Monday, July 20, 2009

Capacity to lead

The Indian Express
Sawarmal Sharma, Chhattisgarh

: Monday , Jul 20, 2009 at 2330 hrs

It has long been evident that we are fighting the Naxals on the cheap. But when the president of the Orissa Havildar and Constable Federation, Sawarmal Sharma, says it — pointing fingers at superior officers as well as the state administration — it still has the power to shock. Of particular import is Sharma’s charge that senior officers are not leading from the front, leaving lowly constables and havildars to patrol mine-infested areas in the heat, fire at encircling Naxal hordes, and die a gory death. It is inaccurate, even unfair, to accuse all senior officers of ‘sitting in AC chambers’. Many of them lead from the front, as did senior IPS officer Vinod Kumar Choubey, who was killed in Chhattisgarh last week. That day, 29 subordinate personnel were also killed by Naxals. Sharma’s intervention is significant for the anguish it carries against a sense of complacency in this country over the rising toll of police lives being extracted in the fight against left-wing extremism.

Sawarmal Sharma was provoked by the recent killing of an Orissa sub-inspector by Naxalites. Fearing ambush and lacking helicopters, the police reclaimed his body only a full day later. But it would be a mistake to dismiss Sharma’s comments as a heat-of-the-moment outburst, or worse, an act of insubordination. For he is also calling for deeper changes in the way Orissa takes on the Naxals. Sharma demands that the Orissa chief minister buy helicopters and allocate more money, the state anti-Maoist headquarters move from capital Bhubaneswar to Naxal-dominated areas, a pan-state coordinated anti-Naxal strategy be planned, and Andhra Pradesh’s success be emulated. These are sensible ideas and they are not new. This newspaper, for instance, has for long advocated them. But Sharma represents the ill-paid, overworked security personnel who man the trenches in this ghastly war. His warning cry must be taken that much more seriously.

That the state is Orissa is not a coincidence. When entire mines are stormed and police swatted like flies, the chief minister hesitates lest he is seen to be too draconian. Which brings us to Sharma’s final suggestion: that Orissa “should copy the Andhra Pradesh style of fighting the rebels” — that is, a dedicated anti-Naxal force, better funds, and enhanced intelligence-gathering. Orissa has so far been unresponsive to calls for course correction. It is hoped that these voices, from deep within the battle-zone, will jolt it into action.

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