Friday, April 17, 2009

Naxals take war to a new, more violent level

Vinay JhaFirst Published : 17 Apr 2009 03:32:00 AM ISTLast Updated : 17 Apr 2009 08:44:18 AM IST

THE build-up was there for all to see — a meticulously planned attack on the CISF contingent guarding the NALCO unit in Damanjodi, Orissa, that left 11 security personnel dead, the murder of a candidate for the Kandhamal seat in Orissa and a series of strikes on security personnel in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.


But the sheer firepower Naxalite groups unleashed on the day of polling for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections is set to leave the country’s security and political establishments reeling for quite some time. Rarely have these extremists struck in such quick succession, at so many locations and with such brutal force. As the government scurries to contain the damage and re-jigs the deployment of security forces for the next few weeks, the message that the Naxalites have sent out is clear — they have taken their war against the Indian State to a new, more violent level.

Over the past few weeks, they had put up posters in their strongholds, warning political leaders to refrain from campaigning. The Election Commission had decided that the worst affected constituencies would vote in the first phase. These 18 constituencies are in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The idea was to give security forces enough time for area domination in the days before polling. This is something that has not happened though the Union home ministry claimed all states had been alerted to take “firm measures”.

The security personnel had fanned out across Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Maharashtra. The extremists also seem to have finetuned their strategies. In at least one instance, landmines were reportedly placed on a pucca (metalled) road — a departure from their usual practice of mining dirt tracks and forest trails that could be used by security forces.

The violence shows that the strategy of saturating areas with security personnel will not prevent attacks unless an effective network providing actionable intelligence backs the deployment.

Senior police officers concede that the successes they have achieved in the campaign against Left-wing extremism have, more often than not, been on the basis of specific intelligence inputs. The idea of using paramilitary and police personnel for static duty, like securing police stations and other government buildings, has not worked in the past.

The agenda of the CPI (Maoist) is clear. In early 2007, the 9th Congress of Maoists resolved to ‘resist’ mega projects like steel and bauxite projects in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in other states. The objective, the Congress claimed, was to prevent the “massive displacement and marginalisation’’ of the Adivasis and farmers.

This strategy also has a lot to do with their desire to ensure that these areas remained underdeveloped so that the sentiments of the people could be exploited.

The Naxalites have had a strategy of targeting communication and transport lines and other essential services. In the past, they have gone in for economic blockades, bringing life to a halt in parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. The past few years have shown a new trend that is equally disturbing — mobilisation of activists in urban areas including Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. This is in addition to a massive exercise of recruiting members in their strongholds.

The extremists are active within the so-called Red Corridor that runs from ‘Pashupati to Tirupati’, referring to the swathe that cuts through forests from the Nepal border to the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border. Only Andhra Pradesh has succeeded in keeping them at bay, using its elite Greyhounds forces for successful surgical strikes against the leadership. But this has also meant that they have been pushed to the region bordering Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.

In recent years, they have perfected the technique of ‘swarming attacks’, where hundreds swoop down on a target, mostly at night, achieve their objective and melt into the forests. The latest instance was the attack on Asia’s largest bauxite mine in Damanjodi, believed to have been carried out by a few hundred men and women.

They fled with an explosives-laden truck that had just arrived at the mines site, a development that is kept secret and known only to a handful since the extremists have come after explosives in the past. Investigators are now looking at the possibility of an insider being involved.

The government response to Leftwing extremism has been a framework that seeks to tackle the problem at two levels — by speeding up development in the affected areas to erode their popular support base even as security personnel deal with the law and order angle.

But this is set to be a long haul.

There are allegations of corruption in development programmes funded by the central and state governments — the Naxalites themselves take a hefty commission from contractors for each new project that is launched. On the security front, the Centre is still in process of setting up the 10,000-strong Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra) to fight the Naxalites. Two battalions have been created from within the Central Reserve Police Force, using personnel who were already engaged in anti-Naxalite operations. It will take another two years or so for the rest of the personnel to be recruited and trained.

So, it could be a while before the extremists begin feeling the kind of pressure that the government wants to put on them.

iamvinay.jha@gmail.com

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