisgarh elections, they planned to down a helicopter carrying a polling party. Election time is when they try spectacular assaults.

We are just a month or so away from a major general election. This year will see more attacks and they will be bloodier than ever," the Bastar intelligence officer said.

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