Two platoons of CRPF and a dozen locally trained Koya Commandos were looking for a small arms manufacturing unit run by the Naxals in the dense jungles of Dantewada.
Though the period of two days that we trudged into the unknown - the Koyas never interacted with the CRPF jawans, in fact maintained a safe distance from them.
When asked why, the leader of the Koya unit, Kichananda was not charitable. “These guys keep coming and going,” he said. “They know so little about the place; we have to guide them by the hand. If we stick close to them we too will get killed.”
Kichananda’s words were indeed prophetic. Barely a week later seventy-six CRPF personnel lost their lives in the worst Maoist attack in the history of India, not far from where we had ventured.
Chosen from the local Koya tribe and trained in the latest anti-guerrilla tactics by the Indian army; Koya’s original role was to ‘assist’ security forces in anti-Naxal operations. Soon they proved their strategic worth, displaying more initiative, caliber and stealth than their ‘superior’ counterparts.
In the jungles of Dantewada, the CRPF personnel are literally aliens from another planet, with no knowledge of the terrain, people or language. This made them prone to making the wrong moves, something that the Maoists used to their advantage with deadly accuracy.
Being locals, the Koya commandos nullified the terrain advantage of the guerrillas. Trained in commando tactics, they could anticipate every move that the Reds would make.
As a ‘force multiplier’, this particular crack team of commandos was headed by Kichananda, a former Naxal himself.
In theory this sounded like a perfect plan - give the Naxals a taste of their own medicine. However, like the Salwa Judum, a good idea failed to terrible execution.
Many instances of Koya Commandos indulging in excesses led the Supreme Court declaring the force as extra-constitution and ordering its disbandment.
In the aftermath of the most audacious Naxal attack on Saturday, the Prime Minister averred that the Naxal killers would be brought to justice. The reality is that his words have little teeth. The government simply doesn’t have the tools to deal with the Naxals nor the willpower to develop parts of India that have slipped into darkness.
The Salwa Judum movement is history; Koya Commandos have been outlawed by the highest court of the land. What remains are ill-trained CRPF who are sent to the slaughterhouse.
Even training them seems to be a tall order for the government - with only one successful anti-Naxal training school being operational at Kanker, Chhattisgarh. The promise of having over twenty such schools remains only on paper.
P Chidambaram may no longer be the home minister -but his position that the government doesn’t ‘wage war against its own people’ still stands.
Unfortunately, the Naxals don’t view things in such a benevolent manner, for them the rules of engagement are very flexible.
Air Force helicopters are coming under regular attack, but the government balks at the use of air power against the biggest internal security threat that the nation is facing. Expensive drones are procured for intelligence gathering purposes - but achieve zero per cent success because of the remoteness of their operating base.
In ’62 we thought of our attackers as brothers - till it was too late. To avoid another ignominy we must arm our forces with the right tools, so that we can suppress those who’ve sworn to undermine the Constitution of India and the principles of democracy it espouses.
- Akash Banerjee is a Delhi based media professional and author of Tales from Shining and Sinking India