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Why the government's anti-Naxal response is a failure

By Bibhu Prasad Routray
March 12, 2014 15:36 IST
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Anti-Naxal operationsAll Naxal-affected states demonstrate police as well as governance incapacities. Odd occasions of success and temporary dip in Naxal violence notwithstanding, the states have utterly failed to dominate and make their presence felt over areas under the extremist domination, says Bibhu Prasad Routray.

There have been two attacks by the Communist Party of India-Maoist within a fortnight in Chhattisgarh, the worst left-wing extremism affected state in the country. While five security force personnel were killed in the February 28 attack in Dantewada district, 16 people including 11 belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force, four belonging to the state police and a civilian were killed on March 11 in Sukma district.

With the Lok Sabha elections beginning in less than a month, these attacks would be linked to extremist intent to escalate violence and demonstrate an ideological opposition to the political process in the country. The fact remains, however, that success of the extremists to carry out such attacks and failure of the state to prevent them underline a much deeper malaise.

Available reports indicate that a large number of Maoists (estimates ranging from 100 to 300) attacked the security force personnel, part of a 45-member security team deployed to provide security to the road construction work on National Highway 30 that connects the state capital Raipur to Sukma. Naxals surrounded the team from both sides and fired indiscriminately. Within 15 minutes, the team had been overpowered and the Naxals managed to carry away weapons and ammunition from the dead and the injured.

Coming 10 months after the May 2013 attack in Darbha in which 27 people including Congress party leaders and workers were killed, this constitutes a major achievement for the extremists.   

Like any counter-insurgency operations, success in anti-Naxal operations need to fulfil certain policy, strategic and tactical requirements. The strategies must be formulated by the security experts and not by the political class and the detached bureaucracy. The operations must remain a small commander's war, an effort in which the state police establishment takes the lead and the central police forces pitch in to provide necessary support.

The personnel involved in the sustained operations need to be led intelligently and must have access to ground level intelligence, quality arms and other logistics. The political class must limit itself to provide broad policy directions and demonstrate a steadfast intent to solve the problem and keep it undiluted from partisan considerations.

It would appear that in spite of a decade-long history of counter-Naxal operations in the country (taking the 2004 formation of the CPI-Maoist as a cut off year), none of these basic requirements have been fulfilled in any of the conflict theatres. Under the circumstances, while a dip in violence may be achieved as a result of a tactical favour granted by the extremists, a victory is unimaginable.

Calling the Chhattisgarh police a completely divided force may be a little too sweeping. However, the fact remains that the recent times have witnessed rivalry and unhealthy competition affecting group solidarity, a key component in counter-insurgency theatres. Senior IPS officers in the state have squabbled bitterly laying claims to the post of director general of police in the past months, after the incumbent DGP retired in January 2014.

Intelligence gathering capacities of the police have been questioned by the senior police officers. A senior police official has accused an ADG and DIG in charge of the state's intelligence branch of turning it into a personal fiefdom and thereby seriously affecting its operations.  

Such divisions merely accentuates to the existing capacity crunch. Data reveals that Chhattisgarh has a police density of 31.8 policemen per 100 square kilometres, amounting to roughly a lone policeman managing three square kilometre area. In the inaccessible and remote Bastar division, police presence is expected to be even poorer. In comparison, in terms of sheer numerical strength, other Naxal-affected states like Bihar have a density of 70.8 and Jharkhand 71.5.

Chhattisgarh has managed to improve its total police strength from 23,350 in 2005 to 42,975 in 2012. However, even this near doubling up is clearly not enough. Bihar and Jharkhand with much less geographical area have much larger police force.

In addition, in Chhattisgarh over 26 percent vacancy exists in the SSP/SP/deputy SP level and another 21 percent in the inspector/sub-inspector level demonstrating an acute shortage of officers both at the leadership as well as operational level. To expect such a weak, depleted and demoralised police force to lead the anti-Naxal operations and emerge victorious is inconceivable.

Not surprisingly a Chhattisgarh senior police officer summed up, "We have effectively outsourced the counter-Naxal operations to the central forces." With the central forces, duty bound to play the role of a supporter or force enabler and certainly not that of a lead force, the fight against the Naxals is marked by enormous confusion and operational frailty.

The recent attacks are as much a failure of the state government as that of New Delhi. In spite of the chronic problem, responses to Naxal attacks are yet to emerge from the realm of politics, with New Delhi blaming Raipur and the latter returning the favour. Following the May 2013 attacks in Darbha, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh blamed "raajnaitik matbhed" (political differences) pointing at a deliberate decision on part of Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Raipur not to provide security to his party leaders.

While Singh issued a customary statement underlining his resolve to bring the culprits to book, his Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde chose to continue with his holidays in the United States and not return to the country till a week after the incident. The country's response to Naxalism remains dishonest, to say the least. It is astonishing that in spite of his repeated pronouncements regarding the severity of the problem over the past decade, Dr Singh has failed to give any direction to the much touted anti-Naxal endeavours.

All Naxal-affected states demonstrate similar police as well as governance incapacities. Odd occasions of success and temporary dip in Naxal violence notwithstanding, the states have utterly failed to dominate and make their presence felt over areas under the extremist domination.

Similar to the November 2013 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, deployment of a large number of security forces may be able to minimise extremist violence during the upcoming elections. However, securing a victory against the Naxals, unless the current force and governance dispositions are drastically altered by the new government in New Delhi, would remain a far-fetched dream.

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray served as a deputy director in National Security Council Secretariat, New Delhi.

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