Success against the Maoists is a rarity and its natural for the security forces not to let go any opportunity to show off their achievements, real or imagined. The first day of September 2011 was one such occasion, when the Jharkhand Director General of Police (DGP) G.S. Rath announced the conclusion of ‘Operation Monsoon’, a month-long anti-Maoist offensive that had begun on 31 July in the Saranda forests by the joint police forces of Orissa and Jharkhand and the central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Saranda is spread over 85,500 hectares along the border of Jharkhand and Orissa, hence was the need to make it a joint operation. It is from here that the CPI-Maoist runs its Eastern Regional Bureau headquarters.
In terms of achievements, the much touted Operation Monsoon that involved over 60 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Jharkhand police, wasn’t much of a success. In the words of a senior police official, “Seven camps were destroyed during the month-long operation, the biggest of them spread over more than 15 acres of land enough to house 200 cadres.” In all, 33 Maoists were arrested, amounting to roughly one Maoist per day during the length of the operation. Three weapons, 225 rounds of ammunition, four wireless sets and 175 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were recovered.
It would appear that ‘malaria’ rather than Maoists were the enemy number one for the forces during the month-long operation. Where as five encounters between the forces and the extremists took place injuring about two police constables, about 200 security force personnel were afflicted by the disease, which spreads through mosquito bites. A personnel belonging to the elite COBRA battalion died due to the disease. A total of 70 jawans of Jharkhand police and the CRPF have been hospitalized. Media reports earlier had indicated a poor state of preparation among the forces, who were forced to sleep under torn tents and operate under horribly poor conditions during the operation.
Police, however, claim that Operation Monsoon restored some semblance of the administration in Saranda villages, although they conceded not to have completely flushed out the rebels from the forest where they had established a parallel administration and had declared it to be a “liberated zone”.
Since the 1990s, the forests of Saranda had remained untouched by civil administration, and was under the control of the MCC and CPI-Maoist thereafter. in any event, Saranda is home to one of the finest iron ore reserves and hardly has half-a-dozen notified and mapped villages. As far as government amenities are concerned, there are few schools, colleges or hospitals within a radius of 40 km of the forest. So there isn’t much for the administration to do, even if they wanted. Saranda, unlike other Maoist strongholds isn’t an administrative problem, but a police problem. Saranda needs to be cleansed off Maoist presence, because a safe base in this area allows the CPI-Maoist to run its operations all over Jharkhand and also neighbouring states.
In the words of the DGP, “The rebels may not have been totally flushed out, but we have been successful in establishing an administration.” The coming days would tell us what sort of activity the civilian administration undertakes in the area.
Cynicism aside, the operation unveiled a new strategy and few new tactics. The launch of the operation indicates that the nation-wide Operation Green Hunt has been abandoned and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) now encouraging state-centric anti-Maoist operations with limited objectives. With particular reference to Operation Monsoon, the most prominent tactic adopted was the protracted length of the operation. Earlier, forces returned to their base camps within a few days. This allowed the Maoists to simply wait the operations out. This time, police claims that forces went into Saranda’s core, and pulled off sustained operations, lasting a week or more. That apparently allowed the Maoists no breathing time, giving them the option of attacking or retreating. It seems they chose the latter option. By all means, they have escaped into the safe zones, now mushrooming all across- in West Bengal, in Bihar and also in Orissa, where the security forces are either prevented by the political bosses from acting against the Maoists or haven’t really mastered the act of being proactive against the Maoists.
Operation Monsoon, as per the claims of the police, disrupted the landmine planting activity of the Maoists. “Rains are when Maoists plant landmines in loose soil and strengthen themselves. We nipped their plans in the bud”, the DGP said. This claim will be put to test in the coming days, by the number of landmine or IED explosions in Jharkhand.
The state police department doesn’t have any means or plans to stay put in the hostile terrain of Saranda. Forces have returned to their base and it would be natural to expect that the Maoists too would return to Saranda. The state Police Chief has promised a second round of operation if need be. “We will take a decision on the second round of operations based on inputs on rebel activities in Saranda. We will not lag behind in launching another offensive”, he said. As things stand today, such a need will soon arise.