India Today - - NEWS - (Aroon Purie)

The first time in­dia to­day did a cover story on Maoist ter­ror was in 1977, ex­actly 40 years ago.

Ter­ror­ism: In­dian Style chron­i­cled the war against Maoists in then united Bi­har and quoted a paramil­i­tary force of­fi­cer as say­ing: “It is war... ei­ther we kill them or they kill us.” This could well have been said to­day. We are a na­tion which vin­di­cates many clichés. Try these for size. The more things change, the more they stay the same; those who don’t learn from his­tory are doomed to re­peat it; his­tory re­peats it­self first as tragedy, then as farce. You can ap­ply this to all our fes­ter­ing prob­lems— Mao­ism, Kash­mir, Ay­o­d­hya, Pak­istan, to men­tion a few.

So now we find our­selves yet again pay­ing the price of another mer­ci­less at­tack, seven years af­ter the Dan­te­wada am­bush, in very sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. Sev­enty-five CRPF per­son­nel lost their lives then; the toll is 25 this time. The re­port sub­mit­ted by the E.N. Ram­mo­han Com­mit­tee con­sti­tuted in April 2010 had de­tailed the stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures that were not fol­lowed in Dan­te­wada. The mis­takes were re­peated this time as well—the men were bunched up dur­ing lunch, they were not on high ground and there was not enough dis­tance be­tween two sec­tions. Worse, the CRPF, the main force bat­tling the Maoists, con­tin­ues to be with­out a full-time DG for over two months now. What angers me the most is the short­age of rec­om­mended equip­ment for the jawans in the front­line be­cause of bu­reau­cratic lethargy and po­lit­i­cal ap­a­thy.

The CRPF has been au­tho­rised to buy a fleet of 352 mine pro­tected ve­hi­cles (MPVs), but it has only 120 such ve­hi­cles. Worse, the lack of work­shops in the Maoist-af­fected re­gions means only 60 per cent of the ex­ist­ing fleet is op­er­a­tional at any given time. They have been au­tho­rised 800 hand-held ther­mal im­agers but only 200 have been pur­chased. The es­tab­lish­ment should think about this when they in­dulge in the rit­u­al­is­tic mourn­ing of mar­tyred jawans.

Iron­i­cally, the Sukma at­tack comes at a time when the Maoists are said to be in re­treat in the 106 dis­tricts in 10 states iden­ti­fied by the govern­ment as af­fected by left-wing ex­trem­ism. A look at the num­bers con­firms this. In 2010, 1,180 peo­ple were killed by Maoists. In 2016, the num­ber came down to 161, the low­est in 15 years. Much of it is be­cause in the past five years, the govern­ment has gone on an ag­gres­sive devel­op­ment drive, build­ing over 3,000 km of roads in Maoist-dom­i­nated dis­tricts. In 35 ‘worst af­fected’ dis­tricts, the Cen­tre has opened over 350 new bank branches, 750 ATMs and 1,700 post of­fices in the past two years. Over 900 mo­bile tow­ers have been con­structed in the first phase.

All this has had an im­pact on the ground. Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor San­deep Un­nithan in­ter­viewed sur­ren­dered cadres who spoke of the chaos within the Maoist ranks. Am­mu­ni­tion is low, morale even lower. One of the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences is the shock­ing surge in re­cruit­ment of chil­dren in the past two years—boys as sol­diers and girls of­ten for sex­ual ex­ploita­tion. In Jhark­hand alone, over 200 chil­dren were re­cruited. Se­nior As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor Amitabh Sri­vas­tava trav­elled three times to Lo­hardaga and Gumla dis­tricts in Jhark­hand, meet­ing dozens of silently griev­ing fam­i­lies to know how much they miss their ab­ducted chil­dren.

War comes at great hu­man cost. When the war is on your own peo­ple, the cost is al­most im­pos­si­ble to bear even if it is all too nec­es­sary. There must be ruth­less pur­suit of in­sur­gents, but even­tu­ally both the vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lence need to un­der­stand that devel­op­ment is the only so­lu­tion.

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