A lesson learnt

I worry too much. Perhaps it comes naturally to people with exposure to news, information and happenstance or may be its just me.

The month was April. We were in the hill town of Panchgani, located about 250km from Mumbai. My wife and I decided it was time to explore the forest in front of the villa we had rented apartments in. Earlier in the day I had spotted a fox or two and thought it would be good to look closely.  With our trekking shoes on, we were on the go. I wouldn’t say it was the best time to go because the sun was on the top and there wasn’t much really to explore once we reached the place.

Anyway, while we were walking, a woman called out to us. She was standing in front of what looked like an under-construction bungalow by the hill-side. We’d seen the place from our villa and truth to tell, admired its location perched as it was on the edge of the hill, overlooking a gorgeous valley, several waterfalls, a dense forest and villages spaced out by several kilometres.

But what did the lady want?

Well, all she did was invite us into the bungalow and showed us the rooms! While we were reluctant, she enthusiastically showed us the basement then the ground floor then the floor above followed by the common porch. She wanted us to admire the beds they had specially sculpted using workers from Mumbai and Pune. The toilets and the marble flooring and on she went. I still wondered what was it that the lady sought? Was this a ploy to rob us? May be get us to taste something, get us unconscious and then take away our valuables (which they would later discover had little value)? Why would someone just take some strangers around their property like this? While my wife indulged the lady, I began mapping the exit routes. In fact, it won’t be an understatement to say I viewed the woman and the workers at the site with a heightened degree of suspicion. Out of nowhere, the lady summoned her husband and then her son!

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This is the property we were shown

By this time, we’d managed to wriggle out to the entrance of the building. Slightly better-placed to scoot should the need arise, we were at relative ease.

The husband later confided how he, an agriculturist, had emptied his savings into building that guest house for tourists. He owned the entire land and had decided to give into his son’s request to better utilise it. Apart from the room, they would rent tents, conduct guided treks, offer visitors a chance to soil their hands in strawberry farming among other things. The son told us of the difficulties they faced, the time they took since never before had their family of farmers had strayed into something ‘like this’. They spoke to us like we knew them since long. The son took our leave since he had to go someplace. We too were to depart when the father made a dash into his strawberry farm adjoining the property. He took, what we felt was forever in picking the best of strawberries and then came to us with a bowl full of them.

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Our parting gift!

“I will not accept this free of cost”, the principled man in me thundered.

“You pay me tens of thousands but later on”, he shot back with a disarming smile before neatly packing all them into a box for us. “We just want your best wishes as my son starts a new life. If possible, you can tell your friends to come and stay with us when they visit Panchgani. We will open shop soon,” he said.

He had no visiting card ready so he gave me son’s mobile number and told me those interested can call him to book. Abhijit Parthe: 8888972345

I will be less suspecting the next time around.

Born inside the Union Home Ministry, I am SOP and here’s my story…

My name is Standard Operating Procedure. You can call me SOP.

You will hear about me whenever something goes terribly wrong or a tragedy strikes. Many carry the impression that my tribe is the cure to all ills.

Now I am not simply called SOP. That’s too generic. I have a special number assigned on file but mentioning that may make matters too technical.

Well, I was born as a two-page letter on August 3, 2010, at the hands of a clerk who worked for the then special secretary (internal security) Mr UK Bansal. In my early moments, I recall Mr Bansal sending me from his chamber located on the first floor of the North Block which houses the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to the headquarters of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) like the CRPF, Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

Why was I created and what was the message I carried?

Back in 2010, home minister Mr P Chidambaram was said to be serious in securing the Left-wing extremism (LWE)-affected areas. These were sizeable parts of central and eastern India where rebels from the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) were wreaking havoc. Once when I was lying on the desk at an office I heard how four months before I was born, Maoist rebels killed 75 men from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and one policeman in a single attack in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district!

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The government’s efforts however hit a roadblock when they realised that the local police forces in their states had neither the training nor the numbers to take on the Maoist insurgents who called the jungle their home. So, till the police could build themselves up, the CAPFs would help them with numbers and fire power. It was to be a partnership.

As time passed, Mr Bansal, a 1974-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, wasn’t very happy about how this partnership was progressing. The CAPFs, which did not belong there, did not know the region or for that matter even the local language, felt like foreigners. The local police on the other hand did not suffer these disadvantages but they did not participate enough. The Maoists exploited this. They killed many of our men.

On my two pages, Mr Bansal had written that for every one policeman participating in an operation, two men from CAPFs would do so too, thus maintaining a ratio of 1:2. He revised it to 1:3 later for “any planned operation”. Only in case of an urgent operation could reduced police participation be allowed. You see the point he was making?

Have you wondered how many policemen participated in the “planned” operations to support road construction in Bhejji on March 11 and in Burkapal on April 24 where the CRPF lost 37 men? Two constables in Bhejji and one in Burkapal! This despite the MHA recently stating that there are “over 20,000 state police personnel” and “45,000 central forces personnel” posted in there.

People in power have no idea about my existence.

When journalist Jugal Purohit went about asking, here is what he found:

– Abhishek Meena, Superintendent of Police, Sukma: No such guidelines exist and no such guidelines can be adhered to.

– DM Awasthi, Special Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh: Such instructions can’t be followed.

– Sudeep Lakhtakia, Additional Director General, CRPF: I will have to check up.

– K Vijay Kumar, senior security adviser, MHA: You cannot have such rigidity.

– The spokesperson of the MHA did not offer any explanation.

This is my reality.

Someone sitting removed from the actual situation thought about me and pushed me down the throats of others who had their own ideas. Then when something went wrong, newer people came together and created newer SOPs. Lessons were seldom learnt. I remain forgotten.

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CRPF personnel killed when the Maoists detonated a landmine under the truck they were moving in. March 30, 2016 MAILAWADA in DANTEWADA DISTRICT. IMAGE SOURCE: Author 

Contrast this with our enemy who bears the name of a foreigner who died more than 40 years ago. That enemy deploys his tactics and remains guided by his doctrine even today. He hasn’t forgotten.

THIS PIECE FIRST APPEARED ON THE DAILYO PORTAL:

http://www.dailyo.in/voices/sukma-attack-maoists-crpf-sop/story/1/16963.html

BOOK REVIEW: On tackling Maoist question, an effort to provide answers

How should India grow? Does ‘growth’ have the same meaning for everyone whether in the cities or resource-rich hinterland? Do growth and displacement of natives compulsorily go hand in hand? For India to grow what is needed more – preserving tribal way of life of its natives or exploiting the resource-rich lands they inhabit? What if their grievances create hurdles in the path of growth? 

Author Rohit Prasad in ‘Blood Red River’ has chosen the troubled landscape of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh to understand how the Indian state is answering these questions.

Located in the heart of the country, the state of Chhattisgarh means many things depending on which side one is looking at. A politically and financially stable state, a state with perhaps the richest resources both in terms of mineral and bio-diversity in the country, a state with nearly 44 per cent of its territory covered by forests, a state which has over 30 per cent of its population coming from a vibrant variety of tribes or a state locked in a brutal embrace with a rebellion which refuses to ebb even after fifty years of its emergence.

The rebels, members of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), seek to violently overthrow parliamentary democracy which they believe is a sham. The response of the government hinges on quelling the rebellion with its armed might and addressing the needs of the masses by the means of development.

The armed struggle is visible and chronicled. In comparison, the politics of development, supposed to exemplify in myriad ways the healing touch of an absent state, remains hard to track, harder to grasp. Touted as ‘a journey into the heart of India’s development conflict’, the book stands out for its focus.

Divided into sections segregated by short chapters within, the book is a sincere attempt at providing the reader with the understanding of a topic which can hardly be termed easy. A largely smooth and uninterrupted flow does emerge as the author switches between anecdotes, damning data dug from a multitude of reports, the annals of history, regulations governing the relationship between tribes and their home, the forest, the vibrant hope of a promising economy, the industrial lure of exploiting a resource-rich territory, instances of flawed ‘development’ and a society eclipsed by the shadow of the conflict which has consumed over 12000 lives. On offer are solid glimpses into the unholy nexus that exists on the ground between the government, the insurgents and the private sector which works to perpetuate the conflict at the expense of the locals.   

Interestingly, as the author, a business school professor based out of Gurugram, admits, he’d initially set out to analyse a different subject before stumbling upon something ‘far more complex’ and ‘fundamental’ which led him to write this book.

Rohit Prasad’s ground reporting from the affected region ensures the reader is exposed to the colour, the festivals, the customs as also the difficult path tribes find themselves treading and how there is corrosion of that timeless society underway as a result. Aptly captured case studies make the reader aware of the lost lives of faultless, promising youngsters in the region.   

On the flip side, there are times when the narrative shifts from story-telling to either philosophy or sweeping generalisations. Then there are outlandish claims like where the author says the US Army special forces supported Indian armed police in 2009 offensive against the Maoists! There are also times when objective analysis turns subjective. However, the biggest drawback that book suffers from is the lack of a direct Maoist voice. Scrutinising their ‘developmental works’ in their ‘janatana sarkar’ (local government in areas they term liberated) and their model would have added to the book’s effort by making two sides of the divide clear and visible to the reader.

To conclude, ‘Blood Red River’ is an introduction into a less dimension in the debate over development. Few understand that it is also essential.

Sukma, CG: Cops won’t occupy fortified stations till furniture & colouring is done

Assuring the assembly of chief ministers of ten Maoist-hit states about the centre’s support in terms of training, resources and intelligence, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh added a condition nevertheless. “But states must take initiative to conduct operations and use resources optimally”, he said before inaugurating the key meeting on May 8. While the national meet was called in the wake of repeated reverses suffered in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, Singh’s words have failed in making any impact in that very place. Exemplifying that irony are two ready yet unused ‘heavily-fortified police stations which can serve as an impregnable base for nearly 200 troops’ at any given point in time.

Ready for months now and located in the heart of the troubled Sukma district, the local police has failed to move in to either of them. Inexplicably it has ensured that policemen and counterparts from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) continue to operate in lesser strength from older barracks in the vicinity.

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Report appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on May 18, 2017

Running south from the town of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region is the National Highway (NH) 221, re-named as NH30. It has had a particularly bloodied past. Among the instances of bloodlust the road has witnessed, the brutal massacre of the Congress party’s state leadership in the Jheeram Ghati in May 2013 reverberates in the national consciousness to this date. Located along that highway are the towns of Kukanar and Chhindgarh, separated by 15km. It is in these towns that the two fortified police stations have been constructed under central assistance where funds up to Rs 624 crore have been made available to ten states for a total of 400 such police stations. There are in all 75 such police stations earmarked for Chhattisgarh alone.

According to a local resident in Kukanar, “The building has been ready since the end of 2016 but no one has occupied it yet. Earlier this year, villagers were asked to attend its inauguration but we are still waiting for an invite.” Similarly in Chhindgarh, locals said the building was awaiting occupancy since nearly a year. “May be it is about not getting VIPs to inaugurate it or something else, we don’t know. There are other smaller police stations in other parts of Sukma also lying empty we have heard,” said another local resident.

When asked for its response and stand on the issue, the Home Ministry kept mum. In Chhattisgarh, DM Awasthi, Special Director General, Anti Naxal Operations (ANO) said, “The one at Kukanar has been handed over to us six months back. I have ordered my staff to operationalise it immediately. In Chhindgarh, there are minor repairs pending.” Sukma’s Superintendent of Police, Abhishek Meena when asked said, “Chhindgarh building is ready but colouring and repair work is left. In Kukanar, we have ordered furniture and awaiting its set up”.

Kukanar building
The brand new compound in Kukanar lying unused. ‘Handed over to us six months back. I have ordered my staff to operationalise it immediately’, says senior police officer DM Awasthi. SOURCE: JUGAL R PUROHIT

This delay has not gone down well with members of the security set up.

“Where is the will to take on Maoists? In Delhi, they talk about doing things on war-footing, senior officials fly in and out conducting meetings and on the ground, the police is unwilling to move, wasting precious infrastructure,” said a source on the condition of anonymity. Another source observed, “Across the country, there is outrage over how Maoists are killing security forces and here the policemen are waiting for well-designed, coloured and comfortable police stations”.

Chhindgarh building
Chhindgarh’s fortified police station lying unused. The area SP told me his force had sought colouring and repair jobs before they could move it. SOURCE: JUGAL R PUROHIT

Interestingly, in the aftermath of the Burkapal ambush in Sukma last month where 25 CRPF personnel were killed by the Maoists, the centre had defended the state police’s role. In a statement released on April 26th, the union home ministry had stated, “It is incorrect to say that Chhattisgarh Police is in shambles. In addition to 45,000 Central Forces, over 20,000 State Police personnel are posted in Bastar region. The Chhattisgarh police forces are well equipped and a Bastar package for police was introduced in end 2015. There is complete coordination between Centre and State forces”.

STORY FIRST APPEARED ON INDIA TODAY PORTAL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/rajnath-singh-maoists-chhattisgarh-police-stations/1/955854.html

To win against Maoists, repair the Home Ministry first. My piece.

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It was March of 2014 when in the jungles surrounding Koraput in Odisha, a police team spent a night in hiding, ready to attack Maoists who they knew were to cross a stream. By the morning, the team left empty-handed. “Later we realised the rebels did come short of crossing that stream when they spotted our footwear marks on the soil and quietly changed their path,” said the officer.

From field-level tactics to post-incident evaluation to carrying out studies on Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), impairing drones and helicopters, the Maoists, anyone with any experience of the trade will tell you, make an honest attempt of their job.

Thus, for India’s home minister Rajnath Singh to accuse them of “cold-blooded murder” is a case of being poorly informed.

Nevertheless, the establishment has been jolted with the loss of 25 more personnel. Only last month, in the same state, the same district, the same force was routed by the same adversary. The guerrillas then killed 12. About 60 security personnel have been killed by the Maoists within the four months of this year.

Nothing hereon will matter more than the rectification at the top, inside the North Block where the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is expected to hammer into shape the contours of this fight. Yet its absurdities have gone unchallenged and unrepaired:

1. In a Parliamentary Committee report tabled on March 15, the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has been quoted as saying the government had no money to provide mine resistant vehicles to protect troops from Maoist mines. The committee was “constrained to observe that lack of financial resources is becoming a reason for casualty of valuable lives being lost in the battle against Left Wing Extremism”.

2. To deal with Maoist mines, the MHA told the Parliament it is ensuring the availability of more than one mine proof vehicle (MPV) per battalion. But it never told that its own guidelines (authorisation) hold that every battalion must hold between seven to ten MPVs.

3. The MHA also indirectly made the Jabalpur-based Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) look responsible for not producing enough MPVs. Why did the MHA not float a global tender if the OFB was slow? Minister of State in-charge of the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) desk, Hansraj Ahir said his government hadn’t given the idea a thought yet.

4. On April 12, replying to a host of Members of Parliament (MPs), Ahir patted himself on the back for year on year reduction of casualties of troops as if this conflict was about numbers alone. In the same deliberation, Ahir when asked about the modernised combat support and technology his government had brought to the troops said the troops now had helicopters and drones!

5. The efficacy/availability of drones comes under doubt when it hasn’t helped the CRPF pick any signs of back-to-back, massive ambushes which the Maoists laid barely 2km outside its camps! It also points to a breakdown of communication with the local community – the very people the CRPF is there to normalise the situation for.

6. Problem of poor leadership by the MHA compounds when it comes to CRPF, a force with lethal disconnect between the top and the bottom. That the MHA has kept the CRPF headless for nearly two months says so much.

7. Unfortunately the MHA and the CRPF have made a habit out of ducking from questions. Having covered the issue, I know the approach has the green signal from powerful quarters

8. With little to show in terms of deftly handling the Kashmir situation, the MHA finds itself in a corner. It simply does not have the troops it needs to strengthen its presence in the LWE states where the deployment is as such thin.

While the top fumbles with hardly any accountability, those on ground will pay with their lives for one wrong step taken.

New Doc 2017-05-12

A little-known success story that emerged for the US Marine Corps from Vietnam, documented in The Tunnels Of Cuchi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate, may hold relevance here.

A harassed young officer, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver, discovered how the native communist fighters were using underground tunnels to hit his troops and evade. Since the Americans had no experience in dealing with the tunnel menace, he took it upon himself to painstakingly learn and teach his battalion ways to identify bunkers, probe them and only upon completing this “course”, he sought the permission to launch an “operation”.

His troops seized the area, physically searched the ground for holes, any tell tale signs and kept up till 89 of the 92 guerillas operating there were killed, captured or had surrendered.

(THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AT THE DAILYO PORTAL – http://www.dailyo.in/politics/26-crpf-maoists-die-sukma-bastar-home-ministry-failure/story/1/16839.html)

SUKMA MASSACRE: Within 2km from camp, Maoists kill 12 CRPF men, loot weapons & flee

BY JUGAL R PUROHIT

NEW DELHI

Today, the Maoist insurgents in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region demonstrated why despite suffering several reverses they retain the ability to inflict heavy damage.

Armed with guns, bows and arrows fitted with explosives, improvised rockets and other explosives, about 120 Maoists (about 60 armed cadres, 40 villager-based supporters and 2nd Company of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army) chose to take on two companies consisting of a total of 113 well-armed Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The encounter began at 9:10am. By the time it ended at 10am, the insurgents had killed eleven personnel, injured five more (one of which succumbed taking the death toll to 12) and walked away with ten rifles, a Light Machine Gun (LMG), a 51mm mortar, an Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, over 1000 rounds of ammunition, two wireless sets and as many para bombs. The 219th battalion of the CRPF from which the troops were did not have a single dead body of a Maoist insurgent to show how the 100 odd members who survived the attack fought back. “Reports are that we have killed 2-3 of them but we do not have bodies to show,” said a senior force officer. It was informed that 219 battalion had been ‘deployed in Bheji since 2011 and was fully familiar with the area’. Reinforcements from the 219 battalion and 208 CoBRA (special force) battalion reached the spot on foot. “They had a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) but chose to walk as MPVs can be targeted”, said an officer. Since 2009, the CRPF has dragged its foot on procuring modern MPVs for its troops. Despite being authorized to procure 352 MPVs, the force is making its troops work with 120 old, poorly maintained vehicles.  

Based on information from a variety of sources, it was learnt that troops from Company A (57 in all) and Company E (56 in all) under the command of a Deputy Commandant rank officer left their location at 8am near Bheji in Bastar’s Sukma district. Their task was to provide security for local contractors to construct roads. By 9:10am when they had covered about 1.8km from their camp, near a village named Bankupara, the Maoists detonated the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) they had planted and began the episode. “They waited for the initial part of the troop body to enter a killing zone and then opened up. It was a trap. Our remaining troops did fire,” the officer added. The CRPF has launched a Court of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate all aspects of the ambush.

While Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh and others paid their tributes to the departed troops and visited the injured in the hospital, there were many who felt this was a manifestation of the larger issue. “We lack a strategy and coordination. If you look at the meticulousness it definitely points to the involvement of Hidma the dreaded Maoist commander,” said an officer. Another one noted, “Aiding road construction is a duty which can get monotonous and predictable. Was there laxity is something an inquiry can establish”. With the government not having appointing a full-time Director General (DG) for the CRPF since K Durga Prasad retired at the end of last month, Sudeep Lakhtakia, the acting DG will be visiting the site of the ambush on March 12.

March 11 has been a bloody date for the CRPF. In 2014, the force lost 11 men in Tahakwada in Sukma district to a Maoist ambush. In 2016, on the same day, the force suffered a double blow when Deputy Commandant BK Shyam Nivas was fatally wounded and Head Constable S Ranga Raghavan was martyred in an IED explosion the Maoist triggered in the same district.

GROUND REPORT: Born of Bofors taint, India’s own Dhanush gun on Rajpath this R-Day

VIDEO: First look at the DHANUSH – My ground report from Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/exclusive-story-behind-dhanush-indias-first-self-made-long-range-artillery-gun/1/851717.html?source=DEC2016

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PRINT REPORT: 

BORN OUT OF BOFORS TAINT, INDIA’s SELF MADE GUN DHANUSH TO ROLL DOWN THE RAJPATH THIS REPUBLIC DAY

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/born-from-bofors-dhanush-roll-down-rajpath-republic-day/1/853057.html

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