Conforming to the speculations that New Delhi under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government would adopt a hardline approach against left-wing extremism, a two month-long operation is underway in worst affected Chhattisgarh to dislodge the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres from their strongholds in south Bastar's Bijapur and Sukma districts. A critical objective of the operations is to neutralise senior Maoist functionaries with the belief that if successful, the leaderless movement would collapse in quick time. This formula has been adopted in the past with questionable success.
There are two notable features of the present operations. Firstly, there are enough indications that the current operation is driven by a strategy inked in Delhi. A visit by the National Security Adviser AK Doval and the Special Security advisor (internal security) K Vijay Kumar in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to Chhattisgarh in October 2015 started the initiative. Secondly, to an extent, the current operations are somewhat comparable to Operation Green Hunt in 2010, which had amassed a huge number of forces with the intention of bulldozing the extremist movement to nothingness. This time, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has deployed 11 battalions of its forces in Sukma and another eight battalions in Bijapur. As a result, nearly 25000 security force personnel including the state police forces are currently operating in the two districts.
According to the Chhattisgarh police, three new developments make the current operation different from the past. Firstly, there is an increase in the level of coordination between the central forces and the state police. Secondly, the coordination and exchange of intelligence with neighbouring states have improved. And lastly, the state police establishment has been able to effect an optimum utilisation of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) consisting predominantly of the Koya tribals. In June and July around 500 Chhattisgarh police mostly from Sukma and Dantewada districts underwent a 45-day counter-insurgency training course in Assam with an eye on the operations. This has allowed the police to carry out operations even during the lean monsoon season.
Among the major 'successes' claimed by the police is the killing of 10 Maoists, including five "commanders" in Sukma and Bijapur districts in November. In the first week of December, the police further claimed that 26 Maoists including seven hardcore cadres have surrendered in Sukma district. The CPI-Maoist, on the other hand, questioned the claims. With particular reference to the surrender of 26 Maoists, the outfit claimed that villagers unconnected to the outfit have been shown as surrendered by the police. Independent media investigations have supported the Maoist claim. At least three persons termed as Maoists by the police have been found to be petty criminals who had declared themselves as Maoists under police pressure. On most occasions, the intense conflict situation makes verifying such claims and counter-claims difficult. However, fake surrenders have precedence in the state.
Along with the 'successes', excesses and human rights violations by the security forces have also been reported. Large scale violence by a section among the two companies of security forces who carried out operations in five villages of Bijapur district between 19 and 24 October, included rape of a pregnant women and a teen; looting of money, livestock, and food items; ransacking of houses; and intimidation of the villagers. An investigation being conducted by the police department has not led to any arrest so far. The state's reputation of failing to prosecute similar culprits in the past has indeed reinforced a culture of impunity among the security forces in these remote regions.
For analysts, the level of motivation among the Maoist cadres and future strategies of the outfit have mostly remained subjects of speculation. While the state for known reasons underlines a deep state of desperation among the Maoists leading to frequent desertions, a rare media interview of Papa Rao, a senior Maoist leader and one of the planners of the 2010 Chintalnar attack on the CRPF that had claimed the lives of 76 personnel, revealed a different picture. Papa Rao, while acknowledging the temporary state of weakness in the outfit, dismissed the possibility of a peace process with the government and underlined the commitment of the outfit to a protracted war against the state. "Violence will the forbearer of peace," he claimed.
In spite of the tall claims by the Chhattisgarh police, the prospect of a resoundingly successful operation remains doubtful. Structural and operational deficiencies within the police force persist. Little progress has been achieved in ground-level intelligence collection. The state's efforts to strike a chord with the tribals remain an unfinished project. The bureaucracy remains as aloof as it used to be and is still not an active player in the development projects. This probably compels the police establishment to fabricate its success stories. That, however, is not so much of a surprise. The real surprise is the persistent belief of New Delhi that security forces with low morale and under leaders of questionable ability will be able to root out a problem that needs a much more nuanced approach.