Usabeda isn’t easy to find. It isn’t marked on most maps. This hamlet in the newly created Narainpur district of Chhattisgarh—spawned from Bastar earlier this year—lies close to the state’s border with Maharashtra’s restive district of Gadchiroli.
And near Usabeda, in what continues to firmly be the Red Zone, news now comes that several Communist Party of India (Maoist) leaders and cadres met for a strategy and tactics confab that ended on 26 September. What transpired is revealing. In last week’s column, I discussed how the CPI (Maoist) is under pressure, and its urgent need for creating an alternative sanctuary for its leadership directly to the east in Orissa to find an egress from the rebels’ Dandakaranya zone—which comprises southern Chhattisgarh and large stretches of Gadchiroli. At the Usabeda meeting, it appears that Maoist rebels arrived at ways and means to try and hold their own in Dandakaranya. And, alongside, complete the creation of a corridor along Orissa’s western border with Chhattisgarh to link up with comrades further north in Jharkhand; the sanctuary would form the centrepiece of this corridor.
The meeting appears to have focused greatly on military aspects of the rebellion, and the action plan, as it were, tasked to the military chief of the Dandakaranya zone. For starters, rebels plan to group in strengths of not less than hundred cadres for operations. This was almost immediately reflected on 29 September. An estimated 150 rebels attacked about 40 personnel of Chhattisgarh Armed Police Force near Metapara in the state’s southern-most Sukma district; police were out clearing jungle for a helipad.
Two personnel were injured, but they managed to stave off the attack. From available information, rebels plan to practice this approach in the three southern Chhattisgarh districts of Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur—the last two were birthed from Dantewada earlier this year. Point two from the Usabeda meeting: till a review becomes necessary, massed attacks on camps of security forces are best not attempted.
The use of what security jargon terms improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, is to be ramped up to target personnel in such clusters, backed by small “action teams” to harass troopers in camps. The meat of the approach, in a way, underscores a back to the basics—the operating standard of the rebels’ Dandakaranya playbook: to inflict casualties for the primary reason of gathering weapons and ammunition to augment a squeezed supply line. To this end, the tried-and-tested practice of luring security forces into ambushes with all manner of diversionary tactics—false information about movement and numbers of rebels, and such—will continue to be employed. This is particularly tricky for security forces as for them it’s a damned-if-you-respond, damned-if-you-don’t situation.
While the Maoist intent is clear and quick-footed—shore up strength in Chhattisgarh and break into and consolidate newer areas to delay a backs-to-the-wall eventuality—the response from security forces, comprising the police of various states and paramilitaries controlled by the ministry of home affairs, is likely to be stolid and complicated. It is an open secret in both rebel and security circles that in southern Chhattisgarh, in spite of several tens of thousands of paramilitaries posted for dominance and patrolling missions, they essentially lead lives in camp and are quite easily harassed and awed by the battle legend that the relatively far smaller grouping of Maoist leadership, and armed cadres—recruited largely from Dandakaranya—have earned over the past decade. From available indications, rebels also targeted creation of the Orissa Corridor for the same reason that triggers rocky sleep for some in the establishment: the equally open secret that, as far as response against Maoist rebels goes, Orissa’s government and police are weak links of intent and operation.
Some insiders go as far as to claim that groundwork for the Orissa Corridor is nearly complete. This will facilitate easier transit of rebel cadres northward into Jharkhand, and strengthen the southward weapons and ammunition channel from Bihar and Jharkhand into Orissa and Dandakaranya. Creation of the alternate leadership sanctuary along these borderlands is also greatly progressed.
If the security establishment is setting up a medium-term endgame, Maoists, among the wiliest game changers in the subcontinent, are doing what they can to retain advantage. With the rains nearly ended, the “season” for operations and counter-operations is now open through the oncoming winter and summer. In these conflict zones, so removed from arenas of induced euphoria on account of India’s newest foreign direct investment and fiscal policies, battles look set to be sharp and, as ever, bitter.