…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.