RAIPUR: The Indian army is moving into the conflict theatre of Bastar, arriving at the doorsteps of what is arguably the strongest military base of the CPI Maoist - not for combat, as yet, but ostensibly for training. "Manoeuvre ranges have been finalised in Narayanpur district where training will be given to our troops," confirmed a highly placed official in the army.
Significantly, the hundred square kilometres identified for training lie in the foothills of Abujhmad, a thickly forested plateau, straddling both Chattisgarh and Maharashtra, one of the only regions of India unsurveyed by the government, considered out of bound for the administration, entirely controlled by insurgents, and often described as a Maoist liberated zone.
While the army sought to emphasise that its plans are limited to training, and there will be no active troop deployment against the Maoist insurgency, sources in the security establishment said any training facility would necessitate logistical support. "This means the army would first secure the Kondagaon-Narayanpur axis, placing a large number of troops in a series of camps, before it moves inwards for the purpose of training, somewhere near Orcha in the foothills of Abujhmad" explained a senior official.
Since the Maoists ambushed and killed more than hundred CRPF men in Bastar this summer - incidentally one of the ambushes took place close to the proposed army training range - an intense debate has raged over whether at all the army should be drawn into anti-Maoist operations. For the record, the government has maintained that the army's role would be limited to training. The army itself has shown great reluctance for the job. But sources indicate the army has begun mapping the contours of the conflict, preparing itself for the eventuality of deployment, in case the government decides to declare Maoist affected territories as disturbed areas, like parts of the North East, or Jammu and Kashmir.
While one view is that the training range in Bastar will bring the army tantalisingly close to the Maoists, and hence could be part of future strategic positioning, another view is that the move is purely routine, linked to the army's needs. "Since the army's counter-insurgency training centre in Vairengte in Mizoram is under great pressure, the army has been scouting for training grounds in tropical forests, either in Orissa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh," said a security expert. Recently, the army also announced the setting up of a peace time station, called a sub area command, near Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, one of the few states where the army has no presence.
Whether strategic or routine, the army's move into Bastar would be significant, pointed out a retired army officer: "Look at this in the light of psychological warfare. It is like telling the Maoists, beware, the tiger is outside your den".