Top Maoist commander Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji was killed in a joint operation of CoBRA and West Bengal Police last month. As per Foreign Policy magazine, the number three in the Maoist hierarchy was zeroed in following an insider's tip off about his exact location. This was the fate of a man who boasted that he was safe because people in 1,600 villages were on night watch to ensure the police does not reach him.
Kishenji's elimination is a huge success for the security forces. Trained by a fringe group of the LTTE, he was both a political ideologue and a hardened guerrilla commander. Kishenji also played a significant role in the merger of various Maoist parties into CPI (Maoist) in 2004.
Clear, build and hold: The SAP strategy employed by the government
is critical because it will be used as a model for other forest regions
that have turned Maoist hubs.
Moreover, he was the liaison man of the Maoists with rebel groups of the Northeast. Tehelka has published documents which suggest that Kishenji had not only arranged for arms and equipment from Manipur's People's Liberation Army (PLA) but was also instrumental in getting the PLA to run training camps for the Maoists. Through the PLA, attempts were being made by him to garner support from Beijing. Kishenji had also met ULFA's top commander Paresh Barua in an attempt to establish Maoist bases in upper Assam.
Kishenji's killing is part of the government strategy to target the Maoist top leadership. With CPI(Maoist) politburo members Kobad Ghandy, Narayan Sanyal, Pramod Mishra and Amitabh Bagchi in custody, Kishenji's killing following that of Azad by Andhra police last year are the blows that have jolted the Maoists. Recent drop in violence and a relative lull in Maoist activity can be attributed to clearing of senior Maoist leadership.
The clear and hold parts of the Clear, Hold and Build strategy are being executed by 73 paramilitary battalions, 37 India Reserve battalions and 10 CoBRA battalions deployed in the Maoist-affected states. This is a quantum increase from the 37 battalions deployed against the Maoists in 2008. It is the Build component which has always been the weakest component of the Indian counterinsurgency strategy. This is where the Saranda Action Plan (SAP) gains significance.
Sprawling 850 square kilometres in Jharkhand's West Singhbhum district, Saranda is Asia's biggest Sal forest. After being a Maoist liberated area for nearly a decade, it was recently cleared of the Maoists by the security forces. Two additional battalions of CRPF were then moved in to hold the area. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has taken direct control of the build phase in Saranda. In his own words, "I have taken this Saranda project as a challenge and as a way of demonstrating how development and security can and should go hand-in-hand."
To be implemented in all 56 villages under six gram panchayats, and covering over 36,500 people, SAP is based on a report prepared by Rural Development Ministry, World Bank and Jharkhand Government. SAP's focus is on constructing 13 rural roads -- 140 km in length -- within next two years. Another area of emphasis is creating jobs for villagers under the MGNREGS, with weekly payments being made in cash. SAP also includes implementing schemes for electric supply, high-yielding agricultural methods and health in the forest area, apart from ensuring regular distribution of forest right pattas to the dwellers.
Success of the SAP is critical because it will be used as a model for other forest regions that have turned Maoist hubs in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Development works are also to be executed by seven Specialised India Reserve Battalions which are currently being raised for Maoist-affected areas. Having two components -- engineers and technical staff in one, and security personnel in another, these battalions can execute basic infrastructure projects, including construction of roads, under their inherent protection. All the successes and sacrifices of security forces would have gone in vain if India fails to bring development to Maoist-affected areas.
Sushant K. Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review.