It is hard to believe that there was no ‘operational and intelligence failure’, as claimed by the Director-General of the Central Reserve Police Force, in the failed anti-Maoist operation last Saturday which went horribly wrong, claiming the lives of 24 security personnel.
For once, we find ourselves in agreement with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who has questioned how such an operation could be mounted without adequate precaution and preparation. To peremptorily claim that there was no intelligence failure only begs the question: How, then, were so many security personnel killed? That there is a Congress Government in power in Chhattisgarh, and the Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is camping in Assam, trying to improve the electoral prospects of his party, ought not to be made into an issue of public recriminations.
If Baghel did not think that his return to Chhattisgarh to lend moral support to the security personnel in their hour of great tragedy was necessary he probably is right. Politicians in power or in Opposition ought to give a free hand to the professional experts to handle such situations as best as they can within the limitations of men and material available. At any given time it is not easy to fight one of the most determined groups of outlaws that rule the roast in the deeper recesses of the far-flung Bastar region with a mix of repression and anti-state indoctrination.
But how 2,000 security personnel could be overwhelmed by a group of Maoists one-fifth their size needs urgent examination. That the murderous Maoists were waiting in the wings for the security personnel to walk into their trap underlines yet again the porous nature of the state intelligence. How and why were they forewarned of the coming combing operation being mounted needs to be investigated.
Of course, this and many more questions about the deadly failure of the operation can only be answered in a sincere departmental inquiry. Apparently, the security forces were mobilised on this large scale after they received reliable information about the presence of two top Maoist commanders in the region. Madvi Hilma of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, who commands a price of Rs 35 lakh over his head, and Sujatha, his associate, were supposed to be in the Jagargunda-Jonagud-Tarrem belt, according to the CRPF’s specialised jungle warfare unit CoBRA.
Was this intelligence fed into the ears of the security forces while the guerrillas lay in wait for them with rocket launchers, AK-47s, grenades and other deadly arsenal mostly stolen/snatched from the security forces themselves? Even in last Saturday’s shootout, the Maoists made off with a lot of arms and ammunition left behind by the overwhelmed security forces.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah cut short the election campaign in Assam to rush to Chhattisgarh on Monday. But a retaliatory operation launched against the Maoists in a hurry will be akin to locking the door after the horse has bolted. There is no alternative to beefing up the intelligence networks among the poor villagers in the remotest parts of Bastar. And, above all, no alternative to first ensuring that the state police and anti-Naxal special cells in the state do not leak like a sieve, thus providing the guerrillas a strategic advantage and lead time in catching the security forces by surprise.
Besides, without improving the socio-economic lot of the poor villagers it will be hard to counter the pro-poor mythologies of the Maoist movement. As it is, the poor are caught in the daily corruption and violence of the local police and petty officials and the Maoists’ violence, intimidation and promises of a better tomorrow.