Naxal Violence: Are Political Parties the Maoists’ New Target?

31 May, 2013    ·   3970

Deepak Kumar Nayak on a paradigm shift in Maoist strategy vis-a-vis political parties

Deepak Kumar Nayak
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Officer

The CPI (Maoist) has claimed responsibility of the 25 May 2013 attack on the convoy of Congress leaders at Darbha Ghati in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh that has left 29 people dead, including senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and former legislator Uday Mudliyar. In addition, at least 30 others were injured including veteran Congress leader Vidya Charan Shukla, Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma and prominent party worker Gopi Vadhwani. Subsequently, in a statement issued by the CPI (Maoist), said it killed the senior Congress leaders to avenge the extremes of the Salwa Judum, the (now disbanded) anti-Naxalite vigilante movement in Chhattisgarh and Operation Green Hunt, a counter-insurgency operation that was launched in 2009.

The recent attack on high-profile leaders raises questions like; is there a change in the strategy of the Naxals and whether they see political parties as a threat?  What are the implications of seeing political parties as soft targets?

The Maoists have suffered significant reverses in recent past and are trying their best to expand their activities beyond their area of influence and targeted killings are one of the key options. The Congress convoy was on its way back from the party's 'Parivartan Yatra' in Sukma to Jagdalpur, as both the BJP and Congress are gearing up for the coming state elections that are likely to be held in November. A few weeks earlier to the attack, the Maoists had distributed leaflets in the area, opposing the Congress campaign. They were quick to take on the soft target of politicians out campaigning. Indeed, that so many civilians were killed mercilessly marks a shift from previous high profile attacks on the paramilitary and the government. The assault carried out by Maoists on Congress party workers in the state appears to be the first major organised attack on the leadership of a political party by rebels.

Earlier, high-profile attacks like the abduction of the District collector, the abduction of Italian nationals, and even the abduction of a MLA from neighbouring Odisha indicated that the Maoists targeted the government machinery to capitulate before their specific demands.

However, the nexus between politicians and Maoists cannot be denied because there were instances in the past when power-hungry leaders of various political parties have sought the rebels' support during elections. After their vested interests have been fulfilled the politicians have always taken a tougher stand in dealing with Naxalism that have irked the Maoists. But, the recent massacre shows that the Maoists attacked on the policies of the government that have been detrimental on their way of ‘protracted war’.

Also, the attack was an outcome of complacency on the state government that allowed the political rally to be organised with little security cover in an area badly afflicted by Maoist violence especially when a comprehensive security cover was provided to Chief Minister Raman Singh’s ‘Vikas Yatra’. 

Lessons to Learn 
There was certainly a security lapse despite warnings by the Union Ministry of Home affairs that led to the tragic Bastar incident. The state government made no special arrangement for the Congress’s political rally through one of the worst afflicted regions of the Maoist heartland in Chhattisgarh. Practically every element of Standard Operating Procedures was violated by the 20 to 25 vehicle convoy and the state police officials.

The UAVs meant to be used for anti-Maoist intelligence gathering in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha were of little use in locating the retreating Maoists. Some 200-250 rebels are said to have launched the mine-and-bullet attack in Darbha valley of south Bastar, outnumbering and outgunning the police security guards during a two-hour forest battle, suggesting that state police forces failed to gather real-time intelligence. There was also a severe lack of coordination between the CRPF jawans dominating the area and the local state police. They should have stopped the political rally driving over a road that was not sanitized in advance. 

The Naxals are against the state and centre acting in unison in their fight against them. The differences between the central and state governments for political reasons are favourable to the Maoists to be on advantageous position. However, the central government should have looked into the overall security situation, when in Article 355 of the Constitution, clearly affirms that it is the duty of the Union to protect every state both from external and internal threat.

Almost a decade has passed by without a clear-cut strategy by both the central and state governments in dealing with the problem of left wing extremism. The lack of a strong political will and non-existence of a clear policy in addressing the problem has always given the Maoists the liberty to perpetrate violence.
The Maoists have not only been able to replenish losses, but appear to have increased their might, despite severe reverses in their ranks due to killings, arrests or surrenders. The Naxal challenge is more ominous especially when the Maoists have rocket launching, manufacture/procurement programmes in their kitty.