Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Sukma Maoists attack and where are we going wrong: Replace high-level IPS officers in Naxal belt with hardcore cops
The brutal attack by Maoists on 24 April in Chhattisgarh's Sukma which killed 25 CRPF personnel and injured several others was one of the deadliest attacks in recent times, though smaller than the massacre in April 2010 when Maoists killed 76 CRPF men.
The Maoists walked off with 32 assault rifles (mix of AK and INSAS), an assortment of rifle magazines and ammunition, 22 bulletproof jackets, two binoculars, five wireless sets and one metal detector. It was reported that the team of 99-strong CRPF men, which was out to provide protection for road construction, was attacked by 300 "left-wing extremist" and the firefight continued for at least three hours. There are claims that 10-12 Maoists were killed but no bodies were found. Another report said that the 99-member CRPF patrol team was attacked when they were preppin gto have lunch, obviously without ensuring protection.
It may be recalled that on 11 March this year, Maoists attacked another CRPF column at Bheji (Sukma) and by the time the an hour long assault ended, Maoists had killed 11, injured five (one succumbing to his injuries taking the death toll to 12). Reports had quoted officials as saying that the Naxals also looted ten weapons and two radio sets from the killed men, officials said.
Former home secretary in 2015 LC Goyal had said that an Army cantonment should be established in the Bastar region, as if that will be the silver bullet to tackle the issue. Media lapped up this revelation. However, the public is unaware of the fact that Chhattisgarh alone has some 45 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (BSF, CRPF, IRB etc), a force equivalent of five times the Infantry Divisions or two times the Corps of the Army.
Goyal, in the report, did not disclose the plan that he, as a former home secretary, had drawn up to deal with the Maoists issue? Another home secretary who delivered a talk at a prominent think tank in New Delhi responded to searching questions cursorily and peremptorily, not once mentioning that the MHA is 'accountable'. He was also repeatedly asked why the Control of Borders was being handled by the police and is not given to Army similar to the Control of the Coast given to Navy, to which he had no answer.
One can hear statements time and again from the home ministry that additional forces can be allotted to the states, as required. But should the responsibility and accountability of MHA end there when the Maoists problem spans multiple states? With CRPF designated as the main counter-insurgency forces, why does the home secretary not recommend that the police academy in Hyderabad shift to the Naxal belt rather than recommending an army cantonment in the region?
In fact, much of the problems of the insurgency areas would be better addressed if the police academy is moved to Bastar and the IAS academy to the Kashmir Valley. Incidentally, a decade-old proposal for locating Army and Air Force elements at Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) that had been agreed upon has not fructified because the state only made available part of the land required and MHA took no interest in the issue.
Surprisingly, the media has never highlighted the woes of the Central Armed Police Forces. With the strong IPS lobby, very few officers from the CRPF and BSF get promoted and seldom get to the rank of Additional Director General (ADG), as the bulk of the appointments at this level too are held by IPS officers despite it being grossly disproportionate given the strength of individual CAPF.
So, the Director General of CRPF actually is an IPS officer who has not come through grassroots of the CRPF, leave aside any experience of operating with the jawans in insurgency areas. This, as per veteran CRPF officers, is the main reason why the manning, training and equipping of this force has been suffering.
The government must look at these issues seriously and the MHA must get into the act. The Home Minister should consider sending MHA bureaucrats to go and live with the CAPF (not as state guests) in Bastar region by rotation to get first-hand experience of the issue.
This could actually be standard operating procedure that all bureaucrats posted to MHA must go through this experience. Much of the army's requirements in Siachen Glacier were met after Defence Minister George Fernandes sent MoD bureaucrats to Siachen.
Hundreds of CAPF battalions have been raised and there is no reason they cannot deal with internal security issues. They must perform and be 'made' to perform, and most importantly, dominate the Dandakaranya forest, where an occasional foray and chest-thumping are useless.
The home ministry must get into the act rather than bureaucrats looking over the shoulder towards the Army, and help our enemies in getting the Army sucked in here too. Wouldn't it surprise the public to know that the manpower strength of the police and central armed police forces is much more than that of the military?
A Maoist document titled Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas (UPUA) says, "At present the revolutionary movement is advancing in a vast belt of people's war encompassing the extensive areas of Dandakaranya, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar-Odisha border, north Telangana and Koel-Kaimur. We will be able to build these areas into contiguous areas of armed struggle with each area influencing the other."
Linked with recent events, they indicate that the critical phase of attacking the political fabric of Indian democracy has already begun. The issue needs to be viewed even more seriously considering that the brain of the Maoists ideology is in Beijing, they are receiving focused support from both China and Pakistan, and their over-ground elements are cloaked as intellectuals and social activists, even participating freely in seminars and debates in New Delhi. They too are very much Maoists and must be treated as such.
The author is veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army.