Thursday, April 08, 2010
In war on Red terror, blood shall be spilled
We should be resolute in exterminating Maoists to the last cadre. India has to win this war for the sake of liberty and democracy.
The reaction to Tuesday’s (April 6) ghastly Maoist attack on CRPF jawans deep in the densely forested Abujhmad region of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh has been predictable. There’s outrage across the country that the lives of 76 security forces personnel should have been so cruelly snuffed out. Politicians have responded with lachrymose statements; some have pretended anger at Government’s ‘flawed’ policy of using security forces as cannon fodder in the war on Red terror. Strangely, or perhaps not, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has been criticised by colleagues in the Congress for “provoking” the Maoists into striking with such ferocity. Security experts have been prompt in pointing out faultlines in the overall strategy and ground level tactics, not so subtly suggesting they could have done a better job. Sympathisers of the Left extremists, who masquerade as ‘intellectuals’, have had no compunctions about using friendly media outlets, including television channels, to slyly justify the slaughter. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has expressed “shock and grief”, which really amounts to saying nothing.
While the sense of outrage (tinged with frustration) that prevails among the people is genuine, it is doubtful whether the reaction of the political class is motivated by concern for national security. Mr Chidambaram’s colleagues in the Congress, no doubt displeased that he should have emerged as an effective Minister on whom praise is lavished frequently, have seized upon the opportunity to try and run him down. Those in the Opposition who mock at the Government do so unthinkingly. Their own track record in tackling the Maoist menace is a tale of callous indifference or, worse, shameful capitulation. The JD(U) spokesman would do well to bear in mind that Maoists have ‘liberated’ large stretches of Bihar from the civil administration where the writ of the state no longer runs. As for our security experts, it is possible that their criticism of the Government’s strategy and tactics is well-meaning, but the course of an asymmetric war cannot be predicted by the best strategists and tacticians.
Could Tuesday’s massacre have been prevented? In hindsight, the answer to this question would be, yes. If only the CRPF jawans had been more cautious, if only they had not used a vehicle in a terrain likely to have been laid with landmines, if only they had not under-estimated the firepower of the Maoists, if only they had not ventured out at that hour of dawn, if only… If ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no need for tinkers’ hands. Or, as another version of the proverb goes, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we would all have a Merry Christmas. The point is, ifs and buts are neither pots and pans, nor are they candy and nuts. In battling insurgency, the best laid plans can go wrong and fatalities can be high, just as collateral damage cannot be entirely ruled out.
Those who are suddenly mindful of the fact that 76 jawans have been killed should look at the statistics of Maoist violence over the past few years. In 2009, Maoist violence and encounters with security forces witnessed a spurt in casualties, and fatalities added up to a whopping 998. Among the dead were 292 Maoist cadre, 312 security forces personnel (including policemen) and 392 civilians. It would be absurd to suggest that since more security forces personnel have died than Maoists, or because civilian casualty is so high, the state is losing the war on Red terror. Insurgency driven by ideology extracts a terrible toll; if we are to win the war, we should stop counting the body bags. Excessive focus on casualties of war weakens national resolve. Maudlin sentiments have never helped anybody win a battle, leave alone a protracted war which the offensive against the Maoists is going to be: The ‘liberated zones’ won’t be liberated from Red terror overnight; it will take at least a decade to re-establish the authority of the state where Maoists now rule the roast.
This is not to suggest that the lives of our security forces are expendable, or that they can be sacrificed without any concern on the altar of belligerent extremism, but to underscore the fact that the Indian state’s success in overcoming several challenges to the nation’s unity and integrity have not been without the loss of lives — of security forces personnel, of civilians and of those waging war on the state. Public memory being notoriously short, few would recall the terrible price that had to be paid to put down insurgency in the North-East, or restore peace in Punjab. Young officers and jawans in the prime of their lives are routinely killed while fighting terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir or while preventing jihadis from crossing the Line of Control into India. If we must shed tears, we should do so for all our men in uniform who have laid down their lives for their country and their people, and steel our resolve to avenge their deaths by exterminating the practitioners of violence, no matter what the shade of their evil ideology or their purported cause.
No purpose, however, would be served if the state were to take recourse to either senseless bravado or a bull-headed response to grisly blood-letting by the Maoists, irrespective of whether the victims of their butchery are civilians or security forces. The state must move stealthily, it must strategise with absolute clarity about what it seeks to achieve, and, most important, it must adopt tactics that will enable the security forces to outmanoeuvre the insurgents at every step. There will be errors of judgement, there will be mistakes and there will be slip-ups. Those strategising and fighting the war on Red terror will have to learn from these and recalibrate their tactics accordingly.
Mr Chidambaram has rightly cautioned against any “knee-jerk reaction” to Tuesday’s savagery by the rabid ilk of Koteswara Rao and advised that “at this moment we must remain calm and hold our nerves in the fight to rid India of the grave threat of Maoists and to save democracy”. Successive strikes by the Maoists in recent months — Sildah in West Bengal where 24 jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were killed; Koraput in Odisha where 11 CRPF jawans died after their vehicle hit a landmine; and, now Dantewada in Chhattisgarh — suggest the need for course correction by those strategising the war on Red terror. Once this is done, the Government must stay the course and press on till the objective of ridding India of those who wish to supplant our democracy with a totalitarian state no different from Pol Pot’s regime is achieved. Liberty comes attached with a price tag and we should be willing to pay the price, no matter how high.
[This appeared as the main article on the Edit Page of The Pioneer on April 8, 2010.]
Please see: This is war by Ajai Sahni & Ajit Kumar Singh on why there's no other option but to smash the Maobadis.