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India: Do Forces Know Their Brief In The Naxal Heartland? – Analysis

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In July 2010, responding to the suggestion by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that the Chhattisgarh government should redeploy the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions in the Left-wing extremist affected areas, the then Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwaranjan had shot back, “We cannot teach the paramilitary personnel how to walk.” Behind the rare loss of temper on part of this former officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), was an underlining belief that while the police are taking adequate precautions in dealing with the Naxalites (Maoists), the Central forces are not.

Vishwaranjan was shunted out of Chhattisgarh this year, but his statement did make some sense at that point of time. A Walkie-Talkie set belonging to the CRPF had proved to be a prize catch for the Maoists who organized a deadly ambush wiping out an entire company of the paramilitary forces at Chintalnar in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. The CRPF commander who had misplaced the set had ordered his men to carry out a search for the instrument without realising that Maoists are now overhearing the conversation and monitoring the movement of the forces through the Walkie-Talkie set. Over 1000 Maoists set up pressure mines and IED blasts and rained bullets on the paramilitary personnel killing 76 of them on April 6. The subsequent inquiry into the incident found serious command and control flaws among the CRPF leadership.

More than a year since the incident, it is evident that the quality of the security force operations against the Maoists has not improved a wee bit. This is true both for the Central as well as the State Police forces.

Money amounting to thousands of crores have been spent on police modernisation across the country- a process that is meant to improve the institutional as well as operational ability among the police forces. And yet on 19 August a police team in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district- supposedly empowered from this huge investments- decided to carry out an operation without batteries in its radio sets. A power failure lasting five days had drained the batteries completely. Reports further indicate that the forces were probably on top of a tractor for their movement. As the Maoists ambushed, they had no communication links available with the headquarters to call for reinforcements. As many as 10 security force personnel and the lone civilian tractor driver were killed in the attack. The harakiri committed by the forces is reminiscent of a Hollywood jungle adventure comedy and certainly not a serious anti-extremist operation.

Reports have indicated that as the police authorities kept on harping on the death of four Naxalites by the police personnel during the encounter, the bodies of the killed police personnel lay in mud and rain for over 18 hours before villagers, including the father of one of the deceased, picked them up in a bullock cart. The authorities had decided against sending additional forces to retrieve the bodies as “the men were low on morale and did not want to risk another Naxal attack”. The Police station in Bhadrakali was barely four kilometres away from the incident site.

Claims by the MHA that the anti-Naxal operations would take few years before improving for better are heavily based on the expectations it has from the trained and equipped security forces. However, if security forces are being trained in jungle warfare, the Naxals too have improved the quality of their own training. In an incident that would easily draw parallels with the bravery of the Indian Army’s infantry company in the Longewala border post against a surging mechanised infantry battalion of the Pakistan army in 1971, on 20 August, a team of 30 Naxals held off 250 police commandos for over 10 hours in Makadchuha village in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. The police force included commandos of the CRPF’s Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) battalion, who have been specifically trained for anti-Naxal operations.

Media reports have detailed the fighting ability and commitment of a lone woman Naxal commander, Raneeta alias Ramko Hichami, who fought relentlessly hiding in a small maize field behind a hut and using only a .303 rifle. Before she was killed, Raneeta had accounted for the lives of two COBRA commandos and had left two more injured. The encounter has come as a shock to the Maharashtra police department, where the officers often tell their men that the Naxals won’t dare to impose a direct combat on the forces.

It is a different matter that in India, where the functional distinctiveness of the para-military forces (now called the central armed police forces) have been diluted to a point of irrelevance, the COBRA battalions were deployed during the state Assembly elections in Assam earlier this year. Assam state has not seen much of Left-wing extremism. No doubt such political misuse of their expertise would have done the morale of the COBRA personnel a great harm. Misuse of the trained security force personnel has a long history in the country, seriously impacting on their capacities and professionalism. Reports have indicated that only a small fraction of the police personnel passing out from the jungle warfare school in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district are being used for counter-Maoist operations. Bulk are posted on static duties, much of which amounts to protecting the lives of the VIPs.

Such incidents pose serious questions on (i) the level of training imparted to the forces fighting the naxals; (ii) the level of motivation and commitment in these forces; (iii) the leadership available to these forces during their operations; and (iv) above all, the sincerity of the State as well as Central Governments to fight the Nexal menace. It appears that India, despite the induction of 81 battalions of central forces into the naxal heartland, is seriously faltering in dealing with what the Prime Minister has repeatedly termed as the “biggest internal security challenge”.

This article was published in CLAWS, New Delhi, 28 August 2011, http://claws.in/index.php?action=master&task=936&u_id=155

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray served as a Deputy Director in the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India and Director of the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)’s Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati, Assam. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the South Asia programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore between 2010 and 2012. Routray specialises in decision-making, governance, counter-terrorism, force modernisation, intelligence reforms, foreign policy and dissent articulation issues in South and South East Asia. His writings, based on his projects and extensive field based research in Indian conflict theatres of the Northeastern states and the left-wing extremism affected areas, have appeared in a wide range of academic as well policy journals, websites and magazines.

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