Friday, November 13, 2009

Tribal Bastar prepares for war

Neelesh Misra, Hindustan Times
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Bijapur (Chhattisgarh), November 13, 2009
First Published: 00:32 IST(13/11/2009)
Last Updated: 21:01 IST(13/11/2009)

Roadside photo studios are crammed with fearful villagers desperate to make ID cards. Soldiers getting off trains are being ushered into classrooms to learn tribal customs. Politicians are uniting.

Bastar is preparing for war.

In a turning point in the government’s approach to the 42-year-old Maoist insurgency, a nationally-coordinated, multi-state conglomerate of different military units will soon begin to elbow its way into rebel strongholds where governance doesn’t exist and few policemen have gone before.

“It is a retrievable war. It has not gone beyond repair,” Vijay Raman, national commander of the operation, told the Hindustan Times.

The challenges for security forces deep inside Chhattisgarh’s southern Bastar region, not well understood outside, make the present situation in the Kashmir Valley seem to some security officials like Disneyland.

Bastar, 10 times the size of Kashmir Valley, includes the Maoists’ liberated zone — the sprawling, out-of-bounds 4,000 sq km expanse called Abujhmarh (the unknown forest).

The swift spread of the Naxalite movement here is also a reflection of the deep angst of the lands — India’s richest in minerals, home to its poorest people — a sharp-edged conflict between the New India and the Other India.

So the government says the military offensive will be followed by aggressive development efforts.

Spearheaded by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the government is about to begin its first-ever nationally coordinated offensive across several states against Maoists. For now, around 60,000 soldiers and policemen will slug it out in the Amazon-like jungles of Chhatt-isgarh, more coming in over the next five years and beyond.

In a first, security forces have not asked for the implementation of the Armed Forces Spe-cial Powers Act — a tough law that allows for ease in searches, raids and detention. The law has been blamed for widespread human rights violations in Kashmir and the Northeast.

“Five years,” said Vishwa Ranjan, Chhattisgarh’s director-general of police. “In five years, they will have to leave this area.”

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