Saturday, June 20, 2009

Maoist strategy: Shoot & scoot

20 Jun 2009, 0240 hrs IST, Nirmalya Banerjee, TNN

KOLKATA: Writing for a national daily last April, Lieutenant General A S Kalkat, commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, explained
why LTTE had lost. According to him, LTTE committed the mistake of forgetting that it was basically a guerrilla force and tried to take on a regular army in a conventional war.

If the Maoists in Lalgarh, therefore, decide to scoot without offering a full-fledged fight to the combined force of paramilitary forces and state police, it may be sound guerrilla strategy, which even Mao Zedong himself could have endorsed, say analysts. For, if they decide to stand and resist the entry of the forces to Lalgarh, they will be outgunned and outnumbered. At best, they can delay the forces by planting improvized explosive devices and loosing off a few shots as they did on Friday to cover their retreat.

In fact, according to these observers, much of the success of the operation would depend on how many Maoists the security forces manage to "neutralize" rather than how much area they manage to "capture."

In his military writings, though written in the context of a much bigger canvas of resistance against Japan and also in a different time, Mao had described as "desperate recklessness" the strategy of "only advance, never retreat." According to him, one of the objects of war is also "self-preservation". Mao had also pointed out that for a guerrilla force, it was easier to fight a numerically superior force in a mountainous area than in a plains area, which Lalgarh is. In fact, in the entire Maoist-dominated area in Midnapore West, Purulia and Bankura, there are at best hills and jungle terrain.

Whether the Maoists would be able to recover the ground they are set to lose, or whether the law enforcing agencies are able to establish the supremacy of the government, depends on who finally wins the sympathy of villagers.

According to a source in Belpahari, the Maoists had already lost some of the public sympathy they had earlier enjoyed because some of them had started "tax collection" from the villagers. Because of this, the resistance movement of People's Committee against Police Atrocities against the police onslaught may not be as determined as feared earlier. Maoists would also have to identify themselves with the tribals living in the area, and their problems.

So far, the rallying point in Lalgarh has just been the issue of resistance against "excesses committed by police".

On the other hand, merely occupying the area by a show of strength without addressing the basic issues of poverty and deprivation faced by the tribals will not solve the problem for the government, say observers. It is not possible for the paramilitary forces to continue area dominance indefinitely. As soon as there is a semblance of normality, the administration needs to reach out to villagers with a patient ear and generous heart.

If people remain aggrieved, the Maoists will have their chance once again when vigil relaxes. The government has admitted on occasions, even on the floor of the Assembly, that the Maoist trouble is the consequence of socio-economic problems faced by tribals of the area. With police atrocities being an issue, how the police force now entering the area conduct themselves would also have a bearing on the future course of events.

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