Thursday, July 23, 2009

Comment: Fight Smarter

23 July 2009, 12:00am IST

As a genuine security threat, the CPI (Maoist)'s warning to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and home minister P
Chidambaram, is irrelevant. In a perverse way, however, it is an indicator that the Centre is heading in the right direction with its anti-Naxal surge. With the strengthening of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the establishment of task forces and the roping in of the army, Chidambaram seems to be demonstrating however overdue it may be that New Delhi means business. However, the fundamental gap between the government's stated intention and its capabilities that has existed thus far cannot be bridged simply by throwing more people at the problem, although this would help. The administration at both the central and state levels must fight smarter, not merely harder.

It bears remembering that Naxal violence has, over the past few years, been hitting the state harder than the problems in Kashmir and the north-east. With close to a hundred training camps, a sophisticated command structure and substantial manpower, the CPI (Maoist) is no ragtag opponent. Given that the standard operating procedures employed by the police and CRPF have patently been ineffective, the army's involvement has now become necessary as far as imparting specialised training and serving in an advisory capacity go. But it would be inadvisable to mire it in another internal security situation. The home ministry's proposal to have army cantonments in Naxal-affected areas is problematic in this regard. A compromise must be reached between Chidambaram and defence minister A K Antony that sees the anti-Naxal surge receive the army support it needs without the creeping militarisation of the affected regions.

In the long run, however, the cornerstone of the Centre's anti-Naxal efforts must be a focus on improved governance. Without depriving the CPI (Maoist) of the groundswell of support it enjoys in various regions, an armed response will achieve little. Exploited tribal populations outside the ambit of economic growth, poor infrastructure and failed state delivery mechanisms are the common denominator wherever the Naxal movement enjoys the most widespread support. An unstructured approach to dealing with these issues with the Centre passing the buck to the states will not suffice. A coordinated response is necessary.

Singh and Chidambaram have both spoken at length about the severity of the Naxal threat. Now, they must show that they mean to effect a nuanced response. If insurgency is to be defeated, the Naxals must first be isolated. And the only way that will be achieved is if the central and state governments demonstrate their will to shape a truly democratic space in the Naxal heartlands.

No comments: