Naxal Violence: New Structures and Old Woes in Jharkhand

21 Aug, 2013    ·   4093

Bibhu Prasad Routray cautions that although the belated establishment of a new anti-Maoist cell is welcome, to expect results would be misplaced

Bibhu Prasad Routray
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Visiting Fellow

In August 2013, Jharkhand police announced the plan to set up an exclusive cell to deal with Maoist activities. The state's Director General of Police, Rajiv Kumar, told the media, “We have already drafted a proposal for the creation of an anti-Maoist cell.” Expected to be in operation in the coming months, the cell will gather intelligence inputs and execute anti-Maoist operations. With units in all districts, the cell will also coordinate with the central paramilitary and state police forces. According to the plan, the existing Special (intelligence) branch of the police department would staff the new cell and no fresh recruitment and additional resources would be necessary.   

The fact that Jharkhand, one of the two worst left-wing extremism (LWE) affected states of the country, did not have an exclusive anti-Maoist police cell and operated mostly through the police’s intelligence (special) branch, comes as a surprise. Given the functions the new cell is being entrusted with, it is appalling to imagine the way anti-Maoist operations were being carried out in this state till now. On the other hand, such insincerity to solving extremism has remained the hallmark of the country’s approach to fighting LWE. While terrorists incidents propelling strengthening of counter-terrorism measures is a worldwide phenomenon, ad-hocism appears to have remained the perennial guiding principle of India's counter-insurgency strategy. 
It is important to note that police in Jharkhand have operated without much political interference. With the state under President’s rule for a large part of its existence, political masters and their preferences have been kept at bay while formulating anti-Maoist strategy. Such a scenario could indeed be a force multiplier behind a professional police force. Even then, scripting a counter-Maoist success story has remained a un-achievable project for the police, which appears more interested in hailing itself as the best police department in the country. The fact that its recurrent pleadings for additional central forces deployment militate against its boastful ways does not appear to bother many.

Some of the chaotic and unproductive operations Jharkhand police has undertaken in recent months bears testimony to this conclusion.

• In January 2013, on the basis of poor intelligence inputs, forces ventured into the Barwadih forests in the western Latehar district, which shares borders with Chhattisgarh. Nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and a commando from the state’s Jharkhand Jaguars were killed in an ambush carried out by a group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres. A CRPF officer later said, “We received information that Maoists were hiding at a particular place in the Barwadih jungles and so a contingent left to engage them. But as they reached the area, they were fired upon from atop hills where the Maoists were hiding.”

• In July 2013, joint forces (police and paramilitary) undertook a highly publicised operation in Latehar’s Kumundih forests. Even as the operations continued, top officials kept harping on the fact that the forces managed to “surround 250 rebels.” These cornered rebels apparently included some top leaders of the outfit. Such claims generated the expectation that at the end of the operation, the Maoists would indeed lose a large chunk of their active cadres in the state. However, not a single extremist was arrested. Police later claimed that ‘some lacunae’ on its part allowed the Maoists to escape.

• In July 2013, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Pakur district, lying in contiguity with the state of West Bengal, was ambushed and killed as he travelled back to his district after attending a meeting in the neighbouring Dumka district. The killing was termed as merely ‘opportunistic’ in a district mostly unaffected by extremism, against overwhelming evidence that it was the result of some smart and prolonged planning by the CPI-Maoist. Forces launched into the forests in search of the retreating extremists returned without any success. Interestingly, a year before the incident, Jharkhand police had announced the implementation of a futuristic policing programme, which would allow a pre-installed software to predict the exact locations of the crimes including extremist attacks. 

These shortcomings in a way generate the rationale for the establishment of an anti-Maoist cell in Jharkhand. But to expect results to flow from the belated initiative would be erroneous. Since September 2010, a unified command structure is in operation in Jharkhand to coordinate the functioning of police and the central forces. The structure, which was set up in three LWE-affected states after an advice from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), does not appear to have made much difference to Jharkhand's ability against the Maoists. Additional structures, operational layers and mechanisms, when managed well, only lead to better utilisation of existing capacities. These do not generate new capacities and sincerity. Shifting staff from one division of the police department to another provides no magic mantra for fighting extremists, especially when the overall system continues to remain affected by operational incapacities.