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
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
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: