Maoists kill 25 CRPF troopers in Sukma: Where does the buck stop?
The ghastly strike by Maoist insurgents targeting CRPF Jawans in Sukma on Monday, comes as a grisly reminder of the challenge Left Wing Extremism poses to India's internal security. The attack which left 25 CRPF troopers dead and another six critically injured, comes days after the Naxals had ambushed 12 CRPF jawans in March. Naturally, it has sent shockwaves in the national security establishment. Maoists, numbering around 300, reportedly, used villagers as shields and then sprayed bullets as jawans sat down to eat lunch, after a road opening ceremony.
As the Opposition demands answers from the Union and state governments, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh has called in a meeting on May 8, to assess the situation in the Maoist affected regions. The meeting will be attended by 10 Chief Ministers, state police chiefs and District Magistrates of 35 worst affected districts. Home Minister Singh, after paying tributes to the fallen CRPF personnel said, “The government will review and revise it's strategy,” signaling that government could intensify the anti-Naxal operations.
The audacious attacks come even as government has claimed that it's rehabilitation scheme for ultras who have surrendered was working well. According to reports, in 2016 alone, 1142 Naxals had laid down arms under the government’s scheme. However, in a stark contradiction, 105 incidents involving Left Wing Extremists have been reported in Chhattisgarh in 2017 alone.
Meanwhile, Monday’s attack has not come as a surprise to experts who have been studying the patterns in Maoist violence across the region. Experts have also questioned the way CRPF has been operating in the sensitive region, exposing themselves to such serious attacks. Lessons have not been learnt from the past, experts say.
“These recent attacks seem to be a part of their new Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign,” says PV Ramana, a senior fellow at IDSA who has been studying Naxalism for the past more than a decade. Ramana points to the deadly ambush in March to push home his point. “It is an unfortunate incident but one must be prepared for more before the onset of monsoons,” he says explaining how this has been a pattern in the past decade in the region. “The Maoist would go for as much violence as they can before the rains set in,” he says.
He calls the Monday strike an “opportunity attack” meaning it may not have been in the plans for a long time and that they could have just sensed that the forces were vulnerable to the attack at this place.
Reports say Maoists had been told of the presence of the forces in the region for the past days and were conveyed the details of their movement by the villagers. “It seems that this particular CRPF party was regular to that stretch for some days continiously. Their movement was being noticed,” Ramana says.
In an ambitious scheme to turn the tables on the Maoists, the Centre has been planning to construct or upgrade 5,411 kilomteres of roads and bridges in 44 affected districts. The project will cost more than Rs 11,000 crore. These are the road construction activities that are being targeted. More roads would certainly lead to more access in these remote parts where supplies to the camps of the security forces have to be done by helicopters. And could lead to waning influence of the Naxals in the region. In Chhattisgarh, CRPF personnel have been deployed to secure the construction activities.
CRPF in a limbo
That CRPF is functioning without a full time chief for the last two months, despite being involved in sensitive operations have also led to a barrage of questions on why such an important paramilitary force being left headless.
Meanwhile, Prakash Singh, the former CRPF Chief had raised questions on the coordination between the state and the Central forces. “Instead of putting the onus of countering Naxalism on the Centre, the state police should be at the forefront. Combating Naxalism shouldn't be considered a battle between the Centre and the Maoists. Instead of playing second fiddle, the Chhattisgarh police have to play an active role," Singh told a news website.
Others have questioned how Chhattisgarh has not been able to raise an anti-Naxal force on the lines of Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh. Singh, meanwhile, also reportedly questioned if the Raman Singh government, despite multiple attacks over the years, has ever done an audit of the intelligence gathering capabilities or the personnel trained in Jungle Warfare School.
“The forces need to be cautious and vigilant to avoid such attacks,” Ramana advises. “And they should not follow patterns. “Forces suffer when they follow patterns,” he says.