“The most effective ally of terrorism is complacency”, opines MJ Akbar in his op-ed piece in The Indian Express dated April 1, 2016. Although Mr. Akbar’s remarks were in the context of laxity of the European State actors towards monitoring the movements of criminal terrorists Ibrahim el – Bakraoui and Abdelhamid Abaaoud1; his observation is equally apt with regards to what happened in Dantewada’s Mailawada village on March 30.
Seven CRPF jawans were killed in a powerful IED blast, which took place 12 km from Dantewada. The blast left a deep crater in the road, with the bodies as well as the vehicle completely blown apart. It was conjectured that the IED could not have weighed less than 15 kg. This was not a pressure IED but required a trigger, and preliminary investigation suggests that given its depth in the ground, there are two methods to plant it that could have been used. One is that the IED was planted before the road was constructed, and the Maoists were lying in wait to trigger it. Second is that it was done recently by drilling into the road from the sides, through a tunnel emanating from the loose earth areas in the vicinity.
The likelihood of planting the IED prior to construction of the metalled road is remote since the road was constructed several years back and explosives normally used by Maoists cannot sustain for so long. And if the tunnel theory is correct, it shall usher in a new modus operandi on part of the Maoists, to plant IEDs on busy and pucca road. Recently, CRPF had unearthed a tunnel in Bjapur. Also, the CRPF believes that information regarding the movement of its troops, killed in the blast, was “leaked”, by a mole who could be from “within or outside” the paramilitary. The troops, as per DG CRPF, were doing a surprise non-operational movement and hence were not in uniform.
Having mentioned the stand of CRPF, the most surprising, or rather shocking was when the Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ajay Chandrakar told Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV that it was a major lapse on part of forces to move without uniform and arms and that this was in violation of rules where soldiers should not move in sensitive areas unprepared. The minister could be correct but the timings of his comments were certainly not worthy of the state Home Minister, vis-à-vis the adverse effect the same would have on the moral and psychological fabric of the troopers. The syndrome of chasing tangibles is a bane while combating insurgencies and the state apparatus seems to be stuck with the same.
Obviously, there were lapses, but the mindset of the Chhattisgarh government, articulated by the minister, shows the lack of apathy towards central forces, that has suffered casualities. It is beyond doubt that the lapses and shortcomings have to be admitted with an honest perspective to draw tactical lessons, with an aim to improve upon. However, such observations to fix accountability ought to be confined to in-house analysis. It is not justified when, in public domain, an alibi such as this is made for disowning a failure.
In an insurgency environment, the challenge for insurgents and the counter-insurgents is to win over the majority neutral local population which cannot be achieved by the state projecting its security agencies feeble, in their abilities. In addition, such remarks adversely affect the dedication and conviction of rank and file (of security agencies), making them defensive, over cautious and indifferent. The resultant thought process infuses ticket punching syndrome amongst the troopers, with grave manifestations.
Although casting aspersions in terms of tactical errors by someone not on ground is highly irresponsible; prima facie, the lacunae are far too obvious.
Firstly, with desired levels of human intelligence for the CRPF, it would not have been possible for the Maoists to plant an IED in the manner that they did, since it does not seem to be an overnight operation.
Secondly, with reference to the remarks about the information of troops’ movement getting leaked, it is observed that any such leak would not have been required. Normally, in counter-insurgency scenarios, it is experienced that insurgents are wary of confronting alert troops. The kind of intelligence that the Maoists have in the area, the movement of troops would have been observed for a protracted duration by the Maoists to ascertain a pattern. This usually is the homework that any insurgent group carries out, prior to planning and executing a tactical operation against counter-insurgent. It certainly does not require a mole to enable the Maoists choose their potential target that follows a routine and is weak in terms of its likely reaction, when confronted.
Thirdly, with relatively lower levels of fatalities over last few years in the region, the sense of complacency that sets in; is for the genius of unit commanders to ward off. No road opening, non operational movement without protection and terming it as a ‘surprise’ movement are the aspects that make a recipe for disaster. Ideally, in an insurgency scenario, the counter-insurgent has to be a step ahead of the insurgent, not only in execution both also in terms of thinking and planning. Until, such ethos are inculcated by personal example and hands on leadership, tragedies like this shall recur in the long wars, that insurgencies are.
The kind of guerilla warfare that the Maoists have been waging and with recent mounting pressure, it is not too difficult to fathom that they were on a constant lookout for an opportunty to strike. Maoists have repeatedly proved their mettle towards striking at will, especially in south Bastar, as part of their declared Tactical Counter Offensive.
It is worthy to add that the developments in Bastar, over last several months have been worrisome, as far as positive perception management by the state is concerned. The aspect of psy messaging to counter the insurgent narrative is an imperative and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has adopted public perception management as one of the four pillars to base its counter LWE strategy. The other ones being security, development and ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities.
However, in the wake of developments like allegations of fake surrenders, pressure on activists and media, rise in extremism of vigilante groups like Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM) do not portend too well for the counter-insurgency campaign. Given the media reports on the high handedness of SEM, it will not take much for these groups to get weaponised in the face of Maoists pitching in; and certainly, any repeat of a Salwa Judum would be most undesirable, which saw adivasis killing adivasis.
It is not to indicate that the allegations of Bastar turning into a police state are correct, but the requirement on part of the state is to come out clean by projecting a counter narrative, refuting the allegations. If required, tranparent enquiries should be resorted, to probe the matters. In absence of the same, it is likely that the Maoists agenda shall gain traction, further sapping the state efforts to counter them.
Lastly, invoking the comments of Chhattisgarh Home Minister, where he remarked that it was not to the Maoists’ credit but due to the negligence on part of the CRPF that manifested in the recent IED strike. It is unfortunate that by making us believe so, an effort is being made to ignore the elephant in the room. Planting a powerful IED underneath a pucca road and being able to execute strike on unprepared body of troops require tremendous amount of efforts and multitude of behind the scene actors. The Maoists’ capabilities are rather reinforced by this daring act. Unless the government and its organs go beyond the illusions and acknowledge the strengths Maoists, a counter to the dynamism of Left Wing Extremism shall be challenging to come by.
The government needs to focus on all sub components of the overall context, complemented by the in-house reordering by involved security forces. With the fatalities in the conflict going down and positive indices on the rise, it would be unwise on part of the government to lose focus and seriousness in the fight against Left Wing Extremism.
*Shashank Ranjan, Research Fellow with Centre for Landwarfare Studies, New Delhi.
1. The FBI gave Dutch police information about two of the Brussels bombers, brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, almost a week before a series of deadly attacks rocked the Belgian capital as also the (November 2015) Paris terror strike accused, Abdelhamid Abaaoud had been on the radar of Western security forces since early 2014