The massive attack by some 300-400 Naxalite cadres, reportedly carrying sophisticated weapons like AK-47 assault rifles, self-loading rifles (SLRs) and under-the-barrel rocket launchers, on the CRPF in the forests near Burkapal in the Sukma area of Chhattisgarh on Monday is a grim reminder that few effective steps have been taken to tackle the Naxalite menace in this part of India, where brazen assaults on Central forces have become routine. Around 25 paramilitary personnel were killed and nearly a dozen sustained serious injuries in the assault on a “road-opening party”. This is the worst massacre since 2010 when 70 CRPF men were mowed down. On March 11 this year, 12 personnel of the CRPF were ambushed in the same area, barely 20 km from Burkapal. The standard response has been strong words and no action.
What’s pretty glaring in the present case is that the road-opening party stepped out to do its job in an intelligence vacuum. This can be suicidal in an area in which armed Naxal attacks are endemic, and on Monday it was. Over the years, in coordination with the state police, the CRPF — since the force is posted in the area on a long-term basis — should have spread a network of local intelligence in the tribal forest villages. Its inability to do so reflects poorly not just on the Central force, which comes from outside, but also on the state police which has proved to be anything but a reliable partner, and on their state of coordination. Evidently, the men in uniform are not in contact with the forest-dwelling tribal people, on whose uplift Central and state resources are expended on paper. The welfare agencies of the government are not present where the Maoists have entrenched themselves.
The Naxalites speak in the name of the tribal poor but in reality have built up crime syndicates out of their bases in ungoverned spaces. They cannot be tackled only through military means. The intelligent use of the gun needs to supplement authentic on-the-ground efforts to push for development — which should mean roads, schools, health, banking and postal services; not ultra-massive mining projects by major companies made possible by displacing the tribal people, grabbing their land, cutting down forest resources and contaminating the water supply of local streams and small rivers. The latter appear opportunistic in the absence of basic human benefits reaching the people. Maoists exploit such notions of development and play on the fears of the forest people, harnessing them to fight against the State.