The Pains of Failed Vigilantism


As the attention of Indians was focused on the 7/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, a tragedy of equal magnitude unfolded in Central India. Chattisgarh, India's mineral rich state is in the throes of a virtual civil war between the Naxalite and the security forces, who seem to have outsourced the fight against terror to the ill equipped, poorly trained tribal mobilized under the ideology of Salwa Judum. What else can explain the totally ineffective response of the Central Reserve Police posts supposed to be providing security to the Salwa Judum camp in Errabore in the early hours of 17 July. Preliminary reports indicate that the Maoists first stormed the CRPF and police posts located in the same area and having pinned down the policemen attacked the Salwa Judum camp killing over 30 and abducting more than a hundred. Hailed as a spontaneous response of the tribal against Maoist atrocities, Salwa Judum has become a mill stone around the Chattisgarh Government, which having supported its rise in June last year now finds it too hot to handle. Providing security to over 60,000 tribal displaced from their home and habitat has even flummoxed India's super cop, K P S Gill who is reported to have expressed his helplessness at protecting such large numbers.

It is now apparent that the movement was ill thought of by a political leadership which did not consider the security implications of mobilizing the masses amidst strife. The failure of their security advisors is also a matter of concern, for the efficacy of vigilante groups in fighting organized militancy has always remained questionable. Generally such movements emerge from break away factions of militant movements such as the Karuna faction in Sri Lanka and the erstwhile Ikhwanis in Kashmir. Members of such groups being former militants are able to protect themselves. Salwa Judum on the other hand has its root in a civil movement which due to the expected armed resistance had to be militarized.

Initially it was provided with bows and arrows and now with .303 bolt action rifles. While these may provide a good backdrop for photo op for political leaders, mobilizing civilians without properly arming and training them is blasphemous to say the least. The euphoria of the mass mobilization achieved in the initial stages even led to the opposition Congress and the ruling BJP in Chattisgarh to join hands. An unholy nexus of politicians ' contractors and police is also said to have spawned its growth.

The upbeat response however lasted for just over six months, when the Maoists who have been operating as organized armed groups in the area for over five years now, commenced systematically targeting the Salwa Judum activists, initially individually and in groups later. The mass exodus has resulted in organizing security in relief camps placed under the central and state police, which in turn provided an ideal target to the Maoists who have refined their operating skills to enable large sized military style operations as seen in Errabore recently and other place hitherto fore.

Having mobilized the people, the state cannot abdicate its responsibility to protect the tribal lodged in the relief camps. Unlike the despondency expressed by Mr. Gill, there are ways and means to provide security to the camps and inure them against Maoist reprisal. Now that the Maoist targets are fairly well established the first measure should be to reorient the security grid to protect these camps. Thus the police and CRPF posts should be networked around the relief camps, provided with communications, mutual assistance schemes put in place, rehearsed and operationalized. Organization of internal security of the camps would also be essential. These have to be organized on the lines of a military outpost with perimeter defense, look outs, patrols and regular rehearsals. There is also a case for immediately providing reinforcements to the Chattisgarh police for the challenging task at hand.

Last reports indicate 17 relief camps, which works out to 17 CRPF companies for local protection and 6 to 8 companies as reserves totaling about 4 to 6 battalions which should not be difficult to muster from a force which is numbering almost 180 plus units. Arming selected Salwa Judum activists in these camps who are integrated with the police can further add to the security. Communications to link up all camps, neighboring police posts and units along with the state headquarters is another essential measure which needs to be taken post haste. 
While overall up gradation of the police force in Chattisgarh as well as other Naxal affected states is an old lament now, hopefully such tragedies should spur the central and state government to undertake the same in all seriousness. The tragic plight of the tribal of Chattisgarh driven away from home and chasing a mirage of safety has to be addressed as a national priority rather than a knee jerk response based on political expediency which is only strengthening the hands of the Maoists.   


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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