The 9th Congress of the Maoists held in the jungles of Central India forewarned India of intensification of the struggle in many dimensions. The strategy unfolded far earlier than anticipated as over 400 Maoists attacked a police post in Rani Bodli in Chattisgarh, killing 55 policemen and decamping with large quantity of weapons and ammunition. The Rani Bodli police outpost was held by 60 Special Police Officers (SPOs) and 23 Armed policemen. 39 SPOs and 16 armed policemen were killed by the militants.
While the police claimed 15 Maoists were killed, no body was recovered. Just a few days before, a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament, Sunil Mahato was killed in Jharkhand. Mahato was in the forefront of the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti a counter Naxal vigilante movement.
The attack at Rani Bodli was a classic guerrilla operation launched in the wee hours of the morning at 2 AM on 15 March and lasted for three hours. The Maoists surrounded the outpost and hurled petrol bombs and fired grenades setting the camp on fire before getting away. In all probability since it was night many of the policemen would have been sleeping at the time of the attack.
The Camp was in a girls hostel but none of the inmates were hurt as Maoists are reported to have flood lit the area to prevent casualties to the hostellers. The girls were shocked to see the carnage. Occupation of a girl's hostel complex by the police needs to be questioned whatever be the government policy. The Maoists displayed better sense and left the portion of the complex in which the girls were housed untouched.
Chattisgarh has seen highest level of Naxal violence in 2006 involving 715 incidents with 304 civilians, 84 security personnel and 74 Naxalite dead. Analysts believe that the main ire of the Maoists is the vigilante movement, Salwa Judum which has gathered momentum in the State as a counter to Naxal control over the tribal. The Naxals see the Salwa Judum movement taking away their principal support bank. This was the second major incident in Chattisgarh during March. Earlier 8 people including four policemen of the India Reserve Battalion (Nagaland) were killed in a landmine attack on the Jagdalpur ' Hyderabad road in Bastar.
The Rani Bodli incident clearly underlined lack of preparedness of the police in Chattisgarh despite claims of improved training and induction of equipment. The abject failure of intelligence both operational and tactical was evident. There were apparently no outposts deployed on the approaches to the camp which could have detected advancing Naxals and forewarned police personnel thereby enabling an effective response. A mutual aid scheme was also found lacking. Thus there was no response from neighbouring locations as the attackers continued with their carnage for over three hours. The nearest post is reported to be at Kotru 8 kms away, Farsagarh was 10 kms distance while Kudma was only 20 km away. Rani Bodli was accessible by road from all these locations.
Chattisgarh administration claimed to have reviewed the strategy against Naxalite by placing greater reliance on armed police rather than SPOs. Lack of effective organisation of defences and training of police personnel however continues to be a core problem. Weapons also require up gradation and leadership has to be made more responsive.
Operationally the police in Chattisgarh as well as in other states have been following a purely defensive strategy. This comprises of holding police outposts and limited patrolling. There is a need to shift to a limited offensive strategy comprising of vigorous patrolling, search and destroy missions in a graduated manner as the police gather more proficiency. Adequate training for this purpose is essential. This capability can be enhanced by deploying intelligence teams for seeking encounters and denying Naxalite freedom of movement. Apparently in the Indian context, it is only the Andhra Pradesh police which are carrying out such operations leading to control of the Naxal menace in the state. Thus many forests in Andhra have now been cleared of Naxalite presence.
The killing of the Sunil Mahato in Jharkhand on 4 March was also attributed to the CPI (Maoist) and represents the second arm of the strategy. Mahato was targeted as he was in the fore front of the movement for establishing the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti (NSS) (Citizens Security Forum) which was seen to affect the base of Maoist support in Jharkhand. The NSS was gathering momentum in areas of East and West Singhbhum districts and had the backing of the JMM leader. The NSS leader was a Naxal target as nine terrorists were killed by members of the organisation in August 2003 at Lango. The Maoists confirmed the reason for the killing in posters pasted in the area a few days after the strike.
The Maoist 9th Congress was reportedly held in areas close to East and West Singhbhum. This Congress ran for over a month. Lack of intelligence with the state as well as the centre was obvious as the conference could not be disrupted during the entire period. The 9th Congress endorsed killing of political leaders and police officers who were impediments to the struggle. Mahato was the main driver behind the NSS. He was also seen to be taking away the lucrative contracts away from Maoists favoured contractors thereby denying much needed funds. The operation for killing was elaborately planned. An urban guerrilla squad was employed which included a leader from Andhra Pradesh along with local supporters including a number of women Naxals.
The twin actions of killing of JMM Member of Parliament and Rani Bodli, indicates the new arms of Naxal strategy. The state governments in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as well as the Centre have to finally wake up to the threat of Maoist rural and urban encirclement and evolve an effective implementable strategy to bring order to these troubled areas before we see more killing of innocents in the months ahead.