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.