The wages of being a soft State are coming home to roost. Instead of being defensive, as the Governments usually are, in dealing with Naxalites or other terrorists problems, the Maosits or Naxalites, by whatever name we may choose to call them, have started unprovoked coutner offensive against the forces fighting them.
In the jargon of Maosits, action such as the one in Shilda, West Bengal, which led to the merciless and brual killings of the policemen, are claimed to be a part of “tactical counter offensive campaign”.
Despite the campaign against Maoists, obviously, they have the capabilities, to organise such an operation. The sole purpose of Naxalite action is, not only, to demoralise the police force, but also tie them up, for securing their own locations, headquarters, and guard their equipments.
In the 2009 operations, by the Naxalites in West Bengal and other areas, in the period between April 6 and June 12, 112 Policemen were killed.
The problem of Maoists and Naxalites, is not insurmountable.The difficulty lies, in not having a long term policy to deal with the problem. Within days of killing over 25 persons in West Bengal, Maoists have killed 11 persons in village Kosari of Bihar, in the third week of February, 2010. The killing involved over a 100 Maoists, who blew up the houses, with dynamite. This is apart from another 25 person, who have been admitted with either burn or gun shot injuries.
The perception and approach, of the politicians in the States, is different, from what the Centre or the rest of the country feels. The Bihar Chief Minister has reportedly said;” I oppose to the use of force against Maoists. Development and democracy at the grass roots is the only way to tackle the Maosits. One only wishes that if were true. There is no substitute for peace, whether it comes by gun or talks or by abject surrender.
Unfortunately, bending before the gun power, has become an accepted law and tradition, in our country. It started with the release of the then Home Minister, Mufti’s daughter who was kidnapped, by Pakistani terrorists, in 1989 with the help of the local people.
After this there has been no looking back by the terrorists, who have begun using hostages, as a lever, to get their colleagues or friends, or sympathisers released.
For getting a Station House officer released, West Bengal Government in 2008, facilitated the release of some people at Maoists commands. Maoists beheaded a Police Inspector in Jharkhand, after kidnapping him, in 2009. Now they have kidnapped A Block Development Officer in Jharkhand and the Chief Minister of the State has again abjectly surrendered agreeing to a swap deal, of releasing 14 Maoists to get the official released.
The grave situation is reflected by the following intelligence and other reports, which reveal that, as many as 455 people (255 civilians and 200 security personnel) had been killed in Naxal violence in 2009 (till June-end, and the killings continue), as per the Union Home Ministry.
The Naxal-infested States of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand accounted for 60 per cent of the total deaths in the country in this period. The figures also reveal, that Chhattisgarh State is worst-hit, by Naxal violence. In the last three years, the State had topped the list. In 2008, 242 of the total 721 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from the State. In 2007, 369 out of 1,565 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from Chhattisgarh, and in 2006, 388 out of 678 deaths.
The brazenness with which the Naxals carried out one of their biggest attacks killing at least 36 policemen, including a Superintendent of Police, in Chhattisgarh in second week of July 2009, has shaken the security establishment. The Prime Minister has described the Naxalite problem as ‘the single largest threat to India’.
Admitting the enormity of the problem, the Union Home Minister in February, 2010 said; “The Naxal
menace was far worse than we (the government) expected. As long as we didn’t engage them, they were happy, but they kept on expanding their base. They will continue to expand unless we challenge them”. Maoists will try, every trick, in the book, to gain support among the peo-ple. “They will seduce the media, unleash false charges and widen their circle of influence. Most people think mere is a compromise or a mid-way approach. That is most naive. The most difficult challenge is finding well-trained and well-equipped police personnel… For doing all this (anti-Naxal operations, other counter-insurgency measures), one needs a strong head, a stronger heart and staying power”. It is a difficult period on many issues. We have been in a state of denial. This makes my task (as Home Minister) although more difficult. “There are 300,000 vacan-cies in the constabulary, vacancies in the IPS. The police suffers from poor equipment, poor training and their average age is rising to 40. This has been a cumulative effect in the test 20 years and the situation cannot be changed in two years.
The band aid type of solutions, and adhocism in dealing with kidnapping and bartering, one innocent and unarmed official to 14 hardened criminals is only vetting the appetite, of the Maoists.
Having tasted blood once, Naxalites would naturally, go in for more. By yielding to the demands, the State Governments, are playing into the hands of the terrorist, Naxalites and Maoists, who will find it, an easy way, to get their demands conceded.
By agreeing to negotiate with Naxalite groups, from a position of weakness, the State Government has only bolstered those who have used kidnapping as the means to gain their objectives. To this extent, all such state governments, which have done so, have abdicated their responsibility towards effective governance. Instead of developing the areas, which are in poor shape, this approach sends a message, to the officials, that it is unsafe to go to such places, or work there. The Government of India had a few years back adopted a doctrine of no negotiations with the terrorists, as a corner stone of its policy. Obviously, each State Government is singing its own tune.
No terrorist group would be in a mood to negotiate as long as it feels, that it is having, its way and is winning. It has been so in Punjab, Assam, and many other States. Bullet for bullet, has been the only way, all over the world, to deal with such elements. A message needs to go, that State has not abdicated and would not abdicated its authority in ensuring peace and security.
Negotiations, for the purpose of only surrendering, with Maosits groups, is a totally backward step and is against the decision taken by the Government of India, to fight Naxalism to the hilt. Moreover, negotiations only succeed, where the back of one party is broken. This is apart, from demoralising the security and police officials, who are fighting for life and death battle with such elements.
Further, what message of bending backward convey. On the one hand, we want foreign direct investment to flow into the country and are encouraging multinational companies to come here while at the same time, we let Naxalites, Maoists and Terrorists to have a field day.
Basic law and order is part of the infrastructure needed for investment and economic growth. How are business and industry going to grow when there are parts of the country you cannot travel because of fear of being attacked. Who will invest, by setting up industry or other enterprises, or build roads in an area, in which there is no safety or security. Whether we like it not, if we are survive and thrive as a nation, we have make wars on all disruptive movements, including Naxalism, so that we may live in peace. The will of the Central Government needs to be translated into action,as good intentions are enough.
If there is one to fight Naxalism and Maoism, its impact is still to be light. Good intentions are not enough. The Government better do it and do it quickly, before the situation goes from bad to worst and out of hand. The Government should firm on principles, but flexible on methods. In other words, adjusting to changing times and matters of style, swimming with the current is acceptable, but in matters of principles, the Government must stand like a rock.
Smile, for everyone lacks self-confidence and more than any other one thing a smile reassures them.
By Joginder Singh
(The author is former director, CBI)