India has just witnessed another dangerous and horrifying attack by Naxals. The Maoist guerrillas slaughtered seventy-five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and a lone Chhattisgarh policeman in the forests of Dantewada district in Bastar region on April 06.
Home Minister P Chidambaram has even offered to step down in the wake of the brutal attack that left him “shocked”. Albeit the “buck stops at his desk”, yet the Home Minister’s resignation would not have helped in stopping the menace called Naxalism.
Many questions arise post-Dantewada. In an exclusive interview with Biplob Ghosal of Zeenews.com, Prakash Singh, an expert on anti-Naxal operations, discusses the reasons that led to the massacre as well as the possible solution to the problem.
Prakash Singh is former director general of the Border Security Force.
Biplob: What are the reasons behind the Dantewada massacre? Why did it happen?
Singh: It happened because security forces are trying to regain the area where the Naxals have established their sway. In the process, they carried out an operation but during this, the CRPF unit committed a number of operational blunders for which they paid a heavy price.
Biplob: Why did the security forces fail to thwart such an attack?
Singh: They failed because they did not observe the general rules of jungle warfare. First, when you are moving in a jungle you shouldn’t be using a vehicle; you should be travelling on foot. Second, when you are using a particular route to go somewhere, you should never use the same route while returning, as they did in this case.
When you are travelling and there is any high ground along the route, one should send a road opening party to make sure that there is nobody hiding along the high ground. The high ground needs to be captured and dominance should be established and then only the forces should be asked to move on. There was high ground, which they ignored.
There were, according to the DGP, Chhattisgarh, reports of a huge infiltration of Maoists from the contiguous areas. It all appears to have been ignored by the CRPF. So, it is surprising that with such massive presence and movement of Maoists in the area, the CRPF didn’t have any specific warning about their possible plan to strike at forces.
The state police should take the lead role in counter-insurgency operations. The paramilitary forces can only play the supporting role. However, at the ground level it appears that at most of the places, it is the central forces which are taking the initiative and the state police are playing a subsidiary role, sometimes merely providing a guide, as it appears to have been the case in the Dantewada incident. The equation must be set right.
Biplob: So, do you agree that the CRPF was not well trained?
Singh: This particular unit did not show general awareness techniques of jungle warfare.
Biplob: How feasible is the idea of involving military in tackling Naxals?
Singh: No, there is no need to involve military and just because of one setback, it does not mean the paramilitary forces are incapable. CRPF is well capable of delivering the goods. In fact, on the pattern of Andhra Pradesh, efforts should be made to train the local police as they are not so capable and efficient to deal with such situations. They should be trained with paramilitary forces in such a way that they are able to take the Naxals head on with the assistance of paramilitary forces. The Army cannot separate grain from the chaff. Once they operate, they treat everybody as enemy.
Biplob: What role can the Indian Air Force (IAF) play in this battle?
Singh: IAF can provide logistical support and help with aerial surveillance. They should not be used for bombing. They can give aerial intelligence, photographs and help in carrying the aerial evacuation process. They can help with all this but not chasing or bombing.
Biplob: How do you rate ‘Operation Green Hunt’ initiated by the Central government?
Singh: I think this operation is very much called for. But it has to be a strategic mission, there has to be tactical responses. You can’t just enter an area without proper preparations for the mission.
Biplob: The Home Minister recently offered to resign taking responsibility for the Dantewada incident. Where according to you does the buck stop?
Singh: Frankly speaking, everyone should share the responsibility as it’s not the Home Minister’s personal matter. The state forces are as much responsible as the central forces for what happened in Dantewada. They say this is a joint operation, so where was the local police during the operation.
The CRPF contingent of 80-plus was accompanied by only one cop from the state police. If it was indeed a joint operation, at least a platoon-strength of the Chhattisgarh Police should also have been part of the operation.
Biplob: Why have the various governments - both at the Centre and the state level - failed to tackle this decades old problem?
Singh: The problem has to be understood with seriousness. Shivraj Patil treated the Naxals as people who have strayed away from the mainstream and are brothers and sisters. This enabled the Naxals to spread their wings and establish their dominance in some states.
Biplob: Didn’t India realise it quite late that Naxalism is the greatest internal threat?
Singh: Since 2004, the Prime Minister has been saying it is a grave internal threat, but his perception was not shared by the Home Minister. He was saying something and doing something else. There was a difference of opinion between the PM and the then Home Minister.
Biplob: Shouldn’t states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand follow the Andhra Pradesh example?
Singh: They can definitely follow the Andhra example. They are not doing it; they are just dragging their feet apart. Andhra Pradesh set an excellent example with the ‘Greyhound force’, but such initiatives are lacking in other places. Superintendents of Police of the interior areas in Andhra Pradesh introduced innovative schemes to win the hearts and minds of the people. Nothing of that kind is seen in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Political will, administration structure and police, all need to be revamped and developed.
Biplob: What according to you is the solution to the Naxal problem?
Singh: There’s no easy solution; the problem requires a comprehensive response. For that you need to have dominance over these areas. Security operations need to be undertaken and once these areas are brought under control, civil administration needs to be set up with good governance.
It should be ensured that people living in these areas should get family health centres, basic amenities like water, education, electricity, roads; these facilities need to be extended. We cannot leave them to the care of gods. We have to ensure adequate and proper distribution of funds and schemes like NREGA should be implemented properly. The developments projects need to be implemented with all the seriousness. We have to ensure that the funds are not siphoned off by corrupt middlemen, bureaucrats or engineers.