Major Maoist Strike - no lessons learned

Another tragedy in counter-Maoist operations indicates that lives of the jawans is cheap and the hierarchy, both political and the police force, remain lackadaisical

April 20, 2021 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Sarbaharapath, Ministry of Mines
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

A MAOIST CAMP IN THE HEARTLANDS OF INDIA

The Maoists struck the security forces in a major ambush on March 3, 2021 in Tekulguda on the Bijapur-Sukma border in Chhattisgarh, killing 24 and wounding 31. The 2,000-strong column comprised CRPF troops and its Bastariya Battalion, CoBRA commandos, District Reserve Guards (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF) of Chhattisgarh. Number of weapons lost has not been revealed but according to a high-ranking security expert quoted in media, are enough to start insurgency in a small state like Tripura.

On April 7, Maoists released the photograph of Rakeshwar Singh Manhas of CoBRA commando force who they had captured on April 3. Earlier the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) of the Maoist issued a press release saying Manhas is in their custody, is safe and demanded a mediator to negotiate his release. He was release on April 8 under media cover showing massive public support to Maoists.

According to police, the operation was launched on specific inputs of presence of Maoist leader Hidma carrying a reward of 25 lakh and other Maoist cadres. The security forces went towards Tekulguda through a village without securing, moving along tracks without securing the heights on both sides. Not securing the heights is an invitation for ambush, which CRPF has suffered umpteen times. Lack of leadership and coordination on ground, results in movement in groups, even during breaks, and counter ambush drills are hardly followed. In addition, the fatal mistake was to return on the same route without securing heights and the village. Hence a well coordinated Maoist ambush awaited them.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) must assume overall charge with DG CRPF centrally in-charge of all counter-Maoist operations

An IG of CRPF is located in Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, while 32 CRPF battalions are deployed in the Bastar region. Bijapur has seven CRPF battalion headquarters while all their companies are located 50 to 100 kilometers away. The operation to nab Hidma should have been led by the Commandant of concerned CRPF unit(s). It may be recalled that when 40 CRPF personnel were killed in the Pulwama car bombing two years back, not a single CRPF officer was moving with the 2,000 plus CRPF convoy. Not a single CRPF officer has been killed in counter-Maoist operations over the years. Nalin Prabhat was DIG CRPF in Chhattisgarh in 2010 when Maoists butchered 76 CRPF personnel. He should have been sacked immediately but was quietly moved out and is now IG (Operations). CRPF planned the stupid operation to get Hidma. He may still not be sacked despite the blood of 76 and now 23 CRPF men (total 99) on his hands because of political connections.

There is the usual nonsense of denying intelligence failure and DG CRPF says Maoists could have been tipped off by villagers. Did he expect otherwise? He would not question lack of leadership, why basic tactics in such operations were not followed and why did they return through the same route. One injured jawan says, “When we were moving towards Tekulguda, we sensed something wasn’t right as the village and the surrounding areas had no population. The houses were empty. It was strange. There was an eerie silence. We contacted senior commanders over walkie-talkie and were ordered to keep moving.” Why was caution not imposed by the so-called ‘senior commanders’ sitting in comfortable surroundings?

Above is one of the many tragedies in counter-Maoist operations which indicates that lives of the jawans is cheap and the hierarchy, both political and CRPF, remain lackadaisical notwithstanding customary tributes and money given to the families. The Union Home Minister has talked of determination to conclude the fight against Maoists. There are indications of a major counter-Maoists action likely within a month. In all probability it would be on lines of Operation ‘Green Hunt’ launched by the Centre and five states in November 2009. But results in such operations are hardly commensurate with the quantum of forces deployed despite the media hype.

Countering Maoist insurgency requires simultaneous operations on the socio-political-economic-moral-physical planes rallying local population against Maoists organization

An odd sweep through the 92,000 square kilometer Dandakaranya Forest means little. The forest has over two dozen villages and Maoists having excellent surveillance and communications system can easily evade the CAPF sweeps which they know will be temporary. The southern half of Bastar is a hotbed of Maoist movement as the insurgents can use this corridor to move in and out of Maharashtra, Telangana and Odisha. For major attacks, Maoists mobilise cadres from other regions, who cross over to participate in the attack and later escape into their own territory, where they wait out for any pursuit.

On March 24, 2018, then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the "serious" challenge of Maoists in the country has entered its "last leg". But if the government is really serious about ‘concluding’ the Maoists insurgency, following is required:

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) must assume overall charge with DG CRPF centrally in-charge of all counter-Maoist operations. The practice of MHA washing off its hands beyond allotting CAPF units to states must cease. If the MHA cannot devote adequate time, creation of Ministry of Internal Security dealing exclusively for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism should be examined.
  • Battalion and company commanders of CAPF must lead their sub-units and units in operations as a standard rule and senior commanders must be made accountable. The IPS, whose culture of ‘ease’ has resulted in excessive avoidable casualties; need to be weaned out completely from the CRPF. Compare this with Hidma, Maoist battalion commander, who led his men in the ambush, giving orders and ensuring fire control.
  • CRPF having been designated the primary CI force; the CRPF units must be reorganised in terms of equipment for surveillance and monitoring, communications, plus integral mobility, medical and logistics.
  • The training of officers in CRPF units, especially IPS-origin must be seriously reviewed.
  • Maoists use commercial-off-the-shelf communication equipment (Chinese made 400-500 Mhz band), which can be intercepted/jammed/geo-located with technology available in India. In difficult terrain like the Red Corridor, disrupting communication is key to demoralising the Maoists. This capability to the CRPF units must be ensured on immediate basis.
  • Despite tall claims of ‘technology’, technical intelligence, signal intelligence and aerial capability was not used to locate 400 Maoists? HUMINT too was lacking.
  • In terms of accountability, how has the DRDO’s Directorate of Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) boosted capabilities of counter-Maoist forces?
  • A timetable must be set to extend civil administration and police cover to villages inside the Dandakaranya Forest. Recall in 2011, a CRPF column discovered Bodiguda village (just 29 km from Begrampur Town and Police Station) for the first time since India’s Independence where the villagers had grown up believing Maoists are the government.
  • Countering Maoist insurgency requires simultaneous operations on the socio-political-economic-moral-physical planes rallying local population against Maoists organisation/activities and destroying insurgents while blending development and education to ensure legitimate government rule.
  • Finally, military solution is not the key to resolve the insurgency. We should aim for a peace agreement. When we can talk to Nagas and ULFA, why don’t we officially talk to the Maoists?