By T S Sudhir
“We can’t stop getting killed”. “We can’t stop getting killed”. “We can’t stop getting killed”.
These words uttered by a young, dynamic Chhattisgarh cadre IPS officer to me, over the phone last night, keeps reverberating in my ears. This officer cut his teeth in the jungles of Dantewada, before being posted out after an ambush by the Maoists that killed several CRPF jawans.
But lest you get me wrong, this is not a coward laying down arms. It is the honest truth in Chhattisgarh today. The writ of Raman Singh runs only in Raipur. Most of his domain exists only on paper, the Maoists call the shots, quite literally.
Which is why with every Maoist attack on security personnel, the shock value of the bloodshed is no longer felt in North Block, the way it was in April when 75 CRPF jawans were killed by Maoists in Dantewada. `Red massacre’ screamed newspaper headlines then. The BJP produced lyrical criticism (`the red corridor has become the blood corridor’). Pressure was mounted on the home ministry that it had to show action on ground. That it will match a bullet with a bullet. Two months and two ambushes (killing 31 and 27) later, P Chidambaram is yet to bite the bullet.
The standard response has been to send in reinforcements. Almost as if feeding the monster. For heavens sake, they are not meant to do bandobast duty in the jungles.
CRPF jawan, unfamiliar with terrain, culture and language, untrained to fight a better trained, motivated and intelligent Maoist army, are being consumed in the dark underbelly of India in south Chhattisgarh. Reduced to statistics, footnotes in India’s war against Red terror. 5 dead is a small number, 27 is big, 76 is a massacre.
As I cross the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh at Konta, several fortresses greet us. These are police stations, a symbol of fear and anxiety. They have to guard not the people, but themselves from Maoist attacks because the outlaws will attack them to loot their weapons. These are not sights new to me. I have seen northern Telangana and Nallamalla region go through similar labour pain in the 90s, when sentries would point a gun at you if your movements around the police stations were found suspicious.
Slogans of `Naxalwadi murdabad’ put up on boards outside police stations are ironically the only visible police response to Maoism in these parts. Which is why the CRPF is meant to give the men in khaki the edge over the Maoists. But in the warzone called Chhattisgarh, it is proving to be an IPKF kind of costly misadventure.
A senior CRPF officer lets me into everythng that is wrong with his organisation and the way it is being used in Chhattisgarh. “Everytime it is the same mistake of not following standard operating procedures. They don’t realise the Maoists have their eyes just about everywhere. They are noticing them. Their intelligence and courier network is better than ours. Can you imagine one of our parties had their lunch and dinner at the same place. When you are on an area domination mission, it is common sense that if you are taking the plains, you have to first secure and dominate the hilltops. In two of the recent cases, they failed to do so and were fired at by Maoists who had strategic positions on hilltops.”
Security experts also point fingers at the CRPF ethos. “This paramilitary force is built on the police model and its mid-level leadership more often than not, displays a daroga mentality. By deploying the CRPF in any kind of disturbed situation, the political establishment also has blunted its prowess. An average CRPF jawan still moves around with a stick.”
Compare this with how the district police forces in north Telangana behaved at the height of the naxal movement in Andhra Pradesh. They in fact, behaved more like paramilitary, almost morphed into a military entity.
At the CRPF base camp in Sukma, a jawan points out the emblem of the force to me. It displays the motto of the force : `Service and loyalty’. Crude as it may sound, the Maoists seem to be testing each one of them on this count.
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