Maoists thumb their nose
Many wonder whether the Dantewada jailbreak
will serve as a wake-up call for the Chhattisgarh Government. The truth
is, there has been an incessant succession of such calls, but the Government
remains stubbornly asleep
A forgotten corner of Chhattisgarh has,
once again, exploded on the national consciousness with yet another
Maoist 'success' -- this time a jailbreak in Dantewada which not only
demonstrates the most extraordinary negligence but also the endemic
deficits of capacity that plague the security establishment in the State.
Various reports suggest that there were no more than four guards on
duty at the time of the jailbreak -- a number that is virtually meaningless
in order to secure as many as 383 prisoners, including at least a hundred
Maoists and several hardcore militant cadre.
Several prison officers have now been
suspended, including the DIG (Prisons) who, "prima facie... had not
done his duty properly". Many wonder whether this will serve as a wake-up
call for the State Government -- the truth is, there has been an incessant
succession of such 'calls', but the Government remains stubbornly asleep.
Regrettably, there is no rule or constitutional provision that allows
anyone to suspend the political executive for failing comprehensively,
repeatedly and abysmally in performing its duties properly.
While other States, most notably Andhra
Pradesh, have secured significant successes against Maoists in the recent
past, Chhattisgarh remains a picture of utter confusion. Indeed, if
there is a model for incompetence in counter-terrorism responses, it
is to be found here. With almost all other States in the country recording
a decline or a plateau in Maoist-related violence and fatalities, Chhattisgarh
has seen a dramatic growth from 264 dead in 2006 (Ministry of Home Affairs
data) to at least 332 dead in 2007 (provisional data till December 11,
2007, from the South Asia Terrorism Portal).
Worse, Maoist fatalities have actually
declined from 73 in 2006 to 53 in 2007, reflecting a clear diminution
in the operational focus of the State's forces. On the other hand, security
forces fatalities have risen to 166, from 109, over the same period
-- registering a 65 per cent increase. Security forces fatalities constituted
50 per cent of all fatalities in the State, while civilian fatalities,
at 93, accounted for another 28 per cent. The State has recorded at
least 27 'major' incidents of Maoist violence this year, each resulting
in three or more fatalities.
The worst of these were the Rani Bodli
incident of March 15, in which 55 security personnel were killed; the
Elampatti-Regadgatta forest incident of July 9, in which 24 security
personnel and 20 Maoists were killed; the ambush in the Jagargunda forest
on August 29, in which 12 security personnel were killed; the Pamedu
ambush, in which 16 security personnel were killed; and, the Konta landmine
blast, in which 10 security personnel of the Mizoram Reserve Police
were among 12 killed. None of these sufficed to 'wake up' the Government.
Chhattisgarh has also seen the largest number of 'swarming attacks'
-- attacks by large numbers of Maoist cadre and "people's militia",
between a few dozen and up to a thousand -- accounting for 15 of the
37 such attacks in the country in 2007.
Who is to blame for this? "A skilled
commander," it has been remarked, "seeks victory from the situation
and does not demand it of his subordinates." In Chhattisgarh, the security
forces are presently being asked to operate in conditions that make
victory -- or even containment of the Maoist threat -- impossible, and
are then blamed for the inevitable Maoist excesses that occur. The State's
police leadership must, of course, bear part of the blame for these
While there are acute deficits in the
State police -- for instance, a police-population ratio of barely 103
per 100,000, against a national average of 122 per 100,000, and international
norms that are above 222 and up to 500 per 100,000, it is the case that
the Chhattisgarh ratio is certainly (though marginally) higher than
Andhra Pradesh (at 98 per 100,000). And Andhra Pradesh has designed
and implemented an extraordinarily effective counter-insurgency strategy,
virtually wiping out the Maoists from all but four districts on the
State's border with Orissa since 2005. It is evident -- and there is
data to support this -- that the 'operationalisation' of available forces
is abysmally inefficient in Chhattisgarh.
The principal obstacle to effective
counter-terrorism in Chhattisgarh is, however, the complete failure
of vision and will in the State's political leadership, and this has
undermined efficiency, delayed or obstructed improvements in forces,
and allowed the police to evade responsibility. While it is impossible,
here, to review the full measure of these failures, a handful of representative
indices help form a picture. Acute and persistent deficits in the police
leadership have not been addressed over the years, and the crisis is
compounded by an endemic gap between sanctioned strength and the force
available, which varies between 20 per cent and over 50 per cent at
various ranks, and even more in the Maoist-affected areas, where the
deficit at certain ranks may be as high as 79 per cent, as was the case
with the rank of SIs in the Bastar Division, where only eight of 38
sanctioned posts were filled at the end of 2006.
National Crime Records Bureau data for
Chhattisgarh indicates that, in the ranks from Deputy Superintendent
of Police to Senior Superintendent of Police, the deficit in Chhattisgarh
(as on December 31, 2006) was 29.9 per cent; and at the rank of SI and
ASI, it was 36.6 per cent. Crucial posts in Naxalite affected areas
have remained vacant for extended periods of time, while some such posts
are held by unwilling or unsuitable officers who lack the profile and
motivation necessary for effective counter-insurgency operations.
Similarly, while the police-area ratio
in Chhattisgarh is 17 per 100 sq km (as against 42 for the whole country),
in the Bastar Division -- the worst-affected area in the State -- it
is just 5.62 at sanctioned strength, and 3.55 on actual deployment.
Over the past two years, a significant number of policemen have been
recruited in the State, and thousands have received specialised counter-insurgency
training, but they have been deployed, overwhelmingly, outside the worst-affected
areas. It is only a fraction of the central forces, and a few hundred
among the State's police, who are engaged in offensive operations.
Targeting a few police officers after
each major incident will do nothing to address these structural deficiencies.
Unless the State's political leadership recognises the gravity of the
situation and begins to design and adopt a comprehensive policy and
strategy against the Maoists, the situation in Chhattisgarh can only
-- and considerably -- worsen.
(Published in The Pioneer, New
Delhi, December 19, 2007)