The Maoist attack that killed 26 CRPF soldiers in Burkhapal in Sukma Distirct of Chhattisgarh on Monday was one of the deadliest in recent years. The 74 battalion of the CRPF had been deployed to protect a road construction project. Coming as it does after a period of relative lull in Maoist killings, the incident begs the question—has India been underestimating the potency of the Maoist threat in recent months?
Here are 10 points that places the attack in perspective.
1) Sukma is one the 106 districts spread across 10 states considered to be affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). It is at the heart of the so-called Red-Corridor, and crucially is at the tri-junction connecting Odisha in the East and Telagana in the South. This is route used by Maoists to move from one state to the other. Domination of Sukhma is key to interstate mobility along the Maoist corridor.
2) Despite years of effort, numerous coordination committees at the Centre and at the state level, there is still very little coordination or intelligence sharing between the security forces. Since for instance Odisha police cannot operate in Chhattisgarh and vice-versa, Maoists very often strike in one state and escape to the next.
3) Every year just before the monsoon sets-in, cutting off massive tracts of forests to terrestrial movement, Maoists launch their military campaign. It is called the Tactical Counter-Offensive Campaign (TCOC). TCOC starts around March and ends by June when the monsoon sets in. Nearly all major Maoist attacks, including the 2010 attack that killed 76 CRPF soldiers, happened during this deadly window. So, yes there is a pattern.
4) How strong is the Maoist insurgency? Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently said compared to the last decade and half, Maoist insurgency has been at its lowest. "One can see the statistics," he said.
5) Measuring the intensity or the strength of insurgency with "kill ratios" – i.e. number of security forces killed, number of insurgents killed or captured, weapons snatched by Maoists, number of encounters etc. is an easy and accepted method. It, however, doesn't exactly reflect who is gaining influence on the ground and among locals, whose support is critical in forest and guerilla warfare. For instance, if security forces don't try to free territory from Maoist influence, the number of encounters and casualties among security forces will be less.
6) Nonetheless, the "kill-ratio" analysis doesn't back-up Rajnath Singh's confidence. For instance, in Chhattisgarh, till 31st March 2017, there were 105 incidents of Maoist violence as compared to 106 last year, resulting in 40 deaths, compared with 38 during the same period the previous year. In Andhra Pradesh too, till 31st March 2017, there were 11 incidents of Maoist violence as compared with 5 in 2016 and three deaths as compared with four last year.
7) Indeed, the Maoists have suffered some setbacks. Much of their top-leadership has been eliminated or has surrendered. Over 350 Maoists surrendered in Chhattisgarh alone last year. However, the central security agencies have little knowledge about the second-rung of leadership, leaving the forces at a strategic disadvantage.
8) Just how many soldiers are fighting the Maoists? There are over 80 battalions (1,000 men each) of central police forces in Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, besides the state police anti-terror and commando units to take on the Maoists. There are more police and para-military posts on the ground than say a decade ago.
9) What is the Centre's policy in dealing with Maoism? The Modi-led NDA government follows the same policy laid out by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government -- "Development and police action". The centre considers that the Maoist insurgency is linked to under-development and lack of governance. Therefore it follows a two-pronged strategy. It tries to improve governance as well as provision of health, education and infrastructure to the people. Simultaneously, the state police and central forces are used to fight the Maoists.
10) How much does India spend to counter Maoism? Under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE)—where the Union government reimburses the expenditure incurred by LWE-affected states in training and operational requirements of the security forces, insurance of police personnel etc.—India spent Rs370.14 crore during the last two financial years. The CRPF, which is at the fore-front of fighting Maoists, received Rs16,228.18 crore in the previous fiscal year. It has been increased by another 1,635.35 crore to Rs17,868.53 crore for 2017-18.