The sanguinary expression on his face while he re-lived that chilling afternoon is still fresh in memory after all these years. An officer in the Greyhounds police force- posted in Chintapalli mandal, Andhra Pradesh — was travelling to a base camp along with fourteen constables. He needed a water break. His vehicle halted in front of a tuck shop where he met the local daily journalist who offered him a ride to discuss some confidential information regarding the Maoist hideouts. He signalled the constables to move on. A deafening noise consumed the air as the vehicle exploded after travelling roughly 200 meters. “Fourteen precious lives lost”, he reflected callously.
Maoist insurgency, dubbed the single most important security threat in the country by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, has resulted in large scale deaths throughout its brutal history. The question arises – did the government take serious notice and thereafter substantive steps to reduce the threat? It is worth to note here that only two types of cases have been able to get the government to take serious steps in this direction. First, when there have been a large number of causalities and second, when there have been high profile causalities.
This trend has resulted in a dangerous phenomenon of ‘numbers paradox’. If numbers are the main criterion to measure the gravity of the Maoist problem, then the government’s decision to ignore the large number of minor skirmishes which result in the deaths of a few “low profile” individuals on a frequent basis becomes open to contestation. Evidently, the government’s policy of using the corporate phenomenon of ‘lumpy adjustment’ rather than small incremental steps to tackle this grass root problem has failed. The least the government can do now is to acknowledge the efforts of the martyrs, who lost their life to a cause, which continues to remain a national security threat.
This is just one of the many minor attacks that go unnoticed in the humbug of daily political news. This attack happened way back in 2003. But April 6, 2010 marked a watershed moment. This was the day when the country woke up from its perception of the Maoist insurgency as a protest by a handful of disgruntled peasants fighting a losing battle for a losing cause, to a more serious national security threat. The ambush, which killed 76 CRPF jawans in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, was in response to the ‘Operation Green Hunt’ launched by the Government of India. Numbers definitely did matter.
The recent attack that occurred on May 25 along the road bordering Sukma is significant to our issue. Nearly 200 Maoist fighters descended upon a convoy ferrying the top Congress leaders of Chhattisgarh, including Mahendra Karma, the brain behind the now banned controversial Salwa Judum. Though this ambush did not score high in terms of numbers, it definitely tops the now overflowing list of Maoist attacks. Exacted as revenge for the atrocities committed by the armed civilian force Salwa Judum, this attack differs from the previous attacks, despite its obvious conformance with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the Indian state.
Coming back to numbers, initially the death toll was 28, but later corrected to twenty seven. A life was saved (“numbers do matter, don’t they?”). It seemed a minor attack looking at the numbers. A greater number of police eat the earth every week, if not every day. The fact that 27 people were killed in a single attack, spread just over two hours, isn’t enough justification to panic? Certainly, considering numbers are important, taken at face value. More importantly, this time the numbers included almost the entire top tier of the state congress. Karma, reportedly, was stabbed seventy-eight times (“numbers again”). The attackers danced in delirium around his corpse. This is pure revenge, the Maoist leadership claimed. They went back in time to avenge Karma and Salwa Judum. No wonder the government sat up and took notice.
When one talks about the paradox of numbers, a factor that needs consideration is that these lives are being lost not just biologically but also from the memory of the nation. Incidents, which were treated minor or insignificant in the eyes of the government, add up to a huge tally which means operation green hunt and Salwa Judum have failed miserably. Statistics indicate that 1325 security personnel have lost their lives in exchange for 905 Maoists over the last five years. This is besides a larger number of villagers and tribals who were killed in cross fire. However, no one speaks of these numbers, hence, the paradox.
This paradox will remain as so long as the present attitude of both the government and the media remains unchanged. The government behaviour clearly mirrors the phenomenon of “lumpy adjustment”. According to David Autor, an economist at MIT, “many economic actors (“in this case, corporation”) don’t make lots of little reorganizations each time things get slightly out of true.” Instead, “they wait until things are way off, and then make one big adjustment.” Thinking like corporations is not the way to go forward. Much needed credibility would be lost if the government continues to ignore minor incidents, which accrue to a major number. Reacting to the so called major incidents defined by “numbers” and the “profiles” of those attacked, in a knee-jerk fashion, makes one question the government’s sincerity to take action.
It would be wrong, however, if one was to blame the media for not reporting these minor skirmishes which have been equivalent, if not less, tragic to the Dantewada incident. The issue is not so much about the media (not) reporting than the government reacting. The government with its reporting system, both at the state and centre, should take these incidents and deaths seriously and start acting for these lives are no less important.
Sensitivity to this ‘numbers paradox’ might not result in a final solution to tackle this polygonal social problem. True, it does not necessarily answer the bigger questions whether Maoism is reflective of the growing disenchantment of the people in the affected areas or is it an outcome of the process of the deepening of democracy. Also, there is no denying the fact that the recent incident was untoward and deserves serious action. However, this should not absolve the government of not reacting in an appropriate manner to hundreds of minor incidents which have robbed and continue to take lives of many brave policemen. When death is a certainty and success a probability – numbers do matter, whether big or small, and being sensitive to this paradox would tincture the anti-insurgency efforts with more credibility and sincerity.