Without preparedness superiority is not real superiority and there can be no initiative either. Having grasped this point, a force which is inferior but prepared can often defeat a superior enemy by surprise attack. Mao Tse Tung, "On Protracted War", May 1938
Another official ‘assessment’ of the Maoist challenge was placed on record in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) on August 14, 2007, and the data tabled suggests a marginal rise in violent incidents by the Naxalites across the country, up to 971 in the first seven months of 2007, as against 967 incidents in the corresponding period of 2006. Fatalities, however, dropped to 431, as against 491 recorded over the same period in 2006. Lest we take quick succour from this, it is useful to note that the drop in fatalities is the result of fewer killings of civilians by the Maoists – down to 266 till July 2007, as against 390 between January and July 2006. Security Forces’ [SFs] fatalities, however, mounted dramatically, from 101 till July 2006, to 165 till July 2007.
While placing his assessment before Parliament, the Union Home Minister cautioned against drawing quick conclusions on the basis of the available data alone, as "statistics made available are creating wrong impression" – and he is correct on this count, though not necessarily for the reasons he advances. As in the past, the Government has sought to underplay the Maoist threat, arguing that "if an incident occurs in some part of the State, it doesn’t mean the entire State is affected." Quibbles about data alone – or, indeed, about the appropriate categories of data, whether these should be the 182 Districts out of 625 in the country or 400 Police Station jurisdictions out of about 8,000, as the Home Minister would rather have it – are insufficient basis for an assessment. It is comparative trends and an understanding of the ground situation, including capacity building in both the State and rebel organisations, as well as an understanding of the entire gamut of ongoing insurgent and counter-insurgency activities. Despite the Government’s projected sanguinity, an examination of these factors gives insufficient cause for satisfaction.
Two startling elements emerge from the all-India data on Maoist-related fatalities available for the January-July period. First, SF fatalities till July 2007, at 165, already exceed total fatalities for the whole of 2006, at 157. Second, Maoist fatalities in the January-July period dropped dramatically from 244 in 2006 to 132 in 2007. It must be clear from this where precisely the initiative currently lies. Fatality trends, including the declining civilian fatalities, are decisions overwhelmingly imposed by the Maoists, with the State principally trapped in a passive or reactive role.
This broad assessment is borne out by the specifics of the situation prevailing in Jharkhand, which the MHA’s assessment described as one of the new problem areas (along with Orissa and Bihar). MHA data indicates a rise in violent incidents, up to 259 in January-July 2007, as against 191 in the corresponding months of the preceding year. ‘Deaths’, essentially civilian and SF fatalities, were, however, down marginally, from 75 to 71. There are some encouraging elements in the latest trends within the State, and 2007 witnessed just five SF fatalities, against 31 in January-July 2006. Maoist fatalities over the same period increased from 23 to 30. A look at the trends over the preceding five years, however, indicates patterns of sustained violence, with fatalities in Jharkhand consistently above 125 in each year, and arbitrary variations in the totals.
It is to the data – however partial – on capacities, capabilities and intentions, that one must turn for a more reliable assessment. 21 of Jharkhand’s 22 Districts are currently afflicted by Maoist activity, with 12 of these falling into the ‘highly affected’ category, another four ‘moderately affected’, and five marginally ‘affected’. Official estimates of ‘hardcore’ armed cadres suggest a tripling of numbers from about 100 to over 300 over the 2005-2007 period, and a tremendous expansion of mass mobilisation activities across the State, creating a wider ‘militia’ and sympathiser base. Indeed, Jharkhand has witnessed repeated ‘swarming’ operations, with several hundred Maoists orchestrated single attacks. The first of these occurred on November 11, 2005, when over a hundred Maoist cadres attacked a Home Guards Training Centre at Pachamba in the Giridih District, and shot dead five persons, injured another 16, and looted 183 rifles, two pistols and 2500 cartridges. Year 2007 has already seen three such attacks.
February 5, 2007: A civilian was killed and two others injured, when an estimated 200 Maoist cadres attacked an SF picket at Lawalong in the Chatra District. The Maoists retreated into the forest areas after a three-hour encounter.
April 6, 2007: Six people, including two security force personnel, were killed when an armed group of approximately 300 CPI-Maoist cadres attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and the adjoining Gandhinagar police station building in the Bokaro thermal power city area of Bokaro District.
August 6, 2007: Over a hundred Maoists attacked the Chainpur Police Station in the Gumla District late at night. However, the Maoists retreated without inflicting significant damage in the face of stiff SF resistance.
There is also clear indication of an abundance of weaponry among the Maoists, and a handful of seizures that have occurred in the State – while they will have directly diminished the supplies immediately available – are also useful indices of the sheer volume of arms and explosives available. Two major seizures have occurred in 2007, including one on January 23, when a consignment containing dismantled parts for arms, including assemblies for mortars, was seized from a private transport firm in Ranchi. It had been sent from Indore in Madhya Pradesh to the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) ‘area commander’, Rajendra Oraon, in Ranchi. Again, on April 14, 2007, the Dumka District Police arrested a CPI-Maoist cadre and recovered 400 bags of explosives and 3,000 detonators from his possession.
The Maoists also have access to a profusion of land mines, which have been used to great effect on both tarred and un-tarred roads to target SF contingents. Landmine explosions have resulted in at least 170 SF fatalities since 2001, and a wide range of sophisticated devices have been used, including Claymore mines, camera flash, and mobile phone and radio signal detonation devices. Two ‘Technical Wings’ have also been set up in the State, for the North and the South Zone, on an expenditure of over INR Two million, and the sophistication of explosive devices, an increasing use of Information Technology tools, and the use of FM radio devices to intercept SF communications have been some of their achievements in the recent past.
Finances appear to be no constraint on Maoist activities in the State, and Jharkhand is believed to yield the largest single pool of Naxal revenues, at an estimated INR One billion per annum. It is Jharkhand’s tremendous Forest and Mineral wealth, and the powerful base of related industries, principally based in Bokaro and Jamshedpur, but increasingly branching out into other areas of the State, which provide a near limitless source of extorted revenues. The Central Golden Quadrilateral road building project provides another lucrative source, and extortion from common folk, including a levy of INR 10,000 per farmer across the State, add to liberal fund flows.
This, in fact, has become part of an incipient problem for the Maoists, and has resulted in desertions by a number of corrupt elements at the local leadership level, who have absconded with substantial amounts, as well as the formation of rival ‘Maoist’ groups within the State. Two splinters, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC, Third Preparatory Committee) and the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) are now engaged in a bloody turf war, both with the parent CPI-Maoist, and with each other. The TPC, formed in 2002, now claims to have expanded its organisation across the State, and has declared that its "main enemy is not the police machinery, but the CPI-Maoist." The JLT, which split from the CPI-Maoist in early 2007, has formations in the Palamu, Daltonganj and Latehar Districts, and is making progressive inroads into the CPI-Maoist stronghold in the Saranda Forest. Fire-fights between cadres of these various factions are now on the rise, resulting in mounting fatalities.
Notwithstanding these limited setbacks, the general assessment of Police and Intelligence sources in Jharkhand is that the Maoist threat is bound to rise dramatically, failing extremely determined action on part of the state. The withdrawal or absence of the institutions of civil governance across vast areas of the State, and endemic deficits in the response capacities of the Police and SFs have given the Maoists a stranglehold in interior forest and rural areas, where all symbols of democratic and civil administration have simply withered away. Politicians seldom venture into Maoist dominated areas, and the few who did have withdrawn in terror after the assassination of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Member of Parliament, Sunil Mahto, on March 4, 2007, while he was witnessing a football match at the Bakuria Village in East Singhbhum District. The Panchayati Raj (Local Self Government) apparatus in Jharkhand is, in any event, moribund as a result of a court battle between Tribals and non-Tribals over seat quotas between, that have blocked Panchayat elections for almost three decades.
Some fitful efforts have, nevertheless, been made to address the Maoist challenge, and the State has made a Herculean effort to improve its abysmal police-population ratio, which stood at 74 per 100,000 in 2004 (as against a national average of 122/100,000) rising to 85 per 100,000 in 2005, and nearly doubling to nearly 164 per 100,000 in 2006 (according to Bureau of Police Research and Development data). This augmentation is, however, notional, and police sources indicate that the total recruitment between 2005-07 is a little over 16,000 men at the constabulary level. An additional two battalions of India Reserve Battalions are currently being raised. With a Force of 47,427 and a ratio of 85/100,000 in 2005, this cannot yield a police-population ratio of 164 per 100,000 in 2006 by any calculations. However, Police sources indicate that the previously high gap between sanctioned Force and Force in position, previously estimated at almost 30 per cent, has now been narrowed down to a frictional deficit of under 3,000 men, and orders for recruitment of this number are already in place.
Worse, there is a chronic and unaddressed deficiency of officers at all levels. Despite the increase of 16,000 personnel at the constabulary level, there has been no recruitment at the Sub Inspector (SI) level. Indeed, the last recruitment at this level dates back to 1994 – before the formation of the State. An acute deficiency also exists at the highest levels of the Police Administration – the Indian Police Service (IPS) cadre – where just 70 of the sanctioned strength of 110 officers are available to the State, as a result of which dozens of Districts are headed by State Police Service Officers, while over 25 per cent of IPS posts are still lying vacant. A number of Police Stations in the worst affected areas of the State are headless and deficient of officers at the SI level. Police Stations, Posts and Pickets in rural and Maoist afflicted areas are appallingly maintained, and the Policemen’s Association President, Ram Kumar Singh, claims that many pickets are unfit "even for animals to stay". Certainly, many Police Stations and Posts are not sufficiently equipped and fortified to defend themselves against a determined Maoist assault.
Jharkhand’s record of utilisation of Centrally allocated funds for Police modernisation is also poor. According to the MHA, Jharkhand received INR 1.827 billion under the modernisation scheme between 2000 and 2006, but utilisation has been abysmal. In 2004-05, for instance, the utilisation of the INR 220 million released was a minuscule 7.33 per cent.
The deficiencies in Policing capacities are compounded by Administrative weaknesses. At the highest levels of administration, there are just 98 Indian Administrative Service officers in position, as against the 143 officers assigned to the State, of whom another 19 are on deputation in Delhi, and another 11 have submitted applications for transfer from the State. Unsurprisingly, the utilisation of Centrally allocated funds for various developmental schemes – which are intended to counter the Maoist onslaught at the social and political level as part of the national ‘two-pronged strategy’ – has been miserable. Reports indicate that the State has an unutilised balance of INR 2.4 billion allotted to it under the Backwards Districts Initiative (BDI) component of the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana and other schemes to fill in the critical gaps in physical and social development. Under the BDI Scheme, an amount of INR 150 million per year is sanctioned for each Maoist affected District for three years. The State Government shares 25 percent of the expense on BDI. There have also been allegations of widespread corruption in the implementation of schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Interestingly, lack of finance has never been cited as a reason for the poor implementation of projects by the Jharkhand Government.
Despite tremendous capacity constraints, the Jharkhand Police does have a number of successes over the recent past, including arrests of senior Maoist leaders and a number of offensive operations in which Maoist cadres have been neutralised. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the Force is far from the capabilities that are necessary for an effective and comprehensive response in a State that has virtually its entire territory afflicted by some measure of Maoist activity, that is at the core of the Maoist strategy of consolidation, and at the heart of the proclaimed ‘Red Corridor’. Unless the political will to overcome the tremendous capacity deficits in the Forces, and in the Civil Administration, crystallizes, the dire projections of senior security professionals in the State can only be progressively realized.