In yet another attack by Maoists in Maharashtra, 15 security personnel and a civilian were killed in an explosion in Gadchiroli on Wednesday.
According to media reports, the insurgents set off an improvised explosive device as a police unit was on its way to Kurkheda, about 60 km from Gadchiroli, where Maoists had burnt 26 vehicles attached to a road-construction crew a few hours earlier. Police officials claimed that this could have been a remote controlled explosion, something unusual in Maoist attacks.
The attack comes at a time that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has made national security its main election plank in the Lok Sabha election campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not missed an opportunity to paint the Opposition as being weak on ensuring the security of citizens. He has consistently brought up the Balakot air attacks on Pakistan in February as one of his government’s major achievements.
However, Wednesday’s attack indicates that India’s security machinery is not as robust as Modi claims it is. The first intelligence warning about the Gadchiroli attacks came as early as on March 21, India Today reported. There were at least 13 inputs after that, the latest of which came just two days before the explosions.
As it did with the horrific attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama in Feburary that left 40 security personnel dead, the BJP has refused to take any responsibility for the tragedy. Its leaders have merely issued routine messages of condemnation and promising revenge. On prime time, most television channels gave scant attention to the Gadchiroli attacks, choosing instead to discuss the decision the same day of the United Nations to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
It is obvious that India’s national security does not merely involved threats from Pakistan. The Gadchiroli attack makes it clear that Maoists continue to pose a significant challenge to the country’s internal security. Given their opposition to the Indian state, election season has been a time of heightened activity as the insurgents attempt to intimidate voters to stay away from the poll booth. The night before the Gadchiroli attacks, police claimed that at least 200 Maoists had held a meeting, after which they torched several vehicles in the area. The blast that followed points to criminal complacency on part of the establishment.
Instead of tackling the challenge head-on, the ruling party has used the Maoist threat as a pretext to prosecute social activists and human rights lawyers, painting them as “anti-nationals” and even suggesting last year that they were involved in a plot to assassinate the prime minister.
Given that Modi is using national security as his main poll plank, it is his duty to explain to India why the intelligence inputs about the Gadchiroli attack were ignored, leading to the deaths of 16 people.