The afternoon of Wednesday April 26th 2023 saw again the deadly hand of Maoists in all their savagery snuffing out the lives of ten of the bravest of braves –the quintessential “DRG—District reserve guards’ who for the past so many years have been synonymous with taking the battle into the heartland of the Maoists with the ‘Devil may care attitude’ and a sense of sangfroid abundance not seen in recent years in the country. The anti Naxal cum Maoists operations in one of the country’s most backward and remote areas i.e Bastar (Dantewada) of Chhattisgarh is reminiscent of our age old tactics of bravado of our security forces trying to compensate our national cum monumental mistakes of neglect of our tribal areas which is being paid by them in their blood. It was hoped that with the formation of smaller states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Utrakhand carved out of bigger states like MP, Bihar and UP will assuage the feelings of angst of people living in these areas, but it seems a far cry as of now. Well not to digress from the subject matter under my consideration for the write up, but coming straight to the crux of the matter which has left central India in turmoil owing to the war being waged by the insiders of the country that sees no end to subside in the near future.
At least ten (10) brave hearts of the DRG (District reserve guards) of Chhattisgarh state police and their civilian driver were killed as mentioned above when Maoists detonated a powerful IED on a road and fired at the wounded cops near Aranpur in Dantewada district of Bastar about 400 kms of state capital Raipur. As it appears in the national media a large number of around 200 DRG men were moving in a convoy of MUVs ,spaced about 150 meters ,when one of the vehicles was blown up at about 1.30 pm afternoon near sameli village . The men didn’t stand a chance as the vehicle was tossed up in the air and blown to smithereens. Will dissect the where and why of this huge setback to the anti- Maoist operation later on ; but first about this gladiatorial force called as DRG In Chhattisgarh which has struck terror in the hearts of the Maoists to no end. In fact many states that have successfully tackled Maoists insurgents have done so by using specialized force, raised and recruited to take on the battle into the Maoists turf with impunity. The understanding that state forces have to take the lead in the war against Maoism –with central paramilitary forces playing a supportive role –is a long held belief among the security experts.
Rather the autobiography of Gen VK Singh ex COAS –‘Courage and conviction’ in the prologue part itself starts with the General taking the oath of his office and going to meet the then Home minister in the immediate aftermath of the gruesome Chintalnar massacre in April 2010 again near Dantewada with the latter (P Chidambaram) putting pressure on the chief as to why shouldn’t the army take on these anti naxal operations, with the former politely giving reasons for not doing so. Be that as it may since extreme situations demand extreme solutions hence the need for specialized force to tackle the menace of Maoists in its entire entirety. In Andhra Pradesh, it is the ‘Greyhounds ‘who are largely credited with the neutralization of the Maoist threat whereas in Maharashtra it is the C-60 that is said to have spearheaded the onslaught against these renegade elements. Yet Chhattisgarh which is considered the fountain head of Maoist insurgency didn’t have any special tool to take on these anti nationals. Essentially in the year 2008, the realization dawned to have a specialized force which culminated into the formation of DRG which were put to task in their first operational role in Kanker and Narayanpur districts spearheading the anti Naxal drives in the length and breadth of these twin districts. Later on in the year 2013 they were recruited in districts of Bijapur followed by Sukma and Kondagaon and Dantewada in the year 2015.
In DRG which has a strength exceeding 4500, the main feeder population is the tribal youth who know the language and terrain as the back of their hand. The STF, other main task force employed against the Maoists is losing out to the DRG in terms of the kills of these renegade elements and has a much wider base in terms of its recruitment pattern which is carried out from non-tribal areas too. Recruitment in the DRG is at three(3) levels –assistant constables, who are mainly the special police officers(SPO) now disbanded ‘Salwajudum’ and former Maoists; constables that are recruited formally, and surrendered Maoists who are recruited as ‘Gopniya sainiks or secret workers’. Once recruited, DRG jawans undergo a yearlong training programme at the state’s police academy and are then sent for a two months course in jungle –warfare at the training facility at ‘Kanker’. Some have been trained with the greyhounds and at the CIJW at Vairengte. In most engagements with the Maoists, the DRG has shown that they have the stomach to fight. But there is a dark side to these DRG personnel too, that is corroding the vitals of such a fine fighting force. The problems of indiscipline, unruly behavior, and petty crimes. All these facets have had a direct bearing on them for not applying themselves seriously in training and rigorous drills which is a must to chisel out a fighting body of DRG. Moreover the DRG leadership comes from the district force which again has a very few tribals. As if these are not enough there are lot of rivalries between the DRG and other city bred or rural bred, non- forest dweller constables in the force.
The DRG recruit coming as it from the ranks of tribal population is a born hunter. A hunter, even on seeing a tiger will exult at the prospect of getting to bag it consequences notwithstanding, while a STF or a CRPF recruit from the plains instinctively wants to avoid it considering it as dangerous. It is this hunter instinct which takes the better of a DRG man over the specialized training imparted to him by the jungle warfare experts that many a times during a firefight the winning streak turns into a big disaster. In pitched battles it is sound training, fire discipline, adherence of orders from the top, accuracy of fire orders and their execution by the jawans down the line that can make or mar the result of an operation. Well notwithstanding the above frailties of the DRG, what went wrong in the instant case at Dantewada that led to such a fine fighting force go down like a house of cards? It has been now given to understand that ominous signals were missed by the drivers of the vehicles who were heading from their headquarters in Dantewada after police received information about the presence of some Maoists from the Darbha division in Puru Hidma region.
As mentioned earlier about 200 DRG men went out on the night of April 25 th only to get involved in a fire fight between them and the Maoists in Nahadi village around 7kms from Aranpur a hot bed of insurgency which led to the arrest of two hardcore cadres. After the operation the jawans were returning to Dantewada when these DRG personnel happen to see the road earlier being choc-a –bloc with children and barricades busy collecting some donations for an upcoming religious function now eerily empty after 90 minutes or so with no children and all barriers removed. All these signals in army parlance are called as ‘Battle indications’ which the DRG chose to ignore at their own peril.
The above point brings me to the moot question- Do the DRG personnel really possess an uncanny quality of reading the jungle or a forested region correctly which only an hour and back was full of hustle and bustle? Were they so overwhelmed by their success in the operation at Nahadi village near Aranpur as to lull them into a sense of complacency on their way back to their camp at Dantewada as to miss such a vital battle indication? Moreover it has now been told that the road was not sanitized ahead of the DRG personnel’s return journey back to their camp. There are conflicting reports about the planting of the massive IED taking the help of ‘Foxhole method as well .How can you commit two major cardinal mistakes back to back very well knowing that the Maoists were breathing down upon your necks and waiting for an opportune moment to strike? Combined with the above queries of mine is the lack of intelligence which these DRG personnel exhibited with their neighboring environment that included the various coal fields from where the 50 kgs of Ammonium nitrate was sourced to make a powerful IED. A powerful intelligence source cultivated by the DRG in the coal fields would have risen the heckles of the powers that be regarding missing explosive, since all these explosives are accounted for by these coal agencies and only an act of pilferage could have ended the explosive into the hands of these renegade elements.
A litany of massacres to include the one that took place in April 2021 at Burkapal had an uncanny resemblance to the present one at Dantewada when the CRPF jawans convoy return route had emptied out just before the actual assault began by the Maoists with assault rifles. Naturally the Maoist look outs had done their homework meticulously. It is possible that some mole in the DRG ranks had divulged the return route to the look outs of the Maoist cadres who were waiting for the kill. This fact lends more credence since the DRG though a potent fighting force is full of surrendered Maoists/ Salwajudam people who may not have shrugged off their affiliations to the opposite camp and crossed over their loyalties lured by power, pelf etc. Red strikes in Chhattisgarh show no sign of abatement with the DRG personnel paying through their flesh and blood for keeping a semblance of order in one of the most deprived sections of our country. But more than that it would be in the interest of DRG personnel to keep one cardinal principle in mind --- that of adherence to rules of fighting as per the teaching of Jungle warfare rather than relying on their jungle instincts which can be at the most superimposed upon the former to make it more realistic and sharp. As Bruce Lee’s maxim says in so many words--- ‘I fear not the man who has practiced 1000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 1000 times’. DRG has to learn this maxim to get on top of the jungles of Bastar. Sooner the better!
(The writer is a retired army officer who can be contacted on his email: firstname.lastname@example.org