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Why Dantewada is key to the battle against the Maoists

By B Raman
June 07, 2010 12:32 IST
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Just as the Yenan model of revolution led to Mao Zedong's success in China, Dantewada in Chhattisgarh is similarly looked upon by Mao's Indian disciples as an ideal base for exploiting tribal discontent and capturing political power, says B Raman.

The current attrition rates in our counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists favour them. The State is on the defensive and is not making headway in its operations against them.

This is evident from the fact that more personnel of the security forces are being killed than the Maoists, more weapons are being captured by the Maoists from the security forces than the other way round, and, except in Andhra Pradesh, in other affected states the government has not succeeded in re-asserting its control over areas which are claimed to have been 'liberated' by the Maoists.

Some 170 security forces personnel were killed as against 108 Maoists during the first five months of 2010; in all of last year, 312 security personnel were killed as against 294 Maoists. During 2008, 214 security personnel and an equal number of Maoists were killed.

During the first five months of 2010, six states have lost securitymen to Maoist attacks -- Chhattisgarh (103), West Bengal (32), Orissa (17), Jharkhand (10), Bihar (6), and Maharashtra (2).

The same six states suffered fatalities in 2009 too -- Chhattisgarh (121), Jharkhand (67), Maharashtra (52), Orissa (32), Bihar (25 ), and West Bengal (15).

While the ground situation has remained as serious in Chhattisgarh as it was in 2009, it has deteriorated in West Bengal. There has also been a downward trend in fatalities in Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Maharashtra, but it is doubtful whether this can be attributed to an improvement in the performance of the security forces.

The security forces in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have been more proactive in countering the Maoists than in the past, and the Maoists have stepped up their operations in these two states to beat them back.

Their successful operations against the security forces in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have brought them dramatic publicity dividends and succeeded in discrediting the efficacy of the counter-insurgency capability of the security forces.

Andhra Pradesh, once a hotbed of Maoist activity, has a unique record of no fatalities of security forces during 2010 and 2009, and only one loss in 2008. If Andhra Pradesh can prevail over the Maoists, there is no reason why others can't.

At the same time, one has to realise that the government in Chhattisgarh faces certain difficulties, the like of which no other Maoist-affected state does. Of all the affected states, it has had the least economic development.

Its road infrastructure is very poor. It has a large forest cover that favours the Maoists. Compared to the Andhra Pradesh police, Chattisgarh faces serious deficiencies in manpower and counter-insurgency capacity.

It has to depend more on central police forces than its own force for the fight against the Maoists. In Andhra Pradesh, it is the local police which played the leadership role.

In Chhattisgarh, the leadership role is being played by the Central Reserve Police Force and that of the local police has been marginal.The responsibility for operational planning and other initiatives is largely in the hands of the CRPF, with the local police rarely consulted in the matter.

The ultimate outcome of our counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists will be decided in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, which has become the Yenan of Indian Maoists.

After the failure of the Soviet model and Long March to achieve the capture of political power in a predominantly rural country like China, Mao Zedong and his lieutenants embarked on the Yenan model, which ultimately led to success in 1949.

Yenan is in China's Shaanxi province. In his 1971 book titled The Yenan Way in Revolutionary China, Mark Selden describes the Yenan Way as the 'discovery of concrete methods for linking popular participation in the guerrilla struggle with a wide ranging community attack on rural problems'.

Shaanxi province, one of the most drought and famine-affected areas of China, provided to the Chinese Maoists an ideal base for testing their theory of exploiting mass rural discontent;for creating an armed struggle against the urban areas.

If Yenan saw the beginning of the road of success for Chinese Revolution, Dantewada in Chhattisgarh is looked upon by Indian Maoists as an ideal base for exploiting tribal discontent to create a revolutionary fervour as a prelude to capturing political power through armed struggle waged from impoverished rural areas.

The focus of our counter-insurgency efforts has to be centred on Dantewada. The Maoists' dream of capturing political power by exploiting rural/tribal discontent has to be countered through an innovative counter-insurgency programme to deprive the Maoist leadership of the support of the rural/tribal masses.

Strengthening the capability of the police to neutralise the Maoist leadership has to be combined with programmes to simultaneously address the grievances of the masses, in order to prevent the flow of volunteers to the People's Liberation Guerilla Army of the Maoists.

Strengthening the capability of the police calls for measures to improve rural policing and rural intelligence collection, crash development of road infrastructure, and new training methods which would encourage and enable the police to operate in autonomous squads instead of in top-heavy formations.

Programmes to address the grievances and problems of the masses would call for energetic political initiatives to promote economic development and a feeling of social justice.

The recent spectacular successes of the Maoists have attracted the attention of the international community. From the questions posed to National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon at the Asian security conference currently being held in Singapore, it is evident that sections of the community of analysts in other countries have started questioning the security of India's nuclear arsenal should India be unable to reverse the successes of the Maoists.

The NSA has explained why the Maoists do not pose a threat to India's nuclear arsenal. It is a purely rural-based insurgency with very little support in the urban areas. It is purely an Indian movement with an Indian agenda and not a global movement with a global agenda.

Its targets till now have been its perceived class enemies, the security forces and alleged collaborators of the security forces. Barring its attacks on the railway network in different areas, it has not so far attacked strategic targets like critical infrastructure.

Its capability for urban-centric operations is very limited. Its tribal recruits from the rural and forest areas will stick out like a sore thumb in urban areas. It has not so far showed much interest in the exploitation of the Internet for its operations, unlike the jihadi terrorists.

Since it recruits mainly from the semi-literate or illiterate tribal communities, the Internet holds no attraction for them. It has not shown much interest in typical terrorist operations like aviation or maritime terrorism. It is old insurgency still inspired and influenced by Mao's Yenan model and not new insurgency.

Despite this, our intelligence and security agencies should closely monitor its evolution in order to look for evidence of its planning to adopt a mix of rural insurgency and urban terrorism.

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B Raman