Fighting the insurgency will need careful planning and sustained innovation. But New Delhi seems to have only big sacks of cash and even bigger words.
Eleven weeks after the annihilation of an entire company of the Central Reserve Police Force in a Maoist ambush in April 2010 near the village of Tarmetla — the largest single loss India has ever suffered in a counter-insurgency campaign — Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had fighting words for the consultative committee which exercises parliamentary oversight of his Ministry.
Mr. Chidambaram said the Chief Ministers of the four States worst hit by Maoist violence — Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand — had agreed to set up a unified command centre for joint operations. The Centre would help strengthen the police infrastructure and provide helicopters. The Planning Commission's Member-Secretary would head an Empowered Group to monitor development projects in the most affected areas, thus draining the swamps of backwardness in which the Maoists thrived. “The government is confident,” he concluded, “that the problem of Left wing extremism will be overcome in the next three years.”
Nothing that has happened since Mr. Chidambaram's July 2010 address gives reason to believe his assertion. India's Maoist insurgency has become progressively more lethal: last year, the MHA says, 1003 people were killed, up from 908 in 2009 and 721 in 2008.
In 266 BC, the chronicles of the ancient historian Aelian recorded, emperor Antigonus II Gontas laid siege to the city of Megara. The Megarans had no weapons with which to break the ranks of Antigonus II's battle elephants. No weapons, that is, bar their wits — and Megara's pigs, which were rounded up, doused with resin, and set on fire. The squealing animals ran in flames towards the elephants, which panicked and fled killing many of the emperor's troops.
India's battle elephants, too, have failed to uproot the red flag from the large swathes of central India where the Maoist insurgency has embedded itself. Insurgencies are small commanders' wars: wars that depend on the training, commitment and skills of leaders on the ground, not armies of conventional scales and resources. Fighting the Maoist insurgency will need careful planning and sustained innovation. New Delhi seems to have, in its arsenal, only big sacks of cash and even bigger words.