Murder at noon: On Maoists attack in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma
The deadliest attack in seven years is a reminder of the Maoists’ strength
Monday’s ambush of a Central Reserve Police Force battalion in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district is a tragic reminder of the failure of the Indian state to effectively address the security challenge the Maoists continue to pose. At least 25 CRPF personnel were killed near the Burkapal camp in south Sukma while out on duty to provide protection for road construction on the Dornapal-Jagargunda belt when the Maoists struck. This is the deadliest such attack in the past seven years. In April 2010, in neighbouring Dantewada district in the same Bastar division of the State, 76 CRPF personnel had been killed in a Maoist strike. Besides confirming the strong Maoist hold in the region, Monday’s attack also raises questions about the Standard Operating Procedures and precautions adopted by the CRPF. Around 300 armed insurgents swooped down on the battalion around 1 p.m., when the soldiers were taking a break for lunch and their guard was presumed to have been down. According to initial estimates and eyewitness accounts, the Maoists used automatic weapons that they had stolen a month ago when they ambushed and killed a dozen CRPF men not very far from this encounter site. The site of the attack too carried a message. The road under construction will provide easy access to the backward region, where Maoists have for long held sway. It has been a long-held strategy of the Maoists to blow up infrastructure that enables connectivity, such as roads and bridges, or establishes the presence of the state, such as schools.
The response must be to double down to extend the presence of the administration in Bastar, to break the isolation and reach social services to the people. There is also a need to boost the morale of the security and police forces. The recent spate of attacks and ambushes indicates a breakdown in intelligence-gathering, possibly on account of a lack of effective coordination between the State police and paramilitary forces. It may have had no bearing on the attack, or the probability of averting it, but the fact that the post of the Director General of the CRPF continues to be vacant is a lapse amplified by the tragedy. The inadequacies are more grave than this administrative oversight. The State police forces in Maoist-affected areas have more or less abdicated their duties of law and order, leaving the job almost entirely to the paramilitary forces. The Centre needs to urgently put in place, in mission mode, measures to strengthen, expand and arm the State police, most of all in Chhattisgarh. This needs the State governments to show far more political will to persuade local communities than they currently do. The Maoists long ago lost the argument with their murderous ways; but the political and civil establishment is yet to win that argument by addressing the people’s security and welfare needs, and their concerns about extractive state policies.