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There are no quick fix solutions in counter-insurgency, it requires a mix of hard and soft options to tackle both the hard core and eliminate the root cause
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
Addressing a public rally in Korba Industrial Town of Chhattisgarh on January 7, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that the aim of the Union government is to make the country free from Maoist insurgency before the 2024 parliamentary elections. He also appealed to the people to vote back the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power in 2024. This gives Shah just about 15 months to finish off the Maoist insurgency. Hopefully he is aware that erstwhile Union Home Ministers from P.C. Chidambaram to Rajnath Singh also made claims that the Maoist insurgency would be finished off in next 2-3 years; which proved these were bogus claims. Similar appears to be the case with Shah unless he has found a magic wand.
Shah’s above statement perhaps is electionrhetoric since elections are due in Chhattisgarh amongst eight other states this year and the general elections are due in the country in the first half of 2024. For similar reasons in another election rally in Jharkhand on the same day he attacked the coalition government headed by Hemant Soren (who is a tribal) by accusing him of looting his own brothers and sisters in the tribal heartland since coming to power in 2019 but “steered clear of contentious issues like the implementation of the Sama Code of Conduct and probes by central agencies among other things” according to the media.
Naturally, Shah would not mention that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the primary force for counter insurgency, is under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but rather than allowing the DG CRPF to control operations in the entire Maoist affected belt, CRPF battalions are dished out to States in order to avoid responsibility of the MHA and the Centre.
Amit Shah’s statement perhaps is election rhetoric since elections are due in Chhattisgarh amongst eight other states this year and the general elections are due in the country in the first half of 2024
During the winter session of Parliament last year which was closed prematurely on December 23, the MHA had informed Parliament that compared to 670 incidents and 202 fatalities in violence in 2019 in the Maoist-affected belt, there were 483 incidents and 91 fatalities 2022 - till November 30, 2022. Moreover, the most Maoists Affected Districts came down to 30 from 35 in 2018 and further to 25 in 2021. The number of districts which are being supported through the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme is presently 70.
The above report to Parliament did not cover 2021 possibly because of the April 2021 deadly attack by Maoists on a joint team of CRPF, District Reserve Guard (DSG), and Special Task Force (STF) killing 22 and injuring more than 30, in addition to blowing up the bus carrying CAPF near Narayanpur district of Bastar division killing five. Moreover, the fall in incidents and fatalities has also happened because of the negative effects of COVID-19 in the Maoist belt though establishment of new Company Operating Posts (COP) by the CRPF is helping to expand security cover in the region.
Significantly, a state like Chhattisgarh has an all told force of some 65 battalions of CAPF and police which is equivalent of four and a half infantry divisions of the Army. This type of troop saturation has been going up to 135 battalions during elections, which is what the MHA may be planning with elections coming up. But this would unlikely “root out” Maoists from the 25 most affected districts and Maoists presence/influence from 70 districts in the next 15 months prior to elections in 2024.
Rather than allowing the DG CRPF to control operations in the entire Maoist affected belt, CRPF battalions are dished out to States in order to avoid responsibility of the MHA and the Centre
The MHA claim of reduced incidents and fatalities needs to be seen in the backdrop that Chhattisgarh had maximum incidents of Maoist violence in 2022; which have increased from 263 in 2019 to 279 in 2022 - till November 30, 2022. 14 districts in this state are in receipt of SRE funds and Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma are the most severely impacted.
Media reports indicate a fierce encounter on January 11, 2023, on the Chhattisgarh-Telangana border when Maoists opened fire on CRPF troops de-boarding from a helicopter as part of a CoBRA battalion being shifted to a forward operating base in forests located on borders of Sukma and Bijapur. Search operations were on as per last reports.
There are no quick fix solutions in counter-insurgency; it requires a mix of hard and soft options to tackle both the hard core and eliminate the root cause. Besides, few incidents can shatter the peace in the region – as has happened in J&K with the twin terror attacks in Dangri hamlet of Rajouri district on January 1-2. With porosity of borders in difficult terrain the illusion of normalisation anyway is naïve without the demonstrated capability of tit-for-tat response within 24 hours.
Establishment of new Company Operating Posts (COP) by the CRPF is helping to expand security cover in the region
Now a media report of January 11, 2023 states that the Centre is planning to reduce the deployment of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in J&K and repositioning of CRPF units. The report quoting unnamed sources says that a phase-wise drawdown plan for the Rashtriya Rifles is on the cards, which as per plan was to take over six years but officials are expecting the drawdown to be completed by “next year” commencing shortly. The report further states that Ganderbal and Badgam districts of J&K presently under operational control of RR are likely to see the first phase and movement of CRPF that would be visible in the next few weeks.
It is not known whether the government wants to reduce the overall strength of the RR to cut the expenditure on the Army or deploy the RR troops withdrawn from J&K elsewhere. But hopefully enough thought has been given to this plan (including combat capability of a RR unit vis-à-vis CRPF unit) and we do not land up with more Rajouri style terror attacks.