Maoists: Enduring Strengths
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management & SATP
In quick succession, three disruptive incidents have shocked India out of the complacency that had set in, as the policy establishment celebrated sharp declines in violence and fatalities engineered by the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist), over the past year.
The worst of these incidents was, of course, the March 27, 2012, improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) transport at Pustola in Gadchiroli District, Maharashtra, which killed 12 and injured 28. In their enthusiasm during CRPF Director General Vijay Kumar’s visit to Fulbodi Gatta to inspect a Community Outreach Programme, the troopers had ignored standard operating procedures (SOPs), driving over a road that had not been sanitized in advance. The Maoists were quick to take bloody advantage.
A loss of lives among SF personnel, however, is easily ignored and quickly forgotten by the Indian state. The abduction of foreigners and the inevitable international media carnival that follows, tends to be far more embarrassing, for much longer, especially when the ‘hostage drama’ extends over weeks. The ‘arrest’ as the Maoists chose to describe it, of two Italians – a tourist and a tour operator – on March 14, 2012, in the Daringbadi Block of Kandhamal District, Odisha, has, consequently, shattered the illusion of an ‘improved internal security situation’ to a far greater extent. While one of the hostages, Claudio Colangelo, was released on March 25, 2012, the second, tour operator Paulo Basusco, continues to be held hostage by the rebels at the time of writing. The abduction occurred while the Italians were moving in areas of Maoist influence, officials claim, against the advice of the administration.
Even as the Italian hostage drama was being played out, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), tribal leader Jhina Hikaka, from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), was abducted on March 24, 2012, near Laxmipur in Koraput District, Odisha, when he chose to ignore security procedures, to travel through Maoist dominated territories from Semilguda to his constituency, Laxmipur. Hikaka’s vehicle was stopped near Toyaput, and he was abducted after he identified himself.
The Basusco and Hikaka abductions remain unresolved at the time of writing.
Crucially, all three actions were incidents of opportunity, reflecting enduring Maoist capacities, rather than strategic intent or planning, and demonstrating quite clearly that a decline in fatalities is not synonymous with a decline in rebel capacities or with an improvement in the ‘security situation’. Indeed, despite the significant reverses inflicted on the Maoists, especially at the leadership level, as well as some contraction in their areas of operation, the rebels’ disruptive capabilities in their core areas along the purported ‘Red Corridor’, remain substantially intact.