Since the 2010 Chintalnar massacre, the Dantewada-Sukma-Bijapur axis has claimed the lives of more than 175 security force personnel, besides several civilians. While the Chintalnar encounter saw 76 CRPF men killed, the latest encounter in Bijapur Saturday led to the death of 22 security personnel.
A look at the data on Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh shows that most attacks and casualties have happened between March and July. Sources say this is because the CPI (Maoist) usually launches its tactical counter-offensive campaign between February and the end of June. This campaign involves aggressive military operations against security forces before the monsoons—that make movement difficult—hit the region.
The key concern is that security forces are still struggling in this region, known as Bastar, despite the campaign against the Left-wing extremists starting around 15 years ago.
A host of factors—remoteness, jungle terrain, absence of administration and lack of political will—have been blamed for the slow progress there.
Sources in the security establishment say the eradication of the movement in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Odisha has led to a concentration of cadre and leaders in the Bastar region—which provides easy movement for the rebels across borders because of its proximity to other states.
Most, however, point to absence of roads, communication and proper administration as the main reason for Maoists continuing to hold the area. Some also point to the Chhattisgarh police having been “reluctant” over the years to take the lead in the fight.
“Take any state where this problem has come down, be it Andhra Pradesh, Telangana or West Bengal, it has happened because the state government and state police have owned it as their problem through and through. In West Bengal, most of the information was generated by the local police and provided to central forces which then conducted the operation with state police. Even in Jharkhand, the kind of support that the local police provide is phenomenal. So you get a lot of success there despite very difficult terrain,” said a former CRPF DG requesting anonymity. He also added that Chhattisgarh was easier to operate in than other states, terrain-wise.
The key problem pointed out by many is the road network being almost “non-existent” in the core Maoist area of Chhattisgarh. “Even Bihar and Jharkhand have far better road networks in hotbeds. Communication networks are also better,” a serving CRPF officer said.
Another former CRPF DG felt that the Salwa-Judum militia campaign was counterproductive. “It split the villages into camps. Those part of the campaign started living in camps with the security forces while pushing others into Maoist arms,” he said.
Some sources also referred to the District Reserve Guard, which the CRPF which helped train and raise. “The idea was that DRG would take the lead and CRPF would play the supporting role. But CRPF continues to be the spearhead till date in Chhattisgarh,” said an officer, suggesting that the participation of local police was less than satisfactory even if improving.
A CRPF official said the political will of the state was of paramount importance. In Andhra and Telangana, at the peak of the problem, the government had created a Remote and Interior Area Development Authority. It would coordinate all government schemes for development of these regions in a coherent manner.
“Even in West Bengal, hospitals and bridges were built in Maoist areas, local people were given jobs. It has happened partly in Chhattisgarh with raising of Bastariya Battalions. But roads, schools, hospitals and infrastructure for marketing of forest produce needs to come up in Chhattisgarh Maoist areas,” this official said. “The day administration reaches these areas, the LWE problem will be finished within three years.”
Sources said operations in Chhattisgarh also tend to be more complicated as contingent of security forces tend to be large than other states.
“Of late, joint operations have increased and local police have become more proactive in Chhattisgarh, but given the large number of forces in the state, the forces need to constantly practice joint operations. Otherwise, at the critical time there will be confusion of command, coordination will suffer and casualties will occur,” another former CRPF DG said.
The importance administration reaching remote areas has even been recognised by the Ministry of Home Affairs in a document on LWE violence.
“Over the years, the Maoists have managed to entrench themselves in remote and inaccessible tribal pockets in a few States. Correspondingly, the state institutions of governance also withdrew gradually from such areas, resulting in a security and development vacuum. This suited the Maoists, who have set up some form of rudimentary parallel system of administration in these areas,” the document has said.