Sunday, April 11, 2010

Focus on choking the radicals’ lifeline

Debdas ThakurFirst Published : 12 Apr 2010 11:11:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 12 Apr 2010 12:02:50 AM IST

Sidharth Shankar Ray tried it through Operation Steeplechase. Jyoti Basu, as home minister, followed it up but failed. Now P Chidambaram has vowed to do it through Operation Green Hunt. As the Maoists scripted their bloodiest attack in the jungles of Dantewada, the government is red-faced. K P S Gill, former advisor to the Chhattisgarh government, where the casualty has been maximum in the past two years, has called the operation flawed from inception. In fact he has gone on record about the authorities’ sincerity and, as the story goes, how he was advised by senior officials in that state to ‘relax and enjoy’ instead of making strategic plans.
Dantewada is the latest hotbed of leftwing extremism and a proven safe haven despite Salwa Judum. That is the place where the Raman Singh government pushed through its Bush doctrine — if you are not with the government, you are with the Maoists while Gill, time and again, pointed out lack of coordination and preparedness. That a whole company of CRPF can be sitting ducks of the equally badly trained Naxalites will take time to sink in. No lesson has been learnt from past mistakes to deal with the guerrilla squads of the Naxalites. For the government, the forces are just cannon fodder. It happened in West Bengal sometime ago, in Orissa on April 4 and now in Dantewada in the most brutal way.

The Centre has not taken the cue from the effective Andhra Pradesh model. The guerrilla squads not only crumbled under the Greyhounds, they shifted base to Orissa and Chhattisgarh. But then till 1991 the state governments dealt with the movement separately. A task force was set up and the chief ministers and top cops of the affected states kept meeting regularly to hammer out a concerted strategy. But the basic thing has not changed.

There is already a big question mark on Operation Green Hunt and the forces’ preparedness to take on the Naxals. History has shown the movement, eliminated at one place, has grown at another. From Operation Steeplechase in the Seventies to Operation Green Hunt, the war against Naxalites has become more vicious, hi-tech and almost an obsession with the powers-that-be. Kishenji’s latest daydreaming that their power will flow in full bloom in the corridors of Delhi by 2050, has only added to the battle of nerves. In desperation and to defocus the forces from their flushing out operation, the Maoists chose softer targets and then struck in a big way in Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Revolution does not move in a straight line. When Sidharth Shankar Ray was West Bengal CM, his men went after the Naxalites and decimated the movement, almost. Soon it rose from the ashes and spread to new areas. During Emergency with all tall leaders in jail, the movement was on the wane. Post-Emergency the radicals regrouped into a ferocious outfit holding sway in several states. The latest attempt by P Chidambaram aims at snatching back the red corridor and then unleashing a development offensive to win the tribals’ hearts. The government apparently does not think in terms of choking the rebels’ lifeline instead of taking them on in deep jungles. Naxals draw sustenance from two sources — tribals and arms from illegal factories in the country and abroad.

What is more disturbing is, these outfits have in turn direct or tacit contact with Pakistan’s ISI or Bangladesh’s equally notorious NSE. As intelligence reveals, the major inflow of arms makes its way from the Yunnan province in China via Myanmar. The PLA of Manipur, NSCN of Nagaland and the Maoists rely on this Chinese arsenal. China, not the government in Beijing, supplies machine guns to hi-tech command equipment. Chinese copies of the M16 or Kalashnikovs are lethal and cheaper.
What makes the smuggling easier is the agreement wherein bona fide Indians and Myanmarese are allowed 40 km both sides for trade for a specific time. In the past there have been enough indications of renegade Sri Lankan Tigers training the Maoists in developing and setting mines. Support for the Maoists has also come from retired army personnel as recently reiterated by the government for the second time after the 2006 review meeting. In essence the Maoists have lethal firepower from rocket launchers to wireless scanners to intercept messages from the security forces. They also have an elaborate command structure like the Indian Army.

The CPI (Maoists) after its merger of all major outfits has developed a squad between 10,000 of 25,000 and is patterned on the Indian Army. At the top, it has a central military commission with five regional bureaux. Each bureau in turn has zonal military commission responsible to oversee operations. Then comes the people’s militia which indulge in sporadic violence. The Maoists have at least 80 training camps, each capable of training 300 radicals at a time. Militarily well-equipped, the Maoists indeed pose a bigger challenge to the security forces than perceived. They eye mining areas, SEZs, hijack trains or attack jails and even dictate economic blockade for days causing immense loss. Taking advantage of villagers’ disillusionment with the system, they can create a Lalgarh anywhere or fuel a situation.

Of late, the Centre has woken up to the need for a coordinated strategy to take on the Maoists militarily The government has not been able to make good use of the deep divisions between the hardcore elements who swear by guerrilla operations and fringe groups that still think of a middle path. Rather than the Raman Singh’s Bush doctrine that pitted tribals against tribals, the Centre must choke the radicals’ lifeline.

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