By T S Sudhir
Last week the CRPF transferred DIG Nalin Prabhat out of Dantewada, holding him partly responsible for the April 6 massacre of 76 security personnel, acting on the Rammohan committee report. A couple of days before that this Andhra Pradesh cadre officer was addressing some of his men.
Like always, Nalin spoke from the heart. His mantra : `Fighting the Maoists is a battle of wits, it is not rocket science. You have to outthink the Maoist, not outgun him. You need to know the food, the land, the terrain, the vegetation with each changing season. Because the Maoist knows it as well, if not better than you.”
Which is why I believe that Nalin Prabhat’s transfer sends the wrong signals. Here is an officer who knows his job, has proved himself in both Telangana and Kashmir. Yet for all the semantics of the buck stopping at Chidambaram’s table, when the moment of reckoning came, the buck was tactically shifted to Nalin’s table. And for those cynics and critics who say the transfer is actually a blessing for Nalin to get out of dangerous territory, do not quite know the stuff that this man is made of.
From his years as SP in Karimnagar and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, I have known this IPS officer to be a highly committed and incredibly passionate man with years of field experience in formulating anti-Maoist strategy. He is among those who believe this is actually Andhra’s war.
“No one knows to fight the Maoists better than us. So officers and men from Andhra Pradesh should be in the forefront of fighting this battle. We have to fight it all over again for the country.”
It was with the same outpouring of passion that Nalin related the story of Chandragupta Maurya. For some reason, Chandragupta’s initial strategy of invading enemy kingdoms did not yield results. One night, when travelling in disguise, incognito, Chandragupta stopped at a wayside eatery, where a grandmother was berating her grandson for nibbling at the roti the way Chandragupta Maurya was fighting his battles. “Eat the outer sides first and then move to the centre of the roti. Not like Chandragupta Maurya who straightaway attacks the centre.” The king had learnt his lesson.
But centuries later, neither the mandarins in the Home ministry nor the security personnel seem to have learnt this basic lesson. Till his transfer orders came, Nalin was passionately discussing how tactical retreat would be an ideal strategy to adopt now.
“It is strange that you are using a commonly used Maoist phrase,” I quipped.
“Yes, why not. When the enemy has some 4000-odd strong cadre in Dantewada-Bijapur area, it is foolish to try and match forces. An intelligent strategy would be retreat, give them space and a false sense of one-upmanship and try encircling them from all sides.”
An ideal situation for Nalin would have been to have his bases in say, Venkatapuram in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh, close to the Andhra-Chattisgarh border and launch surgical strikes from there. Attack and retreat. Attack and retreat.
Another senior police officer who is involved in anti-Maoist operations agrees. “For years, the Maoists have used guerilla warfare against our big troops. Now why can’t we turn the tables on them? Since our big formations are getting hit, let us move around in small groups and hit their big squads,” he says. But fear of criticism that such tactics would invite, prevent the top brass from allowing the people who know to take the lead.
I asked a top cop in Sukma whether it is true that the Maoists run a parallel government in many parts of South Chattisgarh. “No, that is absolutely incorrect. In many of these parts, they are THE government,” he replied, with a straight face. It seems so too, given how fortified police stations and CRPF battalions in Bastar are. They do not convey a sense of the government’s power. Instead, they are more a symbol of how scared, defensive and on the backfoot the government is.
Officers speak in hushed tones about how a strong sense of resentment has seeped into the CRPF ranks. About how they have been sent to fight a battle without appropriate preparation : mental, physical and strategy. I ask a CRPF officer (almost apologetically, so as not to hurt his feelings) if it is true that in terms of training, one Greyhounds (Andhra Pradesh’s elite anti-naxal commando force) jawan is equal to ten CRPF jawans. “That is rubbish. I would say one Greyhounds jawan equals 100 CRPF jawans.”
Today it is these jawans, in who the CRPF leadership has little confidence, who are being pushed, battalions by the dozen, into Chattisgarh. The monsoon will only make matters more difficult, when they will be sent on combing operations and area domination patrols, to fight Maoists, Maoist informers, mosquitoes, snakes and other poisonous insects and reptiles and heavy rains in slushy jungles.
Recent successes for the Chattisgarh police and CRPF have come courtesy the Special Police officers who were recruited for 3000 rupees per month (up from 2150 rupees till recently). These are pro-state tribals, who have knowledge of the topography of Bastar’s jungles and can also identify key Maoist leaders. That is because many of these SPOs are naxals who have surrendered to the police and have been given training in weapons. Amaresh Mishra, Dantewada’s young SP (who is likely to be transferred as well) says, “The credit for most of our recent strikes goes to these SPOs. They are critical to our mission.” Which is why the Maoists are targetting these SPOs, like in the ambush on the civilian bus in which they were travelling on 17th May between Dantewada and Sukma.
In a sense, the SPO concept is a copy of the way Andhra Pradesh used ex-naxals to ferret intelligence about naxal strategy. But mention Andhra Pradesh in Chattisgarh, and you sense anger over how Andhra Pradesh shifted its migraine to Chattisgarh and Orissa and now sits pretty, boasting how well it tackled the Maoist menace. But Hyderabad could be in for a rude shock, say security experts. A very strong Maoist presence wouldn’t take long to make inroads into its old base of Telangana, they say and for good reasons.
In the CPI(Maoist) formed by the merger of the People’s War with MCC in 2004, the PW still has the upper hand in the central committee (CC), with more members from this erstwhile Andhra-based militant outfit. “There are reports that the MCC members are constantly taunting the likes of Ganapathi, that their base back home in Andhra is now virtually zero. Given that most of the PW leaders come from Telangana districts like Karimnagar, the jibes hurt. There is pressure that MCC should have more representation in the CC than the PW. In this scenario, Ganapathi and company would definitely want to reclaim their base in Andhra Pradesh and soon,” reasoned one expert.
Also with next to nil Maoist activity in Andhra Pradesh since 2007, the present batch of SPs and inspectors have not had any field experience of taking on the Maoists in the jungle. The officers who had sharpened their skills in jungle warfare between 1995 to 2005 are now DIG-level officers and soon, may be promoted to IG level. What it would mean is a police force, where the men on the ground would be inexperienced in tackling Maoist terror. Yes, Andhra does have the Greyhounds, the best in the business. But they too have not had the kind of exposure they had earlier, except in the Andhra-Orissa Border area. And anyone will tell you playing in the nets is not the same as actual match experience.
Nalin’s transfer I feel, takes back the battle several steps. The next officer will think not 10 times but 50 times before taking a risk. In a war, there will be casualties, on both sides. As a nation, we have to be prepared for it. Shrill television studio discussions among people, who have never stepped into Maoist territory, do not help matters. Make no mistake, the Maoist is dangerous. Moving through places like Chintalnar, Jagargunda, Dornapul, you get a sense of the fear, which is much much more than what it used to feel like in Telangana in the 90s.
I had lunch with Nalin and Amresh on Wednesday. Nalin told me he only has a heavy lunch everyday. No breakfast, no dinner. But no, that is not the reason why he wants to have the Maoists for breakfast !
You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com
(Please post your comment to tell us what you thought of this blog. You can also subscribe to this blogsite to receive regular updates)