Saturday, February 27, 2010

Deadly Naxalites: Talk is cheap

Editorial Posted On Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How much value does the Indian State put on the lives of its soldiers and law-enforcers? Five attacks on security forces in 6 months, 52 jawans killed, scores injured and arms looted. On the flip side, only three crackdowns on Maoist dens, just three suspected guerrillas killed, 190 arrested of which 47 released to secure the freedom of 2 abducted officials. The latest being the capitulation by the Jharkhand Government Maoists to free 14 jailed Naxals in exchange for an abducted Block Development Officer underscores once again that we not only have no concrete plans to tackle Naxal violence, worse only talk big about terror. But do nothing. Forgetting, that talk is cheap!

Significantly, what once was only a peripheral threat to the Indian State has now reached a critical mass. According to Government sources, the insurgency, which started in 1967 as a peasant uprising, has now spread to 20 of India’s 28 states and 223 districts– and is showing no signs of exhaustion. A staggering 1524 people, more than three times the number killed by jihadis in Kashmir. According to official numbers Naxalite-Maoist violence had killed 1128 people by the end of June 2009. The death toll for 2008 was 1591.

Worse, as the vigour of the Reds grows from strength to strength becoming mightier and deadlier with each killing, the helplessness of the police and paramilitary forces is obvious. No less than PM Manmohan Singh recently confessed that the Naxals were the greatest security threat and said that security forces were failing to halt it. Exposing that the scales are tipped in favour of the Red brigade.

Not only that. Shockingly, the Naxals continue to cock a snook at Home Minister Chidabaram’s overtures to surrender arms, abjure violence and hold talks with the Government on any issues at a meeting with Chief Ministers of Maoist-infested West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa last month. Instead they rebutted his plea with another deadly attack.

Sadly, successive Governments at the Centre and States have missed the wood for the trees. Vacillating between a state of denial or are prone to passing the buck. While the States aver that central forces are not adequately trained or prepared to meet the Maoist challenge, the Centre counters by stating that law and order is a state subject. Sic. In this war of words, a helpless Manmohan Singh admitted that about 394,000 posts, about 20% per cent of the sanctioned posts in the State police forces are lying vacant.

The Maoist game plan, according to intelligence officers, is to physically occupy the countryside (swathes of land in 7 States have already slipped beyond State control) and surround the cities until they can force regime change. Simultaneously, they want to transmute the social structure through the barrel of the gun and are getting moral & material support from the Nepal, Pakistan’s ISI and China. Their ambition is to have a ‘red corridor’ from Pashupati to Tirupati.

According to the Director of the Institute for Conflict Management “the forces do not have the strength in numbers, training, transportation and arms to gain control over such vast swaths of territory. Until there’s a steady capacity-building, all deployments will be irrational. It will just be a nibbling away at the peripheries, and a lot of security forces will be killed.”

Adds a CID official, it is high time the forces went for an “intelligence-backed guerrilla operation wherein one can beat guerrillas by fighting like a guerrilla. It’s an ideal situation for Cobra operation under the direct command and control of CRPF.” The Government needs to remember that nobody want to fight Naxals with a death band on forehead. "We do not want to perpetuate a situation like a civil war. A strong head, a stronger heart and staying power", is paramount he adds.

Arguably, if around 80% per cent of the police budget in all States is used for salaries, allowances and pensions, the only way to ensure proper training is to up the budgets earmarked for infrastructure and training. Look at two absurdities. The national average of the police-population ratio is about 1.3 policemen per 10,000 citizens. Yet in Bihar, a Naxal-prone State, the ratio of policemen to the public per 10,000 is a meagre 0.9 i.e hardly one policeman for 10,000 people.

Against the backdrop, that the Maoists work along a specific asymmetrical terrain and use the tactic of ‘moving among people as a fish swims in the sea’. The need of the hour is effective police response, effective intelligence gathering, impart quality training in jungle and guerrilla warfare, ensuring that a policeman always retains his weapons, increasing the financial allocation for anti-Naxal operations and a multi-pronged strategy with an emphasis on socio-economic development.

There is an urgent need for the badly-affected States to undertake joint operations and set up joint unified commands for continuous monitoring of the arms profile of various Naxal groups, as the Home Minister highlighted during his meeting with the CMs. Urgently needed along with this, is identification of sources and networks, coordinated intelligence gathering, and a well-equipped police force, if this grave security threat is to be combated.

Along with tackling the lacunae in the Naxal’s ideological framework and simultaneously launch a political offensive with a humanistic vision. Two, the distortions in the social system need to be dealt with on a war footing, to alleviate poverty, ensure speedy development and enforce law and order strictly. Three, take up land reforms with a fresh revolutionary zeal and approach. Look at the present dichotomy. With a majority of India’s population engaged in agricultural pursuits, one would expect the tillers to be rich. Instead, they are not only poor but continue to be at the mercy of the rich landlords.

A counter strategy is also required for the urban locations where sympathy for the Naxal cause has been gathering momentum for some time and finding some resonance. New Delhi fails to realize that normal deterrence doesn’t work against a faceless and fearless enemy who has no borders and no scruples. When the State’s existence is in peril, the only way to hit back is to carry the fight into the enemy camp effectively. It is not enough to assert ‘we have might and muscle. One has to display that power. Which doctor will want to go back to an area, or such areas where there is a threat to life, family.

What next? Much will depend upon the Government’s willingness to acknowledge without any sugar-coating that India is ensnared in the vicious grip of terror. Already prolonged inaction has proved much too costly. The Centre may have to launch major offensives to drive home the message that terror is not a zero-sum game and that India has no use for a live terrorist. A long and arduous battle lies ahead. Success will depend not only on the dedication and devotion of the ground forces but also on the commitment of our polity to eradicate this scourge. All need to remember that failure can exact an unacceptable cost!
Poonam I Kaushish, -INFA

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