Maoists, like a classic guerrilla force, while remaining submerged in the forested hinterland, have been quietly building up their strength over decades to bring a class revolution in India, without attracting much notice. India on her part has traditionally chosen to down play the existential threat; choosing to keep it on the backburner of national conscience. The sporadic news of their operations occasionally make ripples barely noticeable at national and global levels; a police post attacked here, a mine explosion there , a train attacked in a far off place etc. However, away from the glare of media projection, which remains traditionally obsessed with propaganda sound bytes as “Jehadi terrorism”, “cross border terrorism” and “LeT modules” the largest single terrorist threat to India has been festering and suddenly it is mainstream. It has taken wiping out of a CRPF contingent engaged in Operation Green Hunt, in the heartland of Naxal insurgency to drive home to the Indian nation the coming of age of this strain of terror that is totally made in India.
The Naxal ambush in the Chintarnal forests in the Dantewala district of Chhattisgarh was sprung on 6th April when the Indian anti insurgency-anti Naxal operation Green Hunt was in full swing. It happened to be the worst ever attack by the guerrillas which annihilated a company of CRPF troops by inflicting eighty casualties. At least eighty two weapons including two mortars and sophisticated SLRs and Insas rifles, too, were taken away by insurgents. For decades the Maoist insurgency has operated on the fringes of Indian public awareness but this high toll ambush sounded movement’s arrival on the center stage. This was no low intensity stuff that could be shrugged off but shook the Indian
state to the core – for it demonstrated the real scale of the threat that has taken hold of the Indian hinterland. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock over the incident calling for a review meeting of the National Security Council attended by the service and intelligence chiefs. This seemed rational since the Indian strategy for defeating Maoists at operational and tactical levels is being called into question and Operation Green Hunt has visibly failed to create effects on the ground. Obviously the largest deployment of troops outside of the IHK has failed to prevail and the moment of truth for India is at hand where not the Jihadi terrorism but Naxalalites have emerged as the nation’s biggest security threat.
Naxals are markedly different in nature from the insurgency movements in the IHK and the Indian North East, which are essentially secessionist in nature. Naxals don’t want to breakaway; they want to overthrow the Government in New Delhi and install one of their own on the model of the Nepalese Maoists. Their roots can be traced to 1967 when activists broke away from the Indian mainstream Communist Party and initiated a peasant rising in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari. They attracted landless and dispossessed farmers from vast swaths of jungles in the Indian heartland, whom the dream of shining India had pushed beyond the edge of decent survival. The Movement got a big boost when in 2004 two largest splinter groups joined to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Maoist cadres are now estimated to be between 10000 and 20000 strong and hold sway in vast areas of India’s poorest regions particularly in the Central and Eastern India, affecting more than half of India’s 28 states. The guerrillas tax local people, extort payments from business groups like Posco, Mittal and Vedanta, who are aggressively acquiring vast tracts of jungle land and wantonly exploiting the mineral resources, and abduct and kill “class enemies” such as government officials and police officers.
The response by the Indian state is no battle for the hearts and minds of the wretchedly poor people in India’s heartland but has taken the form of Operation Green Hunt, the largest ever mobilization of troops in the central and eastern tribal belt. 40000 paramilitary troops and policemen armed with sophisticated weapons and helicopter gun ships have launched search and destroy missions in worst affected states of Chhattisgarh, Andhara Pradesh and Maharashtra. The task of sanitizing the affected areas is truly daunting. Chhattisgarh’s mineral rich Bastar region alone is spread out in about 40000 sq km and made up of five districts – Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, Bastar and Dantewala; heretofore unfamiliar names which the rising tide of insurgency has turned into familiar ones. The cost in term of human misery is colossal. At least 30-40 innocent tribal people are being killed each week in the Adivasi belt and some 200000 have fled their homes. This doesn’t include the 50000 tribal people displaced by Salwa Jadum, the government sponsored militia that has been accused of committing large scale atrocities. The high price paid by the locals is evident from the fact that civilians outnumber the Maoists killed by a factor of ten to one.
Law and order is a state subject in India but the Center has already taken on the coordinating and directing the ongoing operations. Indian Army is no longer a detached observer; a brigade headquarter has moved into Chhattisgarh, which has become the heart of the ongoing battle. The Indian Air force is also being tasked; a special task force called GARUDS has been created to control operations of IAF helicopters which are initially being deployed in the logistic role and the rules of engagement for employment of airpower against insurgents are being laid down. Induction of armed forces to combat Maoist terrorism is a significant development; this being the first time that armed forces are being called in into the hinterland to fight India’s indigenous terrorism.
The bloody ambush in Dantewala district of Chhatisgarh marks an important moment in the Indian history; the coming of age of a made-in-India brand of terrorism. It has been growing under the neglect of Indian Government which likes to believe, and strains overtime to have the world believe, that she is a victim of Kashmir centric terrorism emanating from outside. She has used massive propaganda campaigns to subvert the Kashmiris’ struggle for a right for self determination as a terrorist movement; obliterating the lines separating freedom struggles from terrorism. It has developed a knee jerk reaction response to hold Pakistan responsible for all and sundry acts of terrorism that are indigenous in nature yet become an implement for whipping Pakistan as a “state sponsoring terrorism”. History has presented India with a moment of truth beyond the hyperbole of spin doctoring; indicating to as to where the true threat of terrorism lies for her.