The Naxalites overreached

…and committed a strategic mistake at Dantewada

The reason why Naxalites have been able to sustain their insurgency for so long is due to three main reasons: the absence or failure of governance; the romanticism and propaganda of their overground sympathisers; and, finally, due to the relatively subliminal nature of their violence.

To the extent that their violence was distributed in space and time they could slip in and out of the public mind, pursue on-and-off talks with state governments and generally avoid provoking the government into hitting back hard. Over the last five years Naxalites have violently expanded the geographical spread of their extortion and protection rackets—yet, the violence in any given place and time has been below a certain threshold. That threshold itself is high for a number of reasons, including efforts by their sympathisers to romanticise their violence, spectacular terrorist attacks by jihadi groups and due to the remoteness of the areas of their operations. This allowed Naxalites to get away with murder. A lot of times. In a lot of places. Literally.

But killing 73 out of 80 (or 120) CRPF and police personnel in a short span of time in a single battle is no longer subliminal violence. In all likelihood the Naxalites have crossed a threshold—this incident is likely to stay much longer in the public mind and increase the pressure on politicians to tackle the Naxalite threat with greater resolve. Also, given that it has also become an issue of P Chidambaram’s—and hence the UPA government’s—reputation, the gloves are likely to come off in the coming weeks.

There’s a chance that India’s psychological threshold is even higher. But it is more likely that the Naxalites have overreached. Perhaps their leadership has calculated that they are in the next stage of their revolutionary war. If so, that would neither the first nor the only delusion in their minds.

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27 Responses to The Naxalites overreached

  1. Prasanna 6th April 2010 at 17:52 #

    Nitin,

    Honestly, in the light of how much pressure’s there on the LeT, on Pakistan, on the US to let Headley be interrogated by Indian officials, and on getting *all* 26/11 perpetrators to book, is your post a hope?

  2. Prasanna 6th April 2010 at 17:53 #

    Oh, and if you say it isnt, let me point you to one name > Veerappan.

  3. Pradeep 6th April 2010 at 18:18 #

    If we don’t stop this now… this war will come to the cities in 5 to 10 years…

    @Prasanna – Wrong comparison. The issue of Veerappan was never a national one. It was the state govt’s stupor that let him roam as long as he did.

  4. Akshar 6th April 2010 at 19:31 #

    ..”this incident is likely to stay much longer in the public mind and increase the pressure on politicians to tackle the Naxalite threat with greater resolve” ….

    If nothing significant happens in next 3 months will you eat a humble pie ?

  5. Vineet 6th April 2010 at 19:44 #

    I am sure every sensible Indian mind would remember this barbaric act for a significant duration of time. PC would up the ante and hit out callous state governments. Time for the naxalites is almost over as they have disturbed the hornet’s nest now and no more sympathizers for them after what they have done today.

  6. SR Murthy 6th April 2010 at 19:57 #

    The HM says it will take 2-3 years to deal with the Naxal problem, so the right time frame for final evaluation is not 3 months.

  7. APB 6th April 2010 at 20:29 #

    Yes… the gloves are coming off!
    Home Secretary has already said “I don’t think we need to use air power at the moment. We can manage with what we have.”

    This will also be just forgotten and every one will worry more about Shoaib-Sania wedding.

  8. Venkat 6th April 2010 at 21:10 #

    Why do well-trained, brave army of men (70+ here) have to die for the f**king mistakes a state has done in the past 60 years??!!

  9. Kannan 6th April 2010 at 21:54 #

    @Pradeep
    Veerapan example is apt becoz..Veerapan gang slaughtered with impunity countless police personnel for an extraordinary long period of time with no retribution from Govt. Even amazing is he became a folk hero in South India.
    This time its different in the sense that people have thinner skin coz of media sensationalism. Hope media can put pressure on Govt to take gloves off.

  10. Pradeep 6th April 2010 at 22:03 #

    @Kannan – Well if you feel that Veerappan is an apt example then by the same measure Phoolan Devi too can be compared to this? This menace is a much bigger one than Veerappan. Whether we like it or not, there is substantial support for the Maoists. Do not consider my comments as an endorsement of Veerappan. He was nothing more than a smuggler. Veerappan’s fight was more personal than ideological.

  11. Akshar 7th April 2010 at 00:33 #

    @Murthy
    73 dead soldiers will be a mere statistics long forgotten in 2-3 years. So if the HM is planning for 2-3 years then I dont think this incident makes any difference to his plans to deal with Naxalism. (I doubt if there exists any plan). I also seriously doubt governments ability to plan anything for 2-3 years.

    A simple bridge that was supposed to be completed in 2 years takes 10 years in our country. Naxalites will overthrow our government by the time HM’s plan are crystallized. Oh yeah they will have first find the damn thing called government.

  12. Kesh84 7th April 2010 at 06:55 #

    Historically the Indian government has had a bad case of ADD with regards to the Naxal issue and thus it is easy to see why many are cynical about its stated commitment to eradicate this menace.

    However, the predictions outlined in this post has basis in evidence. From the PM’s ominous warning a while back to the unwavering focus of the home minister on eradicating the Naxal threat. Suffice to say If there is an opportunity for India to flex its muscles and show that it is a force to be reckoned with, it is by tackling this insurgency. Srilanka did it and so has Saudi Arabia.

    News of the attack has not limited itself to national attention, India has to be aware that its reaction to this attack will be keenly observed by both neutral and hostile forces. A lackluster response can have disastrous consequences and that can provide enough motivation for the government to tackle this menace if nothing else.

  13. N 7th April 2010 at 07:12 #

    Why is 75 a strategic mistake? Why is even 1 soldier killed not a strategic mistake? By the way, terrorists killed 183 in 26/11 and they do not seem to have been affected yet. So, while I hope that you are right, thou shalt not underestimate Indias pusillanimity and mistake brave words for real action on the ground. We can of course exchange dossiers with the Maoists…

  14. Oldtimer 7th April 2010 at 08:47 #

    >>Why is 75 a strategic mistake? Why is even 1 soldier killed not a strategic mistake?

    The Home secretary says “we should not have lost so many lives”. Losing how many lives would have been ok?

  15. AG 7th April 2010 at 12:05 #

    Nothing is going to change.
    We’re an ahimsa-wadi country in a himsa-wadi world.
    We WILL be swatted like flies.

  16. Dara 7th April 2010 at 12:09 #

    Pakistan has over reached itself many times over, how has that effected government lethargy and ineptitude? We still show that we don’t have a clue as to how to handle the menace – sure we can talk and make noises – but beyond that what?

    I agree the issue of governance, rather lack of it, may be the root cause. However, what is preventing any meaningful counter strategy is the attitude of various State govts. as also this see – saw battle of State and Central responsibility. Even the latest PC statement about them having walked into a trap seems an attempt to pass the blame. Budha on the other hand is more indignant about PC’s use of the word ‘buck’ rather than offering any comfort or hopes of a resolve to overcome the problem.

    Lets not forget, political shenanigans have reduced the police force in almost every state to redundancy. To expect them all of a sudden to become champions of law and order and a force to reckon with is a joke.

    To quell and defeat the violence should be the topmost priority at this stage. I see little hope of any improvement. Here again we face the same problems as in facing terror – intelligence, co-ordination, training, facilities and wherewithal. Not one government involved is on the same wave length.

    Does anyone remember the pictures of policemen hammering nails into the Gateway of India at Mumbai to hang up their clothes? To me, this tells me everything that what is wrong with our police force and its capability. And I am not pointing the finger at the cops. Its sheer political callousness and lack of interest, predominantly due to an ignorance borne out of self serving interests and the lure of pelf in politics. The rest is not worth lifting a finger. If we realise this, our enemies have realised it much earlier and continue to capitalise on it.

  17. libertarian 8th April 2010 at 01:41 #

    AG: We’re an ahimsa-wadi country in a himsa-wadi world.

    Hardly. The Indian state can be pretty hard-assed when pushed beyond a point (Blue Star 1984, partition of LandOfPure 1971). These new-commies are asking for it by raising the stakes.

    Agree with Nitin that they’ve grossly miscalculated on this one.

  18. Invalid 8th April 2010 at 13:52 #

    I would like to know the opinion on this matter from our god of small things; there may be an interesting argument till her end of imagination.

  19. Oldtimer 8th April 2010 at 15:20 #

    R Jagannathan asks the kind of questions that the chaprasis of the royal family in the media dare not ask:

    Dynasty Vs Government

  20. gbz 9th April 2010 at 12:41 #

    It was a strategic mistake only if the expected/hoped-for response materializes. If it doesn’t, it would be a major strategic success. The impact on the morale of the forces and the sense of the relative balance of power in the minds of the indigeneous tribals would be disastrous for the state.

  21. Nagarajan Sivakumar 10th April 2010 at 16:17 #

    News of the attack has not limited itself to national attention, India has to be aware that its reaction to this attack will be keenly observed by both neutral and hostile forces. A lackluster response can have disastrous consequences and that can provide enough motivation for the government to tackle this menace if nothing else.
    @Kesh84,
    Too late for that. IMHO, India ALREADY has the image of a dithering country which cannot take care of business – forget the Maoists for a second as it is more of a local problem and there fore politically sensitive problem- think about the innumerable times India has been attacked by Pakistan through terrorist attacks – the latest “overreach” happened in 2008 and there were hoarse cries for war for a week after the last terrorist was gunned down.

    But what has happened after that ? What consequences did Pakistan face after that over reach? Nothing really if you think about it. We still have normal business relations with Pakistan – forget about going to war for a second, but how India continues to have normal diplomatic/trade relations after such an attack is beyond me.

    Maoists would not have dared to attack these hapless souls but for their calculation that the GoI does not have what it takes to deal with them – and i would not fault them for entertaining such notions. Besides the naxals know their terrain pretty well, where as these poor CRPF personnel who have been bought in from other parts of the country are obviously new to the battlefield and the enemy.

    P.Chidhambaram has been an absolute embarrasment .Even though i would not lay all the blame on him, he has been incompetent to say the least when it comes to the job – MMS should have accepted his resignation and added the Home Ministry to his portfolio.

    I think the IPL, Sania’s marriage saga and all other future scandals hold a lot more interest in the collective Indian public’s minds than some Maoist attack – after all this country has seen major terror attacks fuelled by Pakistan this entire decade and there have been no major changes in our attitude to terrorism because of any “overreach”.

  22. trickey 11th April 2010 at 15:32 #

    We need to avoid getting sucked into the ideological and politcal argument when it comes to the thuggees.
    The army is right. This is an L&O issue. We do not have the police force to tackle armed criminal gangs. This is the consequence. We are now forced to create one of the best police forces in the world in a very short order.

  23. APB 21st April 2010 at 06:31 #

    I just wish those 73 CRPF personnel had twitter accounts…. Looks like thats the only way one gets attention…

    DANTEWADA is history and forgotten!!!

  24. SR Murthy 22nd April 2010 at 22:00 #

    Dandewata is only forgotten because all the luminaries in the media consider IPL news more important than issues of national security like in Dandewata. If it was not IPL, they would have found some bollywood actor with marital problems or something even less consequential. The Indian media has a pattern of providing vacuous coverage of important events and extreme-close-up coverage of inconsequential events .

  25. ANKUSH 28th April 2010 at 22:18 #

    I think India and Indian people leave in two differnt era one who always taken care by govt like metro cities but a part which felt complete ignorance by govt it jst beauces of it we face this naxlism

  26. APB 28th May 2010 at 21:05 #

    I don’t think they are overreached yet….!!
    Looks like our government is in deep sleep. If so many people being killed once in 2 weeks is not a wakeup call then what is??….

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pragmatic Euphony » Dantewara massacre : The road ahead - 6th April 2010

    [...] The Acorn postulates that the Maoists have over-reached and made a strategic blunder by killing 73 CRPF personnel in a single ambush. A threshold has been crossed and the public opinion will impel the Indian state to react with all its might against the Maoists. The question though arises as to what will be the nature of this reaction — an act of revengeful rage where the state will push a lot more paramilitary forces, with attendant collateral damage or a well-calibrated smart strategy that leverages this public outrage to systematically exterminate the Maoists. [...]

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