After killing 22 police officers in an ambush over the weekend, Indian security forces have stepped up operations against ultra-leftist rebels deep in the forests of a mineral-rich central state, according to a top police officer.
In the four-hour gun battle with Maoist rebels that took place in Chhattisgarh state on Saturday, at least 30 other security forces members were injured, making it the deadliest attack of its kind in four years.
“The operation will be intensified,” said Om Prakash Pal, the deputy inspector general of police, who is leading the fight against the rebels in Chhattisgarh, on Monday.
For decades, the Maoists, also known as Naxals, have fought government forces in armed conflict. They claim to be fighting for India’s poor who have been left behind by the country’s economic growth.
According to a government website, Chhattisgarh, one of India’s fastest-developing nations, has 28 different types of main minerals, including diamonds and gold. It also has 16 percent of India’s coal reserves and significant iron ore and bauxite reserves.
The Maoists, who are considered India’s greatest internal security threat by the government, operate in mineral-rich territory in the country’s east and south known as the “red corridor,” which has shrunk in recent years due to strong operations against them.
However, 400 Maoists armed with explosives and assault weapons assaulted a police raiding party in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district last week.
According to Pal, the rebels sustained casualties as well, and local media claimed that drone surveillance showed them carrying bodies away.
“They are definitely trying to strengthen themselves but the forces put a lot of pressure on them. Now they are confined only to very few pockets. In their core area they are shrinking very fast,” Pal told the Reuters news agency, adding security forces were stepping up their intelligence-gathering efforts as well.
Police forces, according to security analysts, need to be better prepared to deal with fighters who are just as well-armed as the cops.
According to Pal, the Naxals used AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers, and under-barrel grenade launchers in the most recent encounter.
“The government will leave no stone unturned to provide you with the best facilities,” India’s Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said in a speech to security forces in Chhattisgarh on Monday.
After paying respects to the fallen security forces and visiting a hospital to meet the wounded, Shah vowed to put an end to the “Maoist menace.”
“The government will not tolerate such bloodshed and a befitting response will be given. We will put an end to the ongoing battle with Maoists,” Shah said.
On condition of anonymity, a close aide to Shah told the Reuters news agency that he met with top security officials in the state to “realign strategy” to dismantle the Maoist leaders’ nexus.
Uddipan Mukherjee, a joint director for the Ordnance Factory Board, a government agency that has been monitoring Maoist war strategy for more than ten years, said the pandemic had helped the rebellion to recruit more members.
Others with firsthand experience concurred.
“We have intelligence reports that the Maoist leaders during the pandemic have managed to recruit hundreds of new foot soldiers, including women, living in the forests who leak details about security force patrols,” said a New Delhi-based bureaucrat who oversees internal security.