Counter-insurgency literature puts the limit on the effective functionality of an insurgent group to about a decade. Globally, the optimum possibility of an insurgency achieving its desired result has been within the first decade of its origin. Though it may continue to exist and carry out the odd attack beyond this timeline, the chances of it ever achieving its proclaimed end objectives are remote. As the end of 2021 draws near, the 17-year old Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) resembles a crumbling group that is way past its prime and effectiveness. However, it still has the potential to continue in an emaciated form, exploiting favourable conditions available in states like Chhattisgarh.
On 13 November, the CPI-Maoist group received a severe jolt with the loss of 27 of its cadres in an encounter in Maharasthra’s Gadchiroli district. Among those killed were Milind Teltumbde, a Central Committee member, two other divisional committee members, and Sukhlal Parchaki, a local commander. The group, in a press release, termed the incident as “most sorrowful” and called for a shutdown to pay homage to the slain cadres. Elsewhere, Prashant Bose alias Kishan da, the group’s elusive senior ideologue, was arrested in Jharkhand’s Saraikela Kharsawan district. Bose, who in his mid-80s, is more of an inspirational figure within the organisation rather than an operations man. The killing of a large number of armed cadres in Gadchiroli has been a direct setback to the group’s operations and plan for expansion.
An Offensive-Defensive Approach
Two trends can be gleaned from the country’s policy on left-wing extremism (LWE) in recent years. Firstly, notwithstanding the ills that affect security force operations against the CPI-Maoists, there is an emphasis on a proactive ‘offensive-defensive’ approach. Operations such as the one in Gadchiroli, in which the Maharashtra Police and the state’s C-60 anti-LWE commandos participated, are part of this strategy of meeting the threat at the ‘point of origin’ rather than ‘point of impact.’ Such a strategy provides two inherent advantages. One, it strips the group of the sense of security it enjoyed during phases of inactivity or lack of violence. Two, it impacts the quality of and preparedness for violent actions.
Secondly, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been able to achieve a uniform force-centric strategy to deal with LWE. For a long time now, and especially during the years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, disunity among states and the freedom available to them to pursue soft or hard counter-LWE approaches had allowed the CPI-Maoists both significant operating space and survival opportunities. That now is a thing of the past. An informal understanding appears to have been reached between the central government and each of the LWE-affected states with regard to the primacy of an offensive-defensive approach. A state like Chhattisgarh, for example, had promised a different approach under Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, but it has conformed to the MHA’s preference.
Capacity for Delivery
Nothing succeeds like success. The Gadchiroli encounter comes roughly seven months after the ambush that killed 22 security force personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. At one level, this can be interpreted as the capacity of the security forces to turn the tide against the CPI-Maoist, albeit in a different theatre of conflict. Security forces in Maharashtra have performed relatively well vis-à-vis the Maoists in the only district of the state affected by LWE. Although the neighbouring Gondia district is also officially described as LWE-affected, it does not see much extremist activity.
In comparison, Chhattisgarh’s nine districts (Dantewada, Bastar, Kanker, Surguja, Rajnandgaon, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Sukma, and Kondagaon) are LWE-affected. The the state security establishment’s performance vis-à-vis the extremists, in comparison with its counterparts in Maharashtra, is relatively poor.
Not surprisingly, Chhattisgarh both accounts for a major share of LWE activity and is a state where the CPI-Maoists manage to carry out major strikes on the security forces, albeit intermittently. Therefore, while the encounter in Gadchiroli constitutes a major setback for the CPI-Maoist, Chhattisgarh holds the key to its decimation. In other words, losses suffered in Maharashtra or any other state can be recovered by the group in Chhattisgarh. As long as the CPI-Maoist group manages to operate in Chhattisgarh, LWE will not be brought to an end.
Purely from a security point of view, if a district-focused approach has worked to the advantage of Maharashtra’s security forces, there is certainly a case for replication in Chhattisgarh. The latter is much more complex and part of the decades-long history of the CPI-Maoist’s consolidation in the state, which was part of Madhya Pradesh earlier, and only adds to the group’s wherewithal. Continuing challenges of intelligence-gathering, centre-state coordination, and eliciting popular support could potentially be better addressed by a district-focused approach. It will help break down existing complexities and enhance security capabilities.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director, Mantraya, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS, where this article was first published.