Monday, October 10, 2005

The siege within


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MUMBAI: This danger is from within. As urban India is absorbed in discussing the modern face of trans-border terrorism, its other half — villages — is facing a siege that’s ‘home-made’. “Naxal violence is spreading like wild fire. The menace is much graver than what it appears,” a top security official who has worked in the Naxal-affected area told ET. “One-third of India is under the so-called Red Terror.”

According to the task force report on internal security, a committee formed after the Kargil war, about 45per cent of India’s geographical area, covering 220 districts, is in the grip of insurgency of some kind. Of this, nearly 160 districts are under Naxal attack. “It is not just the intensity, but the speed with which it is spreading that is alarming,” an official said. From 55 districts and nine states in October ‘03, Naxalite violence has spread to as many as 156 districts in 13 states in about a year’s time.

But a section of the government believes it is more widespread. Officially, the government of India acknowledges nine states as “Naxalite affected”. These are Bihar, Orissa, AP, MP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. However, a few CMs, at a meeting convened recently by Union home minister Shivraj Patil, have expressed their concern over the spread of Naxalite activities in newer areas other than the nine states classified as ‘Naxalite-affected’. These CMs have urged the Cente to take a fresh look at the issue. The said meeting also agreed to give more freedom to joint task forces appointed in June this year to cross state boundaries to curtail the impact of these ultras.

The list of those who present for the meeting highlights the gravity of the issue. Apart from Bihar governor Buta Singh, the CMs of Chhattisgarh, AP, Orissa, Karnataka, MP, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand attended the meeting along with home secretaries.

States like Karnataka, say the problem of extremism and Naxalism should not be seen in terms of the number of violent episodes or incidents that have occurred, but in a more anticipatory manner. It wanted the Centre to treat all states on par with the Naxalite-affected states in the matter of giving assistance.The home minister had to convene the meeting following intelligence reports of escalation in extremist violence in many parts of the country. The immediate provocation for the home ministry to undertake this exercise is the recent violence in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

About 15 people were gunned down in a Jharkhand village early this week. A fortnight earlier, a landmine blast near Bijapur in Chhattisgarh killed 24 policemen, including 22 from the Central Reserve Police Force. Informed sources said that it has been agreed that the two inter-state joint task forces constituted to gather and share tactical intelligence will undertake co-ordinated joint operations, including hot pursuit across state boundaries against the Naxal leaders and cadres.

“It is part of a grand strategy to make this corridor red,” a top cop from one of the central security agencies said. This Red Corridor runs through eastern Maharashtra, MP, eastern UP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar and establishes links with Maoist-held territories of Nepal.

“There is a major activity going on to link all ultra-left activists,” he said. The Maoist activists, who had re-grouped recently, had been planning to create a revolutionary zone from Kathmandu to Colombo and from Pakistan to Bangladesh through the length and breadth of India.

According to BJP MP Arun Shourie, who was in charge of the North East during the NDA regime, 13,000 civilians and 5,500 security personnel have been killed in Left- wing violence since 1989. Opposing the UPA’s move to extend an olive branch to the Naxals, the BJP MP, while speaking in Parliament recently, said: The compact revolutionary zone (from Nepal to AP) is very much a reality. Nepal shows the danger in which we are.”

“The issue becomes all the more complicated as there is a possibility of the Left-extremists joining hands with Islamic fundamentalists,” sources say. The Indian intelligence agencies have evidence to prove that the ISI is using Naxalites to traffic drugs and pump fake currency notes into India. In return, the ISI is providing them with sophisticated weaponry and the know-how to make and use improvised explosive devices. Seized weapons and ammunition bear witness to this evidence, an official said.

And like any other issue this one also has the political establishment divided. The BJP says that most of the states where Naxalite violence is on the rise, are being ruled by parties or alliances that are members of the UPA, a charge the Congress finds difficult to refute.

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