Another major attack by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, just six weeks after the massacre of 76 police officers in the same district. The figures are not certain, but an estimated 35 people died when the Maoists blew up a private passenger bus on a highway in the Dantewada district. Initial reports say that over a dozen special police officers (SPOs) were among the civilians on the bus when it was blown 20 feet in the air. Around 15 more people are in critical condition in hospital. The SPOs are believed to be part of the Koya Commando unit, specialising in anti-Maoist operations.
The attack is notable for taking civilian lives. Although it is likely to have been specifically targeting the SPOs, the willingness to take collateral civilian lives underlines the ruthless turn the Maoists are taking in Chhattisgarh. They risk further alienating the local population if they move towards indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Their millenarian worldview allows them to justify such violence against civilians as an unfortunate by-product of the glorious revolution, but few outside the party will agree with them.
However, given the almost complete lack of governance in these remote areas, the Maoists have a distinct advantage in being able to coerce locals into supporting them, since they are the only effective form of authority around. They combine this with several carrots, such as more equitable land distribution, protection from police brutality and exploitation by state officials, and ensuring better prices for forest produce.
Add to this the geographical advantages of operating across 39,000 km2 region, 60% of which is dense jungle, and it is clear that further attacks along these lines are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The question is whether the Maoists are pushing their luck. By attacking civilians, they are forcing the government to start taking the problem seriously.
A workable model of counterinsurgency exists, which was applied in Andhra Pradesh in the 1990s, which has contained the problem in that state to a much greater extent than in other areas. Here’s a breakdown of that strategy from the Deccan Chronicle:
* A ban was imposed on the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and its front organisations like Radical Students’ Union and Progressive Democratic Students’ Union to check activities like bandhs and to stop fresh recruitment.
* A new legislation, Public Security Act, cut off the nexus between Naxals and their sympathisers in the affected villages.
* Intensive development of interior areas, particularly of roads and communications, was undertaken.
* A solution was sought to the various issues raised by extremists through a special cell functioning in the chief minister’s office.
* Employment was promoted in a big way. There was, in fact, a special focus on employing tribals in good numbers in all government departments, particularly the police, to give them a greater sense of participation in governance.
* Procurement of forest produce was taken away from forest contractors and entrusted with government corporations, thereby cutting off the flow of funds to extremists.
* A rehabilitation policy for those extremists wanting to leave the movement was put into action.
* Perception management, or counter-propaganda, through well-trained cultural troupes was undertaken.
The Chhattisgarh government is not yet in a position to apply a similar strategy effectively, but increased inter-state cooperation – including the use of the specialist anti-Naxal Greyhounds force from Andhra Pradesh in other areas – could start creating problems for the Maoists. Of course, the key consequence in the short term will be an increase in violent incidents and civilian casualties.