Chhattisgarh is back in the news again, albeit for the wrong reason. On April 24, some 300 heavily armed Maoist insurgents ambushed the convoys of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, leaving 25 para-military personnel dead and many grievously injured. The gruesome incident took place when a team of 100 CRPF personnel belonging to the 74th battalion was patrolling on the Dornapal-Jagargunda road to provide security for the construction of the road connecting south Bastar.
Sukma continues to be the graveyard for paramilitary forces. Only in last March this year, Maoists had gun down 12 CRPF men in Sukma’s Bhejji village. A little more than two years ago, rebels had brought heavy casualties to the forces when they killed 15 members of the CRPF patrol party near the same location. And, the site of this Monday’s attack is just few kilometers from Latehar, a place where Maoists had killed 76 CRPF personnel in 2010.
The reactions to Maoist related incidents in India have been anything but rational. The same bunch of analysts, who are dismissive of strategy to end insurgency, were celebrating the State’s success against Maoists when Andhra-Odisha security forces eliminated 24 hardened Maoists in October 2016. Many analysts and Maoist watchers even went to the extent of writing obituaries of Maoists and their ideologies. While this was one of the most successful counter-insurgency operations against Maoists in the recent times, which saw the elimination of Appa Rao, Secretary of Eastern Division, his wife Aruna and Gajarala Ashok, the military head of AOB zone, analysts were grossly under-evaluating the capacity of the rebels to fight back.
A series of attacks in the recent times, including the Monday Sukma attack, is a clear reminder that the Maoist insurgency is anything but history. Notwithstanding the considerable losses of cadres, top leaders, resources and control over vast geography, Maoists retain considerable firepower in their strongholds. The Sukma incidents are clear reminders of their disruptive strengths.
Comparative statistics of Naxal violence (2005-2017)
|Years||Civilians||Security Force Personnel||LWE/ CPI-Maoists||Total|
Source: Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI, 2016-17
Time for dialogues
This year marks 50 years of Naxalite/Maoist insurgency. In May 1967, poor farmers, landless labourers and tribals had taken lathis, arrows and bows and raided granaries of Zamidars at Naxalbari, a tri-junction village of India, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and Nepal in May 1967. The Naxalbari uprisings, which were quickly crushed by the police, however, spread its spark to other regions of the country. However, with the arrest of Charu Mazumdar, the movement’s key lynchpin, many thought the Naxalite movement was all over. However, the 1980s saw the revival of the movement in its most violent form. Kondapalli Seetharamaiah formed the People’s War Group (PWG) in 1980. This was followed by hundreds of violent incidents, including the sensational killings of many top politicians from Andhra Pradesh. When the PWG was decimated in the early 1990s, leading to Seetharamaiah’s arrest, many analysts concluded that it was the end of armed insurgency. However, the insurgency movement revived again in 2004 when 40 armed factions merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
To cut the long story short, despite state actions, the left-wing insurgency continues its appearance in some form or other ever since its formal birth in 1967. Comparatively, the Indian state is much more powerful today than it were in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, it is unable to crush this insurgency, which continues to disrupt development and governance in a vast region, mostly inhabited by poor adivasis. Security operations or law and order approach have their limits. Both the Centre and the affected States need to ponder about their strategies and approaches in dealing with this form of insurgency that still continues to attract sizeable sections of population. While there is no substitute to law and order approach as the State is dealing with violent insurgents, at the same time, sincere efforts should be made to bring rebels to dialogues.
If the Columbia government can initiate dialogues and clinch a process accord with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), world’s most violent left-wing insurgency that has left more than 220,000 people dead and 5.7 million displaced since 1964, why should the Indian state hesitate to hold dialogue with the rebels. In fact, Now, being very weak and with their back to the wall, Maoist rebels might be more willing to join in political dialogues than ever before. The Colombia government also could force the FARC to the negotiation table only after liquidating its top leaders and weakening their firepower. In short, time is ripe for some smart negotiations with Maoists now. Armed means alone cannot crush a revolutionary movement that draws its nourishment from underdevelopment, injustice, exclusion and lack of governance.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).