After Maoist rebels mounted their deadliest attack on Indian security forces, authorities are cautioning against expecting quick results in a government offensive to stem the rebellion. The ambush, which killed 75 paramilitary troops, has raised questions about the effectiveness of the anti-Maoist operation.
After attending a ceremony to honor paramilitary troops killed by Maoist rebels in Chattisgarh state, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said instant success is not possible in the offensive to root out the guerrillas.
"We are paying a price for the neglect of the last 10-12 years," he said. "This will be a long drawn out struggle. It will take two to three years. But we must hold our nerve, we must remain on course."
Tuesday's attack in Chattisgarh's Dantewada district is the deadliest since the Maoist rebels began their armed insurgency, some 30 years ago.
Officials have described the ambush as a multi-stage operation in which the rebels first attacked a patrol and then triggered blasts and sprayed gunfire on the reinforcements which went in. The rebels then seized their weapons and disappeared into the forests. A few soldiers who survived said they were completely outnumbered by the rebels.
Home Minister Chidambaram has vowed that the "state" will fight back.
"It is the Naxalites who described the state as the enemy, and the conflict as a war," he said. "If this is a war, and I wish to say that we have never used that word, it is a war that has been thrust upon the state by those who do not have the legitimate right to carry weapons."
The deadly strike has brought the government under pressure to scale up the anti Maoist offensive, which started six months ago, and redraw its strategy to tackle the rebellion. Newspapers carried headlines "Nation under Siege" and "It's War."
The opposition has called on authorities to deploy the army to fight the rebels who have bases in remote and forested areas in several states.
However, the home minister has ruled out deploying the military against the insurgents, but says the government might consider using the air force for some operations.
At the moment police and paramilitary troops are fighting the Maoists, but analysts say they are ill equipped, poorly trained and too small in number to tackle the rebels.
As a result, many analysts remain skeptical of progress, pointing out that the Maoists are well entrenched across vast, remote areas in eastern and central states where there is virtually no government presence.
"The reality is the government does not in fact have the capacity to dominate the spaces they will have to dominate if they are to deal with the Maoists effectively in any enduring sense," said Ajay Sahni, who heads the Institute of Conflict Studies in New Delhi.
The guerrillas have stepped up attacks targeting security forces in response to the government offensive.
The Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of the poor, are winning most of their support from underdeveloped areas in the country, where millions still struggle in poverty despite the country's economic progress.