SOURCE: Hindustan Times
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once said India’s biggest internal security challenge was Maoist violence — a decade-long armed rebellion waged by several ideologically aligned outfits who draw strength from tribal and marginalised communities in some of the most backward regions of the country. In an acceptance of the problem, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon the Maoists to give up arms, at a rally in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur, on April 14.
Left Wing Extremism (LWE) — the term officially used to describe Maoist insurgency — was a challenge the Modi government decided to take head-on after assuming office in 2014. And the results started to show when incidents of violence came down to a three-figure number in 2017 — something that happened for the first time in a decade.
The Maoist movement started about 50 years ago as a peasant uprising in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal, which gave the rebels their more recognisable name, Naxals. The movement grew over the years and spread to several states of the country but splintered into several groups over ideological differences and it is now confined to small pockets of central India.
On March 13, an explosion ripped through a mine protected vehicle (MPV) in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers. It served as yet another reminder that the fight against Maoist rebels was far from over.
The Maoists threw the first challenge at the Modi government in December 2014 when they killed 14 CRPF personnel, including two officers, in Sukma. In 2016, 10 CRPF commandos belonging to its elite anti-Maoist force, the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), were killed when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off in the forests of Bihar’s Aurangabad district.
Last year, 12 more CRPF personnel were killed when they “walked into an ambush” laid by Maoists in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, while seven personnel of the Odisha police were killed when their vehicle was blown up in a landmine blast near Sunki in Koraput district.
The deadliest Maoist attack till date came on April 24 last year, when armed rebels killed 25 CRPF personnel and injured seven in Sukma district.
The government says it has upped its ante against the guerrillas, with home minister Rajnath Singh making a statement recently that Maoist insurgency in the country had entered its “last leg”.
The numbers might be on side of the government’s narrative.
Home ministry data puts the number of Maoist-affected districts at 106 in 10 states, out of which 35 are categorised as “worst LWE affected districts”.
A study of the numbers between 2009 and 2017 presents a clear picture (see graphic).
In 2009, the total number of LWE incidents reported across the country was 2,258, the number of civilians killed 591 and security forces killed 317. The same year, 220 Maoists were also killed.
In comparison, 908 LWE incidents were reported across the country last year. While 75 security personnel and 188 civilians were killed, at least 136 Maoists were gunned down.
Senior security advisor in the home ministry, K Vijay Kumar, says, “Maoists are certainly rattled (after the casualties in recent years).
“Their capability to strike at anytime has been seriously damaged and our forces have moved to areas considered Maoist strongholds. The Maoist attack in Sukma shows that it was a reaction to our success.”
Official data, however, shows that LWE started to dwindle even before the present government took charge, mainly due to sustained counter-insurgency operations launched by various paramilitary forces in 10 states that include worst-hit Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
Internal security expert, Ajai Sahni, says a change in strategy in 2010-11 is “giving dividends”.
“Maoist movement witnessed a rapid rise from 2004-2009, but a change in government strategy altered the dynamics. The operations became more and more intelligence-based, and instead of carrying out area domination exercises where we lost a lot of personnel, we replicated the Andhra Pradesh model. Our strikes were based on hard intelligence,” Ajai Sahni says .
The operations had to be coupled with an effective development agenda for people vulnerable to join Maoist ranks and the current numbers from LWE areas are proof that the strategy is working, Sahni further adds.
A senior home ministry official says the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government sought to stem insurgency by earmarking development funds for revolt-hit areas and improving policing.
“One of the major initiatives of the government was clearing implementation of a Rs 25,060 crore umbrella scheme to modernise central and state police forces over the next three years,” a senior home ministry official said.
Private helicopter services have also been utilised for counter-insurgency operations, to ensure that there is a speedy movement of troops and evacuation of injured troopers. Out of Rs 6,000 crore earmarked for tackling left-wing insurgency, roughly Rs 5,196 crore would be spent on developing police, security and public infrastructure.
Completing a macademised road to one of the remotest areas in Chhattisgarh – work on which is ongoing – is one of the government’s top priorities.
Besides improving physical infrastructure, the scheme also takes into consideration the psychological aspect of the warfare.
In a bid to counter Maoist ideology, the Centre is keen on civic action programmes – which entails giving each company of security forces Rs 3 lakh to be spent on welfare of locals.
“The home ministry also decided to grant each district affected by left-wing insurgency a sum of Rs 7 lakh that’s to be used for publicising government schemes, benefits of peace and misdeeds of the Maoists,” the official adds.
Other decisions, taken by the ministry, include increasing financial perks for guerrillas who intend to surrender, doubling the amount received by high-ranking rebels.
RR Bhatnagar, the CRPF director general, says the government moves are showing results. “According to latest government data, there has been a 60% decline in LWE activities. But few challenges remain. We are certain that we will defeat them (Maoists),” he adds.