Over 70 police officers were killed earlier today in what must rank as one the largest single Maoist attacks in the movement’s 40-year history.
The attack involved somewhere in the region of 700-1,000 Maoist cadres in the forests of Bastar in the Dandewada district of Chhattisgarh, arguably the centre of the Naxalite insurgency. With the state of Chhattisgarh supposed to be hammering down on the insurgents as part of Operation Green Hunt, this is clearly meant as a signal from the Maoists that they retain significant operational capability, hold massive advantages in terms of terrain and are willing to be ruthlessly savage in their assaults.
The sheer scale of the attack puts it in the realm of demonstrative terrorism – propaganda of the deed – to an extent that the Maoists have not previously attempted. It goes beyond short-term tactical requirements – this is about sending a message, and that message is pretty clear: Operation Green Hunt, if it is successful at all, will be an extremely bloody and drawn-out battle.
Home Minister P Chidambaram says he is “shocked” (see video below), which is worrying since it suggests he did not realise that an entirely militarised approach to counter-insurgency resulted in this kind of thing.