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August 2007 
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 Slaughter in Chhattisgarh 

Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

The cold and harsh reality is that such incidents will continue to take place with numbing regularity. The principal reason for this is not the failure of particular Forces or administrations to ‘deal with’ the situation, but utterly insupportable deficits in capacities that make a coherent response to the Maoist threat impossible in the near term, and that will take years to address, even if there is a complete consensus (and there is none) across the affected States and the Central leadership, on the strategy and course of action to be adopted.

- South Asia Intelligence Review, Volume 5, No. 36, March 19, 2007

It is not clear whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was able to sleep after he heard the news of the 24 Policemen slaughtered by the Maoists in the Elampatti-Regadgatta forests of the Dantewada District of Bastar Division in Chhattisgarh on July 9, 2007, but it is clear that this incident did not merit a public reaction from him [in contrast to his fervently articulated anguish over the suffering of the parents of Indian terrorists arrested in London and Australia]. This is unsurprising, considering the sheer frequency of such incidents. It is less than four months after 55 Policemen were massacred by the Maoists on March 15 at Rani Bodli in the Bijapur District, again in Bastar, and the Maoists have already butchered a total of 119 Security Force (SF) personnel in Chhattisgarh in 2007 (till July 15), in at least 31 significant attacks on the Forces. The Prime Minister of India cannot be expected to respond to so quotidian a succession of events.

 

Significantly, the total Maoist fatalities in Chhattisgarh in 2007 stood at 58 on July 15, yielding a SF:Maoist ratio of 1:0.487 – more than two SF personnel killed for each Maoist fatality. It must be abundantly clear where the initiative lies in the conflict in Chhattisgarh.

 

In the wake of the latest attack in the Elampatti-Regadgatta forests, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has informed the nation that "force alone cannot be a solution to end Naxalism" (Maoism). But the acute deficit of Force manifest in Chhattisgarh can hardly be part of the "holistic solution" that the Home Minister envisages. Even more, the total deficit of political and administrative will evident in every aspect of the counter-insurgency apparatus and action in the State cannot be part of any possible solution to a crisis that has augmented continuously since the creation of the Chhattisgarh State in 2000.

 

The growth of the Maoist power in Chhattisgarh has been systematic and entirely pre-planned, based on a tactical decision taken in December 1999 – January 2000 by the then-People’s War Group (PWG, now Communist Party of India – Maoist, since the PWG’s merger with the Maoist Communist Centre under this banner in September 2004), to permanently locate all important Party cadres in the forest areas of the Dandakaranya ‘Special Zone’ (DKSZ), prinicipally centering around the unsurveyed and near-impenetrable Abujhmadh Forest area in the Bastar Division (and overflowing into the Gadchiroli District of neighbouring Maharashtra). Abujhmadh has since been declared the Maoist’s ‘Central Guerilla Base Area’, and is the location where the Party Central Committee – including its ‘General Secretary’, Muppala Laxmana Rao @ Ganapathy – and its various formations take shelter. The objective is to transform the DKSZ into the country’s first ‘liberated area’ – an objective that is still far in the future, though increasing parts of the area have been brought under intensifying guerilla activity.

 

Seven years is a long time in a counterinsurgency context, but while the Maoists have been vigorously building their movement – now afflicting as many as 16 of Chhattisgarh’s 20 Police Districts – the state’s responses have been abysmal. Despite the hysteria that each major Maoist attack provokes, the tasks of capacity building for an effective response have been persistently neglected, and a blame game between the Centre and the State Government appears to be the principal element of the political response. At the end of these seven years of neglect, the ground situation in terms of the state’s capacities of response is deeply troubling.

 

For one, Force Deficits are endemic. The density of the police force in terms of both police strength/population and police strength/area ratios is poor, and well below the national average, and is woefully inadequate for the counter-insurgency needs of the State; indeed, it is insufficient even for normal law and order administration. Specifically, the all India average police-population ratio stands at 122 per 100,000 population. The UN norm for minimum police strength is about 222 per 100,000 (1:450). Most Western countries have ratios in the region of 250 to 500 per 100,000. Some Indian States also have very high ratios; e.g., Mizoram: 854/100,000; Sikkim: 609 per 100,000. By contrast, Chhattisgarh has a sanctioned strength of 103 per 100,000.

 

The crisis is compounded by an endemic gap between sanctioned strength and the force available, which varies between 20 per cent and over 50 per cent at various ranks, and even more in the Maoist affected areas, where the deficit at certain ranks may be as high as 79 per cent (e.g. at the rank of Sub-Inspectors in the Bastar Division, where only 8 of 38 sanctioned posts were filled at the end of 2006).

 

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for Chhattisgarh indicates that, in the ranks from Deputy Superintendent of Police to Senior Superintendent of Police, the deficit in Chhattisgarh (as on 31.12.2005) was 29.9 per cent (223/318); at the rank of Sub-Inspector (SI) and Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), it was 36.6 per cent (1392/2194). Crucial posts in Naxalite affected areas have remained vacant for extended periods of time, while some such posts are held by unwilling or unsuitable officers who lack the profile and motivation necessary for effective counter-insurgency operations. As the data on police-population ratios indicates, sanctioned posts are themselves well below the needs of the State.

 

The ratio of Police personnel to the total Area of the State is also very poor, and is well below the national average. The all India average stands at 42 per 100 square kilometres. The figure for Chhattisgarh is just 17 per 100 square kilometres. The situation is worsened by a lopsided distribution of this Force. The situation in the Bastar Division – the heart of the violence in Chhattisgarh – is disturbing. For an area of 39,114 square kilometres, the five Police Districts of Bastar Division have a total sanctioned strength 2,197 policemen (5.62 policemen per 100 kilometres). Actual availability is just 1,389, nearly 37 per cent short of the authorized numbers, yielding a ratio of just 3.55 policemen per 100 square kilometres.

 

Efforts have been made to ‘fill’ this gap with deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). However, the numbers available are a tiny fraction of the requirements of the State. Thus, some 85 companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) are currently available for the whole of Chhattisgarh. It is useful to note, here, that Manipur, a State of just about 2.4 million people, has a police-population ratio of 535 per 100,000, and in addition has almost 350 companies of Central Forces deployed for counter-insurgency operations in the State. Manipur’s geographical area (22,327 square kilometres) is just over half the Bastar Division (39,114 square kilometres). The population of Chhattisgarh, at nearly 21 million, is almost 9 times that of Manipur.

 

Worse, there are critical gaps between the deployment and employment even of this limited force. While some Force augmentation has occurred over the past year, the utilisation of this increased manpower is inefficient and often entirely unproductive. A bulk of the additional Force recruited within the State (Chhattisgarh Armed Force, CAF), over the past year, for instance, has been kept out of the areas of intensive conflict, and has been utilised in relatively ‘safe areas’. The Government of Chhattisgarh has set up a Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, which had, by February 2007, already trained at least 2,590 Police officers and men. A majority of these trained personnel are, however, deployed for a range of static duties and in urban areas, reflecting a tremendous waste of trained manpower.

 

In the Bastar Division a total of some 11 battalions of CPMFs – nine battalions of CRPF, one battalion Naga and one battalion Mizo – are currently deployed.

 

Of the total armed Force in Chhattisgarh – State and Central – no more that 1,800 to 2,000 personnel are engaged in offensive counter-terrorist operations. More than 80 per cent of this augmented force is deployed for passive defence, protecting Salwa Judum (the anti-Maoist ‘people’s’ movement) camps, important Government installations and projects, including road-building and the railways, and VIPs or others under threat.

 

Crucially, the available Force in the affected areas is simply too small even to protect itself – as has been evident in the numbers of successful attacks to which it has been subjected – leave alone act forcefully against the Maoists. In the Bastar Division, for instance, an additional Force of over 80 companies is required for the protection of existing Police Stations, Police Posts and important Government establishments and projects.

 

By and large, the State Police has tried to offload the bulk of counter-insurgency responsibilities onto the Central Forces, with no more than an estimated 300 State Police personnel actually deployed in offensive counter-insurgency operations. But Central Forces have obvious difficulties in operating in unfamiliar and difficult geographical and cultural terrain, and tend to be starved of adequate operational intelligence. The State’s Home Minister, Ram Vichar Netam has now conceded that the CRPF has "not proved very effective till now, they have not had any extraordinary results. You need to mix them up with the local police for effective policing." It is not clear what has prevented the Home Minister and the State Police from "mixing up" the local police with the CRPF till this point in time, or whether specific steps have now been taken for such operational integration..

 

Grave deficiencies of leadership also afflict the state, beyond the more obvious numerical deficits in Police leadership. The quality of senior officers in the State cadre, with occasional exception, is poor, and levels of motivation are low. The will to engage in counter-insurgency tasks is almost uniformly absent at the top levels of command. Most senior officers have spent their entire careers serving in a thinly administered area of what was earlier Madhya Pradesh (before 2000), with only minimal law and order management experience. These officers are not psychologically oriented to make the transition to a rigorous counter-insurgency role, and largely tend to evade responsibilities relating to counter-insurgency operations. Few officers are willing to accept postings in the affected areas and, at senior levels, few are even willing to tour the worst affected areas. The top Police leadership, consequently, remains overwhelmingly confined to Raipur.

 

In the absence of basic capacities and will, other innovations – including technical and technological ‘force multipliers’ – are destined to inevitable failure. Thus, the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to detect and help neutralize Maoist movements and concentrations in the forests has failed to produce the desired results. Unless followed up with immediate operational responses, the data generated through UAV monitoring is of little value. But with Forces principally moving about on foot, the capacity for such quick responses in the deep jungle are negligible. Worse, there is now evidence that UAV monitoring is being deliberately undermined by leaks from within the establishment. Indian Air Force (IAF) officers managing the UAV operations in the State have grounded their craft, complaining that ‘intelligence leaks on flight details’ had undermined the utility of the spy drones. Unnamed IAF officials have hinted at a ‘lack of will’ in the State Government and problems of coordination with the State Forces. In the initial months of UAV deployment, a number of Maoist ‘hotspots’ had been detected, but there were no follow-up operations by the Forces.

 

Some hare-brained schemes are now being conjured as a quick fix for the existing gaps, based on a questionable understanding of the ‘Andhra Model’ and the experience of the Greyhounds in that State. Reports suggest that ‘a dozen’ Quick Reaction Teams of ‘crack commandos’ are shortly to be deployed in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, to be ‘air dropped in dense forests… equipped with carbines, grenades, jungle knives and a week’ rations… Like the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh, their brief would be to launch swift guerrilla operations against the Maoists’. What is missed out here is that the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh operate within a pervasive policing environment that has been systematically strengthened and that has established overwhelming capacities for containment of Maoist movement and operations. With small groups of Maoists dispersed over limited forest areas, and possessing relatively insignificant residual capacities for large scale resistance, these groups are vulnerable to focused attack by a highly trained and rapidly deployed force. Within an enveloping environment of the breakdown of policing, and dominance of wide areas, not only of the forests, but of extended contiguous zones, by the Maoists, and little capacity for immediate and massive reinforcement, a QRT dropped into a jungle would, in most cases, simply be overwhelmed and slaughtered.

 

At a par with this is the Chief Minister, Raman Singh’s repeated emphasis, over the past three months, of initiating a ‘dialogue’ with the Maoists. The Bharatiya Janata Party, to which the Chief Minister belongs, was one of the most vociferous critics of the disastrous ceasefire and negotiations with the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh in 2004. It appears that electoral considerations – Chhattisgarh goes to the polls in end 2008 – may tempt the State leadership to enter into an unprincipled and inevitably counter-productive deal with the Maoists, leading to further deferment of counter-insurgency operations against the rebels, and to a deeper consolidation of their forces across the State.

 

State Police sources estimate that the Maoists in Chhattisgarh have an armed cadre of over 5,000, equipped with sophisticated assault weapons, including AK-47 rifles, SLRs, machine guns, mortars, landmines and explosives. These ‘full-time revolutionaries’ are backed by at least 20,000 ‘people’s militia’ members, who are variously armed with SLRs, .303 rifles, ‘country made’ guns, and traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, and who have participated in the increasing numbers of ‘swarming attacks’ on SF units, posts and encampments. [Interestingly, Central agencies are currently and vigorously peddling the fiction that the total armed strength of the Maoists across India is just 4,000, with 4,100 weapons – if that was even remotely close to the truth, we would have little to worry about]. The strength of the sympathetic base on which this armed capacity is founded is difficult to estimate, but would obviously be substantial.

 

It must be abundantly clear that Chhattisgarh simply does not have even the numerical capacities to contain an insurgency of this magnitude. Worse, existing capacities remain enormously under-utilized and misdirected, and there is increasing evidence of a progressive collapse of political will at the highest levels of the State leadership to confront the challenge of the Maoist onslaught. Sadly, that means that many more SF personnel – thrown without plan, preparation or purpose into the conflagration – will fruitlessly lose their lives in the foreseeable future.

 

It can only be hoped that, eventually, someone, somewhere, in India’s corridors of power, will lose a little sleep over this as well.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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