Friday, April 16, 2010

Massacre pushes Maoists to top of Indian agenda

By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Published: April 16 2010 03:00 | Last updated: April 16 2010 03:00

Indian security chiefs are testing unmanned aerial surveillance drones - made by US-based Honeywell International - for potential use in the battle against Maoist guerrillas, who killed 76 paramilitaries in an ambush last week .

The demonstrations, carried out this week in the central state of Chhattisgarh, came amid a heated parliamentary debate - and the eruption of disputes within the ruling Congress party - over how India should respond to the Maoist rebels, who now control territory in remote tribal areas.

"This battle can't be fought half-heartedly," Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata party, told India's upper house of Parliament. "We can't afford to do that. This battle has to be won."

The massacre last week of 76 Central Reserve Police Force troops - the highest toll inflicted on Indian security personnel in a single incident - has propelled the conflict to the top of New Delhi's agenda.

P. Chidambaram, the interior minister, is seeking greater air power to support efforts by state police and paramilitary forces against the well-trained and highly-motivated militants.

The drone tested this week - Honeywell's T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicle - weighs just 17lbs, can be carried into the jungle and then can hover at 10,000ft for 50 minutes, streaming images to forces on the ground.

But within the Congress party, some leaders feel that defeating the Maoists will depend on reaching out to alienated tribal people, who support the guerrillas.

Tensions spilled over this week when Digvijay Singh, a party leader, criticised Mr Chidambaram.

"He is treating [this] purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals," Mr Singh wrote in a newspaper column. "We can't solve this problem by ignoring the hopes and aspirations of the people living in these areas."

The BJP has seized on the divisions within the ruling party, warning yesterday that the Maoists could be just a few years away from encircling cities.

"Unless there is a complete unanimity of purpose," warned Yashwant Sinha, a BJP parliament member, "we will not win this war."

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