The gruesome landmine attack in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli, killing 15 security personnel, comes as a grim reminder of the lethal capability of Maoists to strike at will and exposes the chinks in the armour of the security set-up. This comes a month after a BJP legislator and four security personnel lost their lives in a similar attack in neighbouring Chhattisgarh in the run-up to the elections. It is sad that lessons have not been learnt from the previous tragedies of a similar nature. The latest assault happened despite the deployment of 30 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force and 13 companies of the State Reserve Police Force as well as 5,500 personnel of the local police in Gadchiroli and neighbouring Chandrapur district. A Quick Response Team was lured into a trap when it was going down the road to Dadpur in Kurkheda where extremists had set fire to three dozen vehicles of a road construction company earlier in the day. It is shocking how the response team blindly took the bait, ignoring the standard operating procedures that include letting a road-opening team lead the way. The premeditated attack shows that the Maoists are not just highly violent and well-armed but also have the audacity to go to any length to prove their point. The fact that the ambush occurred during the height of election season, when the movement of troops is continuous, suggests that the state administration had let its guard down.
The left-wing extremism, in the words of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the biggest threat to the country’s internal security. According to Union Home Ministry’s data, the extremist violence has claimed over 14,000 lives between 1999 and 2018. Though Maoists — who pursue the goal of capturing power through the barrel of a gun — have lost much of their ground in many States due to the steady erosion of support base and successful police operations, they are still active in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha and parts of West Bengal. Dantewada has been particularly badly hit. One of the deadliest ever attacks occurred in 2010, when 74 policemen were killed in the region. The previous attempts to find a solution to the Maoist problem through dialogue have not been successful. One such attempt was made by the Congress government in the united Andhra Pradesh in 2004 but the talks collapsed soon after. There is no chance of revival of the dialogue process at any level unless the Maoist outfit gives up arms and joins the social mainstream. It is heartening that the threat of naxalite violence has not deterred people from coming out in large numbers to exercise their franchise in the Maoist-affected areas in the ongoing elections.