Targeting the Maoist core
Last week I had hinted at a deeper dive into suggestions by some security insiders for combating the Maoist rebellion. The heart of it is a combination of intelligence penetration and surgical strikes built around that most basic and crucial of rebel structures: local guerilla squads or LGS. They enforce the writ that passes down from the Maoist zonal committees to divisions, and further to area committees and “local organizational committees” that are tasked with recruitment, training, collection of levies and knitting together grassroots support structures. LGS form the “armed backbone”, as a security document describes it.
As recruitment into rebel ranks hasn’t kept pace with depletion on account of death, arrest and surrender, the flip side of LGS strength is its new weakness. “It has also been found that of the cadres constituting the LGS,” a government security document comments on the situation in Chhattisgarh by way of example, “half are new cadres who are generally dissatisfied and willing to surrender/desert as soon as encounters start taking place.”
This is also true of the cadres from the rebel heartland in, say, Bastar, who are now compelled to operate in newer geographies to establish sanctuaries and secure routes for movement of cadres, and pipelines for weapons and ammunition. To capitalize on this perceived reality of rebel vulnerability, some insiders reiterate their suggestions by encompassing several methods. The most basic is of course the ramping up of “assets” and relying on their reports to build information about each specific LGS, including cadres, weapons, area of operation, hideouts and facilitators.
After studying their movements and the topography—enhanced by satellite imagery—the information would be used to brief teams of between 15 and 20 highly trained police and paramilitary troopers enabled with sniper rifles besides regular assault weaponry, GPS (or global positioning system) locators, night vision devices: forces that have the ability to lie low in ground zero, as it were, without exposing themselves. The insertion of such troops being tricky, the call is to “ingress” under cover of darkness at an opportune moment; until then such troops would be in a holding pattern of sorts at a base nearest to the area of this operation.
Here, they would continue to be briefed with the latest intelligence reports, both from “humint” or human intelligence, satellite imagery and other sources. There are various suggestions for operations with a stress on the element of surprise that security forces so often lack, to the extent of withdrawing from the operation should the raiding party not encounter rebels. “Without exposing themselves,” a document suggests, “thereby allowing for future operations.” Another suggested method is to place these combat units in the operational vicinity of a rebel safe area, and then use regular police and paramilitaries for a normal “area domination operation” to drive rebels into a place of ambush close to their sanctuary.
Of course this is already the stuff of special force manuals and legends of the armed forces—to an extent even CoBRA, or Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, units of Central Reserve Police Force engaged in combating Maoist rebels. Proponents of such action among the police are driven by the need to engineer operational successes against Maoist rebels, especially in their stronghold of the Dandakaranya region that encompasses contiguous areas of southern Chhattisgarh, eastern Maharashtra, southwestern Orissa and northern Andhra Pradesh. Equally, they are driven by the need to reduce what is chillingly termed collateral damage, where non-combatants are mercilessly driven into the orbit of conflict both by the police and paramilitaries who have a free run from the administration, and the rebel machinery which as often as not uses the heavy, “weaponized” hand propping up the cause.
In slain Maoist’s village, nothing to back up government claims
A week ago, six militants of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) were shot dead by commandos of Maharashtra’s anti-Naxal C-60 force at Govindgaon, a village in Gadchiroli district.
Shankar Anna alias Munneshwar Jagatu Lakada, 43, was leading the Maoist squad that organised a meeting on the night of January 19 at Govindgaon, villagers say. Gadchiroli police say Shankar Anna was secretary of the CPI (Maoist) Aheri area committee and divisional committee member the south Gadchiroli division. He hailed from Ramantola village in Etaplli tehsil. The village of this slain Maoist stands testimony to the government’s efforts at developing the Naxal-affected areas. A small village with 60 households, Ramantola straddles the borders of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, with no road connectivity.
A Maoist sympathiser says the village is almost part of the Naxal liberated zone, but it has no Naxal jantana sarkar. Some police sources say the Maoists have never been able to establish a jantana sarkar in Gadchiroli. “An attempt was made, but swift police action put paid to their plans.” But the Central and State governments have almost no presence in the village either. Ramantola is 30 km from Kasansur, a town with road connectivity. From Kasansur, one has to walk down to Sewari, a village seven km away, which can be reached by a two-wheeler.
From Sewari, one has to walk the next 23 km to reach Ramantola. On January 26, when some reporters asked Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, the guardian minister for the district, about the bad condition of the road to Sewari, he said: “So what? There are villages in Gadchiroli where people have to walk 40 km.” For him, the lack of proper roads is no big deal. This reporter was “advised” against visiting the village on the next day of the encounter and was told “to come by the other route” next time. The other route to Ramantola is from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district. From Pakhnjore town, Ramantola is 35 km. A road runs to Irapnar village; but from there, one has to walk 14 km to Ramantola.
A government school building and three hand-pumps (which yield polluted water when it rains) are the only proof in Ramantola of the fact that the government has not forgotten this village. As there is no electricity, the villagers depend upon three transistors for links to the outside world. Some youngsters do have mobile phones, but they are used only for listening to music, in the absence of network. Shankar Anna’s body was claimed by his father Jagtu Lakada, but villagers are not keen on speaking about his funeral details. Jivi Kavadu, a temporary teacher in the Ramantola school, advised this reporter “not ask questions about Shankar Anna, since villagers are in shock after his death.” But the village is not hostile to the visitors.
Asked about their problems, almost all villagers spoke up. “It’s all in the open. You can see how this village is,” says Chandra. The full-time schoolteacher is hardly present in the school, which is looked after by Jivi Kavadu, explains a villager. Nor is there a health centre. The nearby health centre is seven km away, at Mendhri; but Mendhri residents say their centre has been a shambles for the past three years. According to the District Health Office of Gadchiroli, there were six deliveries in 2011 and three in 2012. But the condition of the health centre building tells a different story. “We have to go either to Pakhanjore in Kanker or to Kasansur for treatment” says 22-year-old Shanti Kawadu.
Even to go to the weekly market, Ramantola villagers have to walk 14 km, to Irapanar. “This is the condition of every village in this area. Even the people of neighbouring village Uiketola have to go to a hospital in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district,” says Laxman Uike, a temporary teacher at Uiketola. Very few have landholdings that employ villagers during the rainy season. It is futile to ask whether the Central government’s employment guarantee scheme works here. The government claims that it has been trying to tackle the “Naxal menace by carrying out security operations and bringing development to these areas,” but Ramantola tells a different story.
Undertrails demand phone in jail
Twenty-nine undertrials facing cases for alleged involvement in Maoist activities today staged a hunger strike at Malkangiri sub-jail in Odisha demanding telephone facility in the jail.
Besides provision for telephone facility for the prisoners to enable them to speak to their relatives, the protesters demanded steps to allow them to meet family members and near and dear ones without police permission, official sources said. Biswa Mohan Ray, who is now in-charge of Collectorate of Malkangiri district, met the striking prisoners and discussed their demands. Ray said efforts are on to persuade the protesters to withdraw their hunger strike.