SEVERAL TIMES A MONTH ACROSS central and eastern India, thousands of troopers, deployed in hundreds of fortified camps, arm themselves with assault rifles, grenades, rocket launchers and cheap jogging sneakers, and set out on ‘Operations’ to find and kill a guerilla army that has no territory to hold, no fixed military or civilian installations to defend, and no interest in engaging in military confrontations unless the odds are overwhelmingly in their favour.
The troopers may march for days through the trackless jungle without drawing fire; the forests and rolling hills of south Chhattisgarh are dense enough for armed companies to cross each other unnoticed. The encounters between Indian security forces and guerillas of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) invariably occur along the horizons of their separate worlds: on the outskirts of villages where Maoists hold meetings, or along the narrow broken roads as troopers move from one barricaded police camp to another.
I witnessed the potency of the Maoist war machine soon after I arrived in Chhattisgarh in 2010 as a reporter for The Hindu. In April that year, I stood in a field in Tarmetla, in Dantewada district, amidst the bloodstained debris—uniforms, bullet casings and unexploded grenades—scattered in the course of an ambush in which about 300 Maoists killed 76 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a matter of hours.