Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.
Mission 2016, launched in October 2015, after national security adviser Ajit Doval and special security adviser (internal security) K Vijay Kumar’s visits to Chhattisgarh, reportedly has its target set for the calendar year – of achieving the objective of wiping out Maoists from Bastar.
An array of instruments has been brought into play, ranging from mass sexual assault carried out by police and paramilitary teams to deploying space satellite imagery by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with the security forces announcing in May 2016 that they are “expecting to wipe out the Maoists in Bastar area even before the arrival of monsoon season.”
Such expectations have been voiced before. Congress leader P Chidambaram, after assuming charge as home minister in late 2008, had forecast a three-year limit for succeeding in his policy of “Clear Hold Build” to clear the way for corporations that had signed MOUs for exploiting the mineral wealth in the jungles of Naxal-controlled areas.
Again, in July 2010, he set a fresh three year target. By 2014, the new home minister, Rajnath Singh, was rehashing the same policy under a slightly different name – Clear Hold Develop. He too promised quick results, but reports for 2015-16 did not prove him right. Mission 2016 too can be expected to remain unaccomplished.
A brutal war without witnesses
The lack of success, however, cannot be blamed on the lack of attempt. The best military and security brains in the government have continuously been on the job. Successive governments at the Centre have, with ample enhancements of the war budget, dramatically increased the numbers of armed forces and the quality of their weaponry.
Officers like SRP Kalluri, who have a long history of disregarding the rule of law, have been handpicked to lead the fight in this war. Immense cruelties such as gang rape, widespread false encounters andfake mass “surrenders” have become the order of the day. Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have forcibly been evicted to ensure a “War without Witnesses”.
Use of Air Force and space vehicles
Despite the blatant lopsidedness, the government has not been able to achieve anything near the progress it desires in the war on the ground. This has, in turn, often prompted the planners to seek solutions that would rely on its total monopoly on aerial and other technologies and can be operated from afar.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been introduced as early as 2010. Strafing and bombardment by the Indian Air Force (IAF) have always been considered and now the IAF has a dedicated ANTF (Anti-Naxal Task Force) under an air commodore, which has conducted strafing expeditions in Bijapur in October 2015 and Sukma in April 2016.
May 2016 brings reports of the use of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s space satellites for the war in Bastar.
Air power, with the wanton destruction, misery and loss of life it implies, is rarely used by a government within its own boundaries, against the people it should consider its own. It is now more than fifty years since the IAF was used to bomb Aizawl in Mizoram in March 1966.
The central government, however, seems firm on its decision to repeat this history in Bastar.
Economic and political divide
This decision perhaps exemplifies the antagonism of economic interest and political stance that divides Delhi from Dantewada. Delhi obviously will stop at nothing to show the staunchness of its commitment to the class that wants the forests cleared of the adivasis who stand in the way of corporate super profits.
Dantewada obviously has no option but to fight for survival and against annihilation. More importantly, the seat of power at Delhi cannot obviously tolerate the challenge to its might that the alternative from Dantewada represents.
Airpower and other modern technologies may seem efficient, but have rarely delivered the solutions expected by those who deploy them. The Aizawl bombing did not crush the Mizo people’s resistance in the way Delhi expected.
A guerilla war continued for twenty years until a political settlement was reached in 1986.
Air war versus people’s war
International experience is even more instructive. The USA, with the most powerful technologies on earth at its disposal, has been successful in most air wars against opposing armies and air force, but has singularly failed on the ground when faced with the resistance of ordinary people.
Recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. Their technologies were a colossal failure in a place like Vietnam where they faced a People’s Army fighting a People’s War.
The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), which the government forces confront in Bastar, also operates according to the classic Maoist principles of People’s War. Though nowhere comparable to the People’s Liberation Armies of China and Vietnam, the PLGA too has displayed considerable resilience in withstanding and growing amidst repeated waves of government attacks in Bastar since 1980.
Its forces in Bastar are composed almost completely of the local adivasi population and have been shown to rely completely on the people.
This force, however, with its limited technologies, cannot be expected to be much of a match against IAF bombardment, drones and ISRO satellites. Its ability to counter when the strafing starts and bombs fall is doubtful. The extent of destruction and human misery that will follow can only be imagined.
But will that mean victory for the government? The history of such wars seems to suggest otherwise. Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.
And if the PLGA were then to adopt the classic guerilla tactic of dispersing its forces to other areas facing the same brunt of corporate-driven “development” policies, there would be the probability of the conflict spreading.
The government will then be faced with the Math question that Arundhati Roy once asked: “How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?”
By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira