Baljit Kaur (center) salutes after laying a wreath on the pyre of her husband Raghbir Singh, a CPFR officer killed by Maoists on Monday. Photo: AFP

The killing of 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in central India’s mineral-rich Chhattisgarh state on Monday shows the desperation and fear of Maoists over the federal government’s push to develop on their turf.

Some 72 CRPF personnel in two groups were protecting workers engaged in laying a 56-km road at Burkapal in Sukma district when they came under heavy gunfire around 12.30pm.

Sukma is part of south Bastar region, an area infested by Maoists who believe power flows from the barrel of a gun. They want to overthrow the democratic state through armed rebellion.

Using women and children as human shields to escape retaliatory fire, around 300 Maoists, dressed in black, launched Monday’s attack as a group of CRPF men were having their lunch. Most people in the group were killed. Another group, which was standing guard, attacked Maoists and saved the lives of at least 40 civilians and workers at the site.

Only a month before, Maoists had struck in the same district, killing 12 CRPF men.

Monday’s attack was a clear sign of the government’s failure to contain left wing extremism. Two days after the attack, as a corrective measure, they filled the post of director general of the CRPF. It had been lying vacant for two months.

On May 8, the federal government is likely to announce an action plan to end “red terror” in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.

Monday’s attack proves again that Maoists do not want development to reach their doorstep. They do not want their hideouts in jungles to be accessible to security forces. They are also not concerned about the rural poor or violation of their rights.

Heavy toll

Between 2005 and 2011, Maoists stalled 1,400 government projects aimed at giving jobs to Chhattisgarh’s rural youth led astray by extremist ideology, and kidnapped 1,554 people.

According to data available from the home ministry, at least 200 security personnel have died in the past seven years in Maoist attacks in Chhattisgarh. Fifty-five CRPF personnel have been killed so far this year. Most of the paramilitary personnel shot dead on Monday belonged to poor families.

Maoists use villagers as human shields despite professing to care for the poor. In a chilling incident in neighboring Jharkhand, in 2013, they placed an improvised explosive device on the body of a CRPF officer in order to kill rescue workers.

The most recent attack also points to a failure of intelligence. Reports indicate that some villagers, posing as goatherds, passed vital information on the location of the CRPF before Monday’s attack. However, time and again, the CRPF has been clueless about the movement of Maoists.

The Chhattisgarh state police are not in the habit of sharing intelligence with the central police. To many, it looks as though they have abdicated any responsibility for hunting down extremists. Maoists have taken advantage of such laxity.

To tackle Maoists, political leaders in Chhattisgarh should work for the welfare of rural tribes instead of helping mining tycoons

Before fleeing to nearby jungles after the attack, they also looted 22 bullet-proof jackets, 12 AK-47 rifles, 59 AK-47 magazines, 5 wireless sets, 15-16 under barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs) and 62 UBGL shells.

Rocket launchers, AK-47s and other weapons stolen from CRPF men in March were used in Monday’s attack.

Although repeated attacks have hurt the CRPF’s morale, they want to hit back. They do not want their personnel to be cannon fodder for Maoists.

State governments cannot view Maoist violence as simply a law and order issue. The group remain relevant in rural India, where marginalized people turn to those who claim to fight for their interests.

To tackle Maoists, political leaders in Chhattisgarh should work for the welfare of rural tribes instead of helping mining tycoons.

The current BJP government in Chhattisgarh under chief minister Raman Singh should set up a dedicated anti-Maoist squad and sanction more police stations, personnel and vehicles in terror-infested zones. Such measures can revive development in the state.

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