Wednesday, May 10, 2006


by Swati Parashar

Even as a desperate Central Government in India sanctioned nine more reserve battalions to states battling Maoists, Naxals abducted 52 villagers of Dantewada district in the state of Chhattisgarh and killed 13 hostages. The villagers of Manikonta spotted two bodies and informed the police. Four days after police failed to trace villagers abducted by Naxalites, a search party on April 29, found the bodies of 13 of the 52 hostages, within hours of the Naxals releasing 35 tribals.

The Anti-Naxal Movement
All the abducted villagers were part of the anti-Naxalite 'Salwa Judum' (Peace Campaign) movement in Chhattisgarh. The ruling as well as the main opposition party in the state supports the ‘Salwa Judum’ movement. The essence of ‘Sadwa Judum’ is to involve active participation of the local tribal population with the security forces and local administration in fighting the growing specter of violent Naxal activities. The state government has offered the position of Special Police Officer (SPO) to some participants of ‘Salwa Judum’ along with firearm and a monthly salary. As the Maoists began retaliating against those participating in the movement, nearly 45,000 local tribals from more than 640 villages in South Bastar abandoned their homes and took shelter in the relief camps opened by the state government. Subsequently, the Naxalites also began attacking these relief camps targeting villagers, who were actively involved in the 'Salwa Judum' campaign.

The timing of the Dantewada attack is very pertinent as last month, March 2006, the Chhattisgarh government passed what human rights activists in India and abroad deplored as draconian measures to put an end to the insurgency. Those measures include hefty jail terms for peaceful protesters and for people who aid the rebels, even if it is at gunpoint. The Naxal Movement spread across huge swathes of southern, central and eastern India - has killed nearly 150 people, mostly civilians, in Chhattisgarh since January 2006, including the latest fatalities in Dantewada.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency as the single biggest internal security threat ever faced by the country at the second meeting of the standing committee of the Naxal-affected states in New Delhi on April 13, 2006. He admitted that parts of 160 districts across the country were slipping out of government control. The problem, which has for long been dismissed as a socio-economic issue, is now being seen as a security matter. With the Naxals running parallel governments in their controlled areas and an upsurge in violence lately, it is pertinent to look at some of the factors behind the Naxal success story in Chhattisgarh.

Callousness of the Administration

Many villagers in Chhattisgarh are staying in relief camps because the state government cannot assure their security and safety in their villages. These relief camps are supposedly safer due to police and security forces’ protection. However, the attacks on such relief camps itself have increased over the period of last few months. The villagers of Dantewada, when abducted, had left the relief camp and gone to their own village to check if their houses and other belongings in the village were safe and to collect food grain. This raises the question about the kind of logistics planning undertaken to set up a relief camp when the inmates have to go out and collect their own food grain. The kind of security arrangements in place for protecting the inmates in the relief camps also needs to be scrutinised. The Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh, was in Bastar the same day when Naxalites massacred the 13 people of Dantewada after holding 52 people captive for over 4 days. He was setting up the Bastar Development Authority when the innocent people were being butchered cold bloodedly. For four days the administration and police were clueless about the hostages. Would the state machinery have responded in the similar callous manner if a kin of the rich and influential had been held hostage?

Failure of Police Intelligence

The entire intelligence community in Chhattisgarh, the latest hotbed of Naxal violence, has failed to gather effective intelligence on the Naxalites in their state. Contrary to this the Naxalites have virtually been under ground in Andhra Pradesh and they have not been able to mount any serious attack within Andhra Pradesh. The magnitude, lethality and number of fatalities in the last few months clearly demonstrate the extent of Naxal presence and violence across Chhattisgarh. Yet the police have not been able to gather effective intelligence to prevent these attacks. Furthermore the police forces have been unable to launch a major counter offensive against the Naxals. The absence of effective police intelligence has not only caused the death of many poor innocent villagers but also the loss of many police and security personnel working at the ground level. An outright revolt in the police forces is not unlikely, as some sources reveal.

The Chhattisgarh government has recently appointed the famous K.P.S. Gill, former Police Chief of Punjab, credited with curbing Punjab insurgency, as it’s security advisor. One should hope that Mr. Gill’s experiences during the Punjab counter- insurgency would allow him to lead the anti-naxal operations with more effectiveness. However, taking stock of the state's resources to take on the Naxals, Mr. Gill has found out that the police force in Chhattisgarh has around 4,000 vacancies, half of it in the eight districts worst affected by the Naxalite violence. In Punjab , when Gill was fighting terrorism, he had two army divisions, 85 CRPF battalions and a large number of state police personnel at his disposal against some 2,500 terrorists. The contrast is bound to worry him about his new job!

The Innocuous Naxal Sympathisers

A group of prominent citizens from several Non Governmental Organisations has formed a core group of Naxal sympathisers. These high profile human rights activists have highjacked the media space in denouncing the state government and the security forces for their actions against Naxalites. These innocuous Naxal sympathisers have formed citizen committees to undertake fact-finding and assessment tours in Chhattisgarh to barrack against “Salwa Judum”. The same group of people has moved all possible avenues nationally or even internationally against the Chhattisgarh Special People's Security Ordinance directed against Naxal violence. Sadly, these prominent citizens find it extremely hard to either denounce the violence unleashed by the Naxals or use their influence to force the Naxals to give up violence. These sympathisers never even consider the deadly and dangerous task the security forces are up against in fighting against the Naxalites. The number of innocent villagers losing their lives for the sake of Naxal cause also never factors in their analyses and assessment.

What more does the State Government want?

More central government funds, more central Para military forces, more advanced weaponry, more draconian laws, more highly publicised meetings etc.; the wish list of the state government is endless. However, the ineffectual dealing by the state government in Chhattisgarh has only resulted in gruesome massacres of either poor innocent tribal villagers or the lower ranked police and security personnel. The government efforts have been rendered so ineffectual that even the conference of collectors and superintendents of police, convened by the Chhattisgarh Government to take stock of the situation after the recent Naxal attacks, turned out to be an unmitigated farce.

Many of the villagers in Naxal affected Chhattisgarh have fled their homes and have been accommodated in government-run relief camps, which are already overflowing with refugees and lack basic amenities. The police stations are located in far-flung areas with un-motorable roads and without telephone facilities or vehicles. They also lack basic facilities, like barracks and toilets, and the necessary manpower to deal with the Naxal threat. Inquiry by the intelligence agencies and police has revealed that in the Naxal stronghold areas, several senior officials of the District Administration have completely surrendered to the Naxals. The State has utterly withered away with Naxals running their own parallel government in the areas under their control. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel visible at this moment. Unless the extent of the Naxal menace is recognised and proportionate responses are articulated and implemented, this problem is far from being rooted out.

(Swati Parashar is a Visiting Research Analyst with the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, (IDSS), NTU, Singapore. She can be contacted at

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