Indian officials are claiming some success in the government's response to a surprise Maoist raid on Friday, in which 13 police officers were killed and more than 1,000 weapons were seized by rebel insurgents. Fighting persisted Monday in Orissa state, where the attack took place. But even with the most recent violence, Indian officials disagree about the group's security threat nationally.
The Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, after the village of Naxalbari where the movement was born, have been waging their campaign since the 1960s. Inspired by Mao Zedong, they operate in India's rural areas, and seek to distribute land and jobs to the local poor.
The Associated Press reports that the Indian government in the eastern state of Orissa said Sunday that 20 Maoist rebels were killed during military sweeps in search of those who launched Friday's attack.
The skirmishes followed the carefully coordinated rebel attacks Friday night on four police stations, a training academy, and an armory in Orissa state's Nayagarh district, that killed 13 police officers, a village guard and a civilian.
"We have received reports of the elimination of 20 Maoists. The reports are being confirmed," T.K. Mishra, home secretary of the Orissa state government, told reporters Sunday night. He gave no other details. "We have also lost three security personnel," Mishra added.
The search operations and fighting continued Monday in forested areas in five districts of the state, said Gopal Chandra Nanda, the director general of the state police. The area is about 1,100 miles southeast of New Delhi.
About 400 militants took part in the attacks Friday and stole roughly 1,000 weapons, Nanda had said earlier.
The BBC adds that an official said that the police had recovered 115 rifles and half a truckload of ammunition.
The Times of India writes that Friday's Maoist raid caught the town of Nayagarh "napping." The town had never been targeted by Maoists before, leaving it largely unprepared and undefended.
Having planned their 'Operation 22' with clinical precision — the extremists, eyewitnesses said, entered the district headquarters at different times on Friday. And, like their previous spine-chilling offensives in Koraput (2004) and R-Udayagiri (2006), they executed their plan with impunity, killing hapless cops and leaving Orissa's anti-Naxalite preparations thoroughly exposed....
While the choice of Nayagarh was perhaps because of poor police presence and its proximity to Gajapati and Kandhamal districts, another possible reason, not lost on the cops, is that Nayagarh is the home district of dreaded Naxal leader and Orissa's top terrorist, Sabyasachi Panda.
The only other Maoist incident here was a postcard addressed to the collector in November 2005. Never had the district administration admitted that Maoists were making inroads although the media has been writing about it.
But despite Friday's raid, doubts exist about the severity of the Maoist threat. The Indo-Asian News Service reports that Shivraj Patil, the union minister for home affairs in Mr. Singh's government, does not agree with Singh's assessment about the Naxalites' threat.
"[D]on't ask me to comment on my colleagues or what the prime minister said. You asked me for my opinion and I will give you my opinion," Patil told CNN-IBN's "Devil's Advocate" in an interview. ...
Patil's statement flies in the face of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's repeated assertions in many forums that Maoists posed the single biggest security challenge to India and even exhorted chief ministers at a recent conference to cripple their rebellion with all means at their command.
"Not a day passes without an incident of leftwing extremism taking place somewhere or the other. There also seems to be a consolidation of various groups with better coordination and strike capabilities," Manmohan Singh told chief ministers at a conclave on internal security in December last year.
The Kalinga Times also notes that there is some skepticism about reports on how many rebels have been killed. Some say that the state government has inflated its numbers "in an attempt to prove its efficiency and hide its 'failures.' "
What had created doubt over the government's claim about the killing the armed Maoists is that the policemen carrying out the combing operation had not retrieved the body of a single Maoist till Sunday evening.
The government's claim about the killing of Maoists was based on information which the police had collected from the villagers living in the fringe areas of the forests in Ganjam and Kandhamal districts.
Meanwhile, the Opposition parties have started mounting their attack on the [Orissa] Government for its `failure' to deal with the situation.
In addition, there are signs that the Maoist threat may be working its way to India's more urban west. The Times of India writes that police in Mumbai (Bombay) believe that the Naxalites are attempting to establish a base of operations there, and build support among urban dwellers.
According to police sources, Maoists have also articulated a new strategy to target urban centres in India, drawing up "guidelines for working in towns and cities", and for the revival of a mobilisation effort targeting students and the urban unemployed. In 2006, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil told the Lok Sabha that Maoists were planning to target important installations in major cities, including Mumbai.
But, there is no immediate threat. "There is no armed activity in Mumbai at the moment and the Maoists have kept their activities limited to propagating their ideology, setting up secret cells for frontal organisations and recruiting people,'' says a police sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The Maoists are trying to spread their movement among trade and labour unions, poor people and students. ...
While Mumbai may be safe for the moment, sources claim that the Maoists definitely have plans to take their war to other urban centres. The rebels, the sources add, have plans to strike in the industrial belts of Bhilai-Ranchi-Dhanbad-Calcutta and Mumbai-Pune-Surat-Ahmedabad to take their battle into the heart of India.