New Delhi: Thousands of paramilitary personnel have launched a crackdown to target some 50 Maoist leaders across the country in a bid to crush what is described as India's biggest internal security challenge.
"We would be breaking the neck (of the Maoist movement) by arresting all their senior leaders like Kishenji," a highly placed official in the security establishment said in an interview.
"We believe there could be around 50 such leaders scattered all over. We are targeting them to make the entire movement headless and make a serious dent," the official told a news agency.
"With this it would be relatively easy to take on the rest of Maoist guerrillas," the official added, providing for the first time operational details of the coordinated and sweeping security drive.
As of now, operations are under way in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra -- five states where the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is most active, mainly among tribals living in remote interiors who are among the poorest of the poor.
The operational methods would, however, differ from the way Sri Lanka's military crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, it was pointed out.
"We are not going for any operations where innocent lives are put at risk. Do not expect us to launch similar actions in which the LTTE was eliminated. We have our own strategies," said the official who did not want his name and designation to be revealed.
Another official said that a total of 42 battalions from the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were involved in the operation.
"Of these five battalions are from BSF, four from ITBP and the rest from CRPF," he said.
The BSF, ITBP and CRPF are jointly operating in Chhattisgarh, considered the heartland of the Maoists who believe in a rural insurrection aimed at seizing territory in rural areas and then taking power violently.
"However, it will not be before March when the security forces will launch their operations in all the Maoist-affected states," the official said.
According to rough estimates, over 60,000 paramilitary forces would be in action against 6,000-7,000 Maoists armed with heavy weapons as well as light machine guns, AK-47s, AK-56s and Insas rifles.
The highly-placed official pointed out that a similar strategy had led to the dramatic killing of forest brigand Veerappan, who like some of the present Maoist leaders had been on the run for years.
"Once Veerappan was gone, it became easy for police and security forces to swoop down on other bandits. We have adopted a somewhat similar strategy.
"Our men are gathering intelligence about Maoist leaders. We won't go on the offensive until and unless there is actionable intelligence," the source added. "We have arrested some people but we are yet to net the big fish."
Asked about Kishenji, the elusive Maoist leader who keeps giving interviews to television channels, the source said he had managed to slip away from the Lalgarh area of West Bengal Tuesday.
Another official said the security forces, especially the CRPF, have got six trained dogs each for the "special sector" (Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra), "eastern sector" (Orissa and West Bengal) and the "Bihar sector" (Bihar and Jharkhand) to help take on the Maoists.
"These dogs have been deployed in the field. They are specially trained in locating land mines and hidden weapons. We have also trained some local dogs for the same purpose," the official said.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram will Friday visit Raipur, the Chhattisgarh capital, to check the operational preparedness against Maoists. Raipur is also the headquarters of CRPF Special Director General Vijay Raman, who is the national coordinator in the anti-Maoist campaign.
First Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010, 15:13