Friday, June 19, 2009

Why is India scared to take on Maoist rebels?

Source: Deccan Chronicle, India
June 19th, 2009
By Joginder Singh

Several states, like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, are facing terrible internal insurgency by Naxals and Maoists, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as the “biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”.

The Naxals and Maoists have gone on many killing sprees, targeting policemen, using bullets, landmines and bombs looted from the police itself in almost all the above mentioned states. In fact in the last two months, at least 112 security personnel have been killed in Naxal attacks in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.

About 162 security personnel were killed in 2009, till May 31, in attacks by Naxals. The toll in Naxal-related violence was 231 in 2008. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a clear government strategy or policy to deal with the Naxal problem. Depending on the political exigencies, political parties sing different tunes. During elections, all parties woo everybody, including the devils, whether they be Maoists or Naxals, for the sake of votes.

In 1863, at the time of framing the present laws, nobody could foresee the grave problems posed by Naxals and Maoists in our country, or envision areas where the writ of the government would not run. The law requires that there should be independent witnesses to any Naxal or Maoist killings, even in thick forest areas and places where people are in mortal fear of losing their lives and won’t dare step outside their homes. Where then do you get intelligence or witnesses who would have the guts to come to court for years, depose and stand cross-examination? How can you gather any intelligence when even armed security personnel are killed in large numbers every week?

Our present laws are not only wholly inadequate to deal with this, but are also not enforceable. In fact, there is no law to deal with Naxals and Maoists, or the types of crimes committed by them.

There have been reports of Naxals trying to kill former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N. Chandrababu Naidu and the present chief minister of West Bengal. A Maoist leader is reported to have said, “We wanted to give the death sentence to Buddhadeb Babu because the people of Bengal demanded he be hanged”. He was referring to a landmine blast near the chief minister’s convoy in November 2008.

The Lalgarh area in West Bengal reportedly looks like a “liberated zone” where the state government’s writ does not run. The Maoists and the tribals’ People’s Committee seem to be calling all the shots as police camps in Belatkri, Dharampur and Koima, and an outpost at Ramgarh, have been abandoned. Even a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) contingent was forced by the tribals to return to base.

The argument that a law aimed at Naxals would not stop their activities is both outrageous and puerile. Laws exist against rapes, murders, dacoities, dowries and rash driving, but none of these crimes have stopped. So should we not have criminal laws against these crimes? Should the law ignore criminal elements who are playing hell with the country?

It would be good practice if those dealing with the drafting of laws in the law and home ministries are deputed, at least for one month, to live in Naxal and Maoist-infested areas so that they can have a clear perception of the ground situation. Naxalism and Maoism look different on paper in the safe and air-conditioned environment of New Delhi’s North and South Blocks.

Whenever there is talk of a tough law, a bogey of violation of human rights of the Maoists, Naxalites and other terrorists groups is raised. The result is that laws are not only diluted but are made outlandish. People who are out to kill innocent civilians and are ruthless cannot be controlled by sermons on human rights violations or be tackled with kid gloves.

The Central government says that fighting such elements is the responsibility of the states, but unfortunately the states have neither the money, the weaponry, a trained force, nor the wherewithal of electronic surveillance. States religiously and fanatically safeguard their turf and boundaries, whereas terrorists and insurgents groups do not respect boundaries.

A Maoist or a Naxalite is a guerrilla enemy. The Central government is setting up National Security Guards (NSG) hubs all over the country to promptly respond to terrorism, but no need for a strategy has been felt by it to fight the Maoist threat or even to train state police forces to deal with it.

Whenever there is any killing of policemen at the hands of terrorists or Maoists, not a tear is shed. The standard excuse given by the so-called intellectuals is that it was either due to the problem of unemployment, or poverty, or that it was an agrarian problem. They never call any problem by its simple, direct name. Nobody denies that there is dire poverty and unemployment in the country. But skewed movements like Naxalism and Maoism make it impossible for such problems to be solved.

Who will invest in an industry or any other enterprise, or build roads in an area where there is no safety or security. Whether we like it not, if we are to survive and thrive as a nation, we have to make war on all disruptive movements, including Naxalism, and Maoists, so that people may live in peace. The new Central government has its first-100-days plans in every area. If there is one to fight Naxals and Maoists, its impact is yet to be felt. Good intentions are not enough. They have to be translated into action on the ground. The government must act, and act quickly, before the situation goes from bad to worse and then completely out of hand. It is time to say goodbye to the policy of “willing to wound, but afraid to strike”.

* Joginder Singh is a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation

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