Is the Failure of Counter-Extremism a Failure of Governance? 

In the Sukma incident, 25 CRPF personnel were outnumbered and killed by 300 Maoist insurgents.

4 min read
LJP activists take part in a candlelight vigil to pray for CRPF jawans lost their lives in a Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, in Patna on Monday. (Photo: PTI)

My heart goes out to the families of the 26 CRPF personnel ambushed and killed by Maoists in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh earlier on Monday afternoon. A few policemen are missing. The Maoists also suffered a significant number of casualties.

This gory incident comes just a month after the Maoists killed 12 CRPF men in another encounter in the State. There is indescribable anguish in both political and administrative circles. As in every other incident, the CRPF leadership emerges in poor light after Sukma. Several embarrassing questions have been raised.

The principal target, however, is Chief Minister Raman Singh, a leader with a formidable reputation. He may have political acumen but it does not add to his prowess in the task to neutralise lawless elements. However, he cannot be faulted for not trying or for obstructing operations to quell the Maoist menace. I do not know how much more a political leader can do to handle a problem that has eluded an enlightened solution.

Armchair Criticism of Govt Unfair

My first reaction is that this should not be an occasion for political mudslinging. That kind of narrow and tendentious approach shifts the focus from the basic operational weaknesses revealed by the incident. We need to understand that dealing with Maoists raises misgivings over both political as well as police leadership. In my view, however, the latter has to take more of the blame. The Chief Minister and his colleagues should not be pilloried for what seems an operational inadequacy.

First reports indicate that the CRPF were attacked by nearly 300 Maoists perched on a hill top. The jawans were a gun fodder. In fact, this has been the regular feature of encounters, both in Chhattisgarh and outside. Invariably, the crucial surprise element rested with the Maoists, much to the disadvantage of the agencies.

Let us admit that the State intelligence apparatus is unequal to the task of keeping minute-to-minute track of Maoist traffic. There are no two views on this. Both the IB and State intelligence have tried hard to raise sources which would tip off our security forces so that the latter are not offered on a platter to the determined Maoists. We simply have not been able to inflict huge casualties on Maoists, whose strength has not shown any great dip.

On Monday’s incident, the CRPF were outnumbered. But then, when we don’t have accurate intelligence on Maoist strength in an area of operation, how can we send a large contingent of security forces. Criticising the CRPF for not deploying enough manpower is senseless. Also, one cannot question the dispatch of many CRPF men to a dangerous area.

The latter were sent there to give protection to road building workers and officials. This was an unavoidable and crucial mission. Any armchair criticism of the Home Ministry or the State Police on this ground is unfair. The CRPF and similar forces will continue to be needed for protecting those who are engaged in nation building. This is why incidents like Sukma will continue to occur. To believe that any government can put an end to them or completely wipe out the Maoists is preposterous.

Technological Warfare Without the Baggage of Privacy Issues

From quite long ago, one school of thought favoured economic development as a sure way we can quell Maoism. There is a lot to commend this approach, as, ultimately, it is economic deprivation that drives people to join Maoist ranks. State governments in the area have aided projects that were expected to transform the economy.

The results of this laudable experiment at creating wealth and jobs have yielded only moderate success. We must understand that there is a limit to government investment, however crucial such investment is to eradicate lawlessness. As a result, the question that arises is whether development needs to be pursued with the current vigour.

What could a Chief Minister like Raman Singh do to prevent tragedies like Sukma? This is a tough question. The bottom line is whether political leadership could be blamed for the obvious failure of field level police leadership. As long they do not tie up police hands into inaction, we can hardly criticise them.

I believe incidents like Sukma are most significant for throwing up the need for a re-evaluation of police tactics. A stagnant leadership is the recipe for disaster.

Sukma calls for renewed emphasis on technology in policing rather than the strength of deployment. Technology is not a panacea for the evil of Maoist terror. It certainly is more than an aid to outwit the ruthless extremist.

This is a war that we are waging in Chattisgarh and adjoining States, and one that requires enormous investment in technology that helps strengthen surveillance of hotspots, which have been repeated theatres of encounters. Any talk of human rights violation and invasion of privacy here is sheer gibberish. Technology that has invested the Israeli leadership with awesome reputation is relevant here. I cannot think of any other way you can combat the Maoists.

This is no plea to give up development of the areas where Maoists have triumphed over security forces. It is a plea for the more sensible application of our precious resources. In sum, the need of the hour is a government that combines firmness with compassion for victims of terror. The cacophony of those who raise human rights issues just for the sake of embarrassing the establishment needs to be ignored completely.

(Dr RK Raghavan is a former CBI Director. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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