K Vijay Kumar is best known as the police officer who nabbed and neutralised the dreaded forest brigand and sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. Today, as security advisor to the MHA he faces a bigger challenge. He has been tasked with revising India's anti-Naxal policy after Maoists ambushed and massacred 25 CRPF men in Sukma, Chattisgarh. He spoke to CNN-News18's Shreya Dhoundial in Raipur. Here are the excerpts:
Shreya Dhoundial (SD): Sir, you are just back from Sukma. What is your initial assessment of what went wrong?
K Vijay Kumar (KVK): First of all my tribute to the great force. The assesment is that we are trying to see whether the Maoists used better tactics or if there was something amiss in our reaction or if we reacted appropriately to the situation. This is being worked on inside the force.
The main point is that the 74th Battalion is tasked with road construction. There has been great progress in the building of the road in the last one and a half years in Sukma. Sukma is the citadel of the Maoists and that will be cut into pieces once the road comes in. Roads are the number one enemy of the Maoists. So they have been watching and trying to sabotage it. We are determined to see that road construction continues and security operations continue.
SD: Sir, was the Sukma attack a huge intelligence failure. How is it possible for 150 Naxals to move in without anyone noticing?
KVK: There is no point just blaming the lack of intelligence. There was information that there were some guys milling around. Remember, Bastar is one of the most hazardous, risky places in the country. If Bastar is the capital of Maoism then Sukma is its HQ. Their top people, their militia is there. There is always perimeter security for them. I can't say how many people attacked the CRPF party, but definetly more than 100. Here it is not just numerical superiority that counts, it is terrain knowledge and mastery and other tactics. So we are trying to see if we went wrong tactically and if we should have used pre-emptive tactics. When you talk of intel where does it come from? Technical and signal intel is very sparse given the backwardness of the area. Human intelligence is very tough to get because villagers don't help. They are under the control of the Naxals. Security agencies cannot get intel from trees and bushes.The government is trying to establish connect with the tribals through roads and development and that is the real point of conflict.
SD: You have been tasked with devising India's anti-Naxal policy. Any initial thoughts on it?
KVK: I will not get into the details but one thing is for sure, we are not stepping back. Ups and downs happen during a long counter-insurgency operation. The graph here in India has been steady favouring the government. I can't say if this is the last phase of Maoist insurgency in India but it is definetly petering out. And when it is petering out these sudden shocks are part of a global phenomenon. We should not be rattled by one big shock. Yes this is a big setback to our forces. But they are resilient. They will bounce back.
SD: Before coming for the interview, I spoke to a young CRPF officer who told me "We are cannon fodder. The government forgets about us and the Naxal problem until a big incident happens". How do you deal with this level of demotivation?
KVK: A force has many people with varying degrees of morale. After an incident like this some could be depressed. We shall address the issue of morale in the forces but there is no lack of leadership in the CRPF.
SD: The other big grouse of the force is that the top leadership of the force comes from outside. The DIGs and DGs are from the Police service and know little about operations on the ground.
KVK: All these are questions that come up only during a setback. Someone will even come to say we will provide leadership from outside. The CRPF is one of the oldest forces and there has been joint leadership so far. Both IPS and CRPF have excellent leaders. But I am not surprised at such disruptive questions because they crop up only during tough times.
SD: Finally, sir, will we see a surgical strike aginst the Maoists in Sukma?
KVK: I will not go into specific, neither will I like to sound gung-ho about it. We will take it forward steadly. We will not step back on security action or development plan. The two-pronged action will continue. We will continue with intensity. There is no question about slowing down or being over enthusiastic about it.