The news from Sukma continues to disturb and depress. Reports indicate that six of the 25 bodies of CRPF jawans, who were martyred in the 24 April encounter with the Maoists in Sukma district, were mutilated by the rebels. The act points to what the Maoists really are.
Or rather, are not.
They certainly are not Gandhians with Guns, as celebrated author Arundhati Roy described them in 2010. To call them so would be abusing the Mahatma and what he stood for. It would also be abusing the gun because even the weapon has a particular dharma and grammar of its own. It kills. Only cowards mutilate.
The fallout of Sukma is that Chhattisgarh could soon degenerate into a theatre of bestiality. Monday's encounter could well mark a turning point in the battle between the state government and the outlaws and it will be an ugly picture. The reprehensible act will only spur the angry forces to reply in kind. The Maoists have shown themselves to be criminals, wearing the cloak of outdated ideology and 24 April may well prove to be the day from when the war in the jungles of Bastar will follow no rules.
I asked well-known human rights activist VS Krishna, who is an authority on left-wing extremism, if he thought the state will reply in kind. Krishna asked a rhetorical question : "What makes you think they are not doing so already?" Krishna's position is that while what the Maoists did was terrible, it flows from the free rein that has been given to security forces over the past many years.
"Will they carpet bomb these areas? Every human rights activist has been driven out of Chhattisgarh. No fact-finding mission is possible. The state has to address the material deprivation and deal with it in a manner that adheres to the rule of law. Unarmed civilians are bearing the brunt of this security-centric approach,'' said Krishna.
Krishna is both right and wrong. He is right because under Mission 2016 unleashed by the former IG of Chhattisgarh police, SR Kalluri, the attempt was to account for each Maoist's head. He wanted to wage a war without witnesses against the Reds which is why vigilante groups encouraged by the police were let loose after human rights activists, lawyers and journalists who dared to write the truth. Many were hounded out of the state, some were arrested. Kalluri's Mission 2016 was a bombastic idea because with some 2,5000 Maoists in the seven districts of southern Chhattisgarh, according to police estimates, his mission would have taken a few years.
Krishna is wrong because no country can afford to have a huge hole in its heart. A zone where its writ does not run. A patch that is called India only on paper. Where Red militia have held hostage lakhs of tribals by using a combination of fear of the gun and a Robinhood approach. Any deviant behaviour is punished in kangaroo courts while also behaving like a benevolent dictator. Over the years, the Stockholm syndrome has worked for the outlaws, with the tribals willing to be their spies and couriers. Like on 24 April near Chintagufa.
Not that Chhattisgarh is taking the road less travelled. It is basically following the then united Andhra Pradesh model, which focused on two areas, first under Chandrababu Naidu and then YS Rajasekhara Reddy. The emphasis right through the late 90s was on laying black tops that led inside naxal territory. The intention was to hit them psychologically that the state is at their doorstep. It pushed them deeper inside the jungles and they would get exposed the moment they stepped out.
Chhattisgarh is doing the same, trying to connect Sukma with Jagargunda. The challenge, however, is that the road isn't easy. Areas like Chintalnar and Chintagufa, that fall on this route are Maoist hotbeds and entering the Red patch is playing with life. The brutality of the Maoists in the Sukma encounter is a warning to India. What Chhattisgarh has to do is not to take two years and more to carpet this stretch but take it up on priority, engaging the best technology and putting more boots on the ground equipped with sophisticated drones to keep an eye on the rebels and to guard the work.
The more important tool used in Andhra was to go aggressive with installing mobile phone towers. This helped them track naxals who ended up using mobile phones carelessly instead of PCO booths or couriers to pass on messages. The same effort has been lethargic in Chhattisgarh. In June last year, BSNL said it will erect 2000 mobile towers in Chhattisgarh over two years. At the moment, you slip out of digital India the moment you cross the Andhra border into Chhattisgarh at Konta.
The third strategy employed by YSR was to engage with the Maoists politically, inviting them for peace talks. It proved to be a masterstroke because he nudged their leaders to come out of the forest, providing the intelligence wing of the Andhra police with a wealth of information about them. But the talks were destined to fail with YSR letting loose his Greyhounds, the elite anti-naxal commando force, after them. The policy of going for the top leadership of the Maoists ensured the movement was left rudderless in Andhra, forcing the few leftovers to leave the Telangana battlefield and move into Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
In comparison, the Raman Singh sarkar does not exist if you move 10 km either side of National Highway 30. The Maoists even have the audacity to declare Chintalnar as the capital of Dandakaranya, pretty much their area of operational control.
With Chhattisgarh vowing to fight to the finish, it is possible that the Kalluri template will be seen as the more effective approach. The IPS officer took over in mid-2014 and under his watch in 2015 and 2016, 77 security personnel were killed. He was shunted out in the first week of February after serious charges of human rights violations against him. Now his backers point out that just in the first four months of 2017, 72 men in uniform have lost their life. Another statistic in Kalluri's favour is that 2016 saw 133 Maoists being eliminated, the highest so far in a year.
In April 2010, travelling through south Chhattisgarh, I was listening to Nalin Prabhat, then CRPF DIG, addressing his men in Sukma.
"Fighting the Maoists is a battle of wits, it is not rocket science. You have to out-think the Maoist, not outgun him. You need to know the food, the land, the terrain, the vegetation with each changing season. Because the Maoist knows it as well, if not better than you," said Prabhat.
This, to my mind, is the crux of India's battle against the Maoists, fronted by its paramilitary might. But the response to the Chintagufa bloodbath on Monday is unlikely to incorporate any of the officer's mantras. The jawans will be egged on by the public, media and the political establishment to show results, to avenge the deaths of their fellow soldiers. The mutilation of the bodies of their brethren will mean it will be an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth in Chhattisgarh.
India's war with India will have no winners. Only mutilated trophies.
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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2017 11:01:21 IST