Maoist violence fuels an endless war
It may be true, as recent governments have claimed, that attacks from the ultra-Left Communist Party of India (Maoist) have lessened since 2008, but they are far from having stopped. Last Sunday, the bodies of 17 policemen were discovered in the Minpa jungles in Sukma, in the aftermath of an anti-Maoist operation that resulted in an hours-long encounter — or series of encounters — on Saturday between a group consisting of personnel from the District Reserve Guard, the special task force and the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action on one side and the Maoists on the other. Weapons, including a number of AK-47s, are missing. This was one of the most damaging Maoist attacks in recent times, matched only by the 2017 killings, again in Sukma, that claimed 25 police lives and a bigger haul of weapons. There had been intelligence of new recruits and of training recently, hence attacks were being expected. Reportedly, the police contingent was outnumbered; there were 300 to 350 Maoists.
This tragic war has continued for decades. The Maoists claim to speak up for the rights of the poor, indigenous people who inhabit the mineral-rich forests. But the poor are caught in the middle of aggressive law-enforcement forces which regularly raid villages in search of Maoist supporters, and, reportedly, do not stop just at raiding, on the one hand, and their declared defenders on the other, because the Maoists are always on the lookout for informers. The adivasis’ terror and misery are compounded by the fact that their conditions of life have not improved much, and that creates the perfect ground for the recruitment of more Maoists. It is a tragic and lethal cycle, yet successive governments seem unable to think up a plan to transform the situation successfully, even if it is bit by bit. There are deep contradictions in the attitude of the authorities themselves: the crux is the ownership and control of forest and mineral wealth. This is not to suggest that the matter is simple; it is not only complicated and layered, but the situation also acquires increasing complexities as more time passes. Surely this is a continuing conflict that should be treated as urgent? Or will all return to status quo again even when the present pandemic has passed?