Kidnapping and hostage-taking are an old and proven strategy of the insurgents and terrorists. India’s tryst with such crisis situations is very old. Some high-profile cases in the past have left indelible impression on our counter-terror strategy and decision-making process.
In Jammu and Kashmir, during the height of militancy, Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the then Union Home Minister in VP Singh’s government, was kidnapped by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) terrorists on December 8, 1989. The JKLF demanded release of five of its terrorists interned in Srinagar jail. It was first major crisis for the nascent central government, which had come to power just a week ago. Despite resistance from State Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah central government conceded to the demands of JKLF and freed all five terrorists, including a Pakistani national. Rubaiya Sayeed was released from captivity on December 13.
It is widely believed that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed behaved more like a panic-stricken father than a Union Home Minister and forced the government’s hand in accepting the demands of the JKLF. In surcharged atmosphere of Kashmir Valley, it was taken as a sign of capitulation by Indian State. A dangerous precedent was set in.
On February 27, 1991, Nahida Soz, daughter of Saifuddin Soz, Member of Parliament from National Conference, later a union minister, was kidnapped from Srinagar and released on March 8 in exchange for five terrorists.
K Doraiswamy, Executive Director of Indian Oil in Kashmir, was kidnapped on June 28, 1991, from Srinagar by the cadres of Ikhwanul Musalmeen. Nine terrorists were freed to secure the release of the official.
In July 1995, a lesser known terror outfit Al-Faran (later metamorphosed into Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) abducted six foreign tourists from Pahalgam in South Kashmir demanding release of Maulana Masood Azhar (founder of dreaded terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad). Except for an American citizen who could escape from the captivity and a Norwegian whose beheaded body was recovered in August the same year, the other four remained untraced despite detailed search operations by security forces in South Kashmir mountains.
India was subjected to embarrassment and humiliation of worst kind when on December 24, 1999, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC 814 with 176 passengers on board from Nepal’s Tribhuwan International Airport. Terrorists demanded release of three dreaded terrorists—Maulana Masood Azhar, Omar Saeed Shaikh (later convicted in Wall Street Journal’s correspondent Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder) and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar lodged in Indian jails. Relatives of passengers on board the hijacked aircraft staged a melodramatic protest in New Delhi forcing the Atal Bihari Vajpaee’s government to hand over all terrorists to secure release of passengers and the aircraft. A union cabinet minister escorted the three terrorists in a chartered aircraft to Kabul and handed them over to Taliban.
Since late eighties, United Liberation Front of Asom and Bodo Liberation Front carried out large-scale kidnappings of businessmen, tea estate managers and government officials to establish a reign of terror. Prominent amongst the victims was first chief minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi’s son Bolin Bordoloi, regional manager of a tea company, who remained in the captivity of Bodo militants for 330 days. The official was released after a substantial ransom was paid to the militants. Extortion has been the main source of funds for militant outfits of Assam and the Northeast.
In all such situations, state and central governments acted in an ad hoc manner; mostly yielding to the demands of the militants. Such capitulations have exposed the weakness in our system. The governments do not have a policy to deal with such situations. Establishment’s response is mostly dictated by some precedence, possibility of a political backlash and public sentiments. Politicians dither in taking a principled stand against the coercion and blackmail and succumb to emotions and narrow public opinion.
In Naxal-affected areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh a few kidnappings have taken place in quick succession. The precursor to present crises dates back to February 16, 2011, when Odisha’s Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna and a junior engineer were kidnapped by Andhra Odisha Border Special Zone Committee (AOBSZC) of Maoists demanding release of Ganti Prasad Rao alias Prasadam a Maoist ideologue and other Naxals lodged in jails. Vineel Krishna was a well-meaning civil servant and quite popular among the tribals due to his sincerity and dedication. That worked in his favour and locals pressed for his release from captivity. After some negotiations the official was set free on February 22 by his captors. On February 23, Odisha High Court granted bail to Ganti Prasad Rao who was arrested on several charges including sedation and waging war on the state.
“NCTC IS NOT A STATE VS CENTRE ISSUE” —DR MANMOHAN SINGH, PRIME MINISTER
“I welcome you to this very important meeting on the very important issue of operationalising the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
As all of you know, we had initially intended to discuss this issue in the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security held on 16th April, 2012. But in view of the importance of the matter and concerns raised by some Chief Ministers, we have decided to have a meeting exclusively on this important subject. It’s my sincere hope that as a result of your deliberations today, we will make further progress in improving our counter-terrorism architecture and our operational and institutional capabilities to deal with this menace. I also hope that today’s discussions will take place in a spirit of harmony and cooperation, which are essential in tackling the challenge of terrorism.
I would like to reiterate what I have said before. It is not our government’s intention in any way to affect the distribution of powers between the states and the Union that our Constitution provides. The establishment of the NCTC is not a State versus Centre issue. The primary purpose behind setting up the NCTC is to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts throughout this vast country, as the Intelligence Bureau has been doing so far. The NCTC should be a vehicle of our combined efforts to reach the shared goal of curbing terrorism and eradicating militancy.
Terrorism is today one of the most potent threats to our national security. There can be no disagreement on putting in place an effective counter-terrorism regime with efficient mechanisms and response systems both at the national level and at the state level. Neither the states nor the Centre can fulfil this task alone. The closest cooperation and coordination is therefore necessary to meet the threats that emanate from within and outside our borders.
I believe that it is the responsibility of the Centre to give form and shape to a cohesive national approach and strategy based on information gathered globally and from all the states of our Union. On their part, the states should use their expertise, knowledge and machinery to secure their own territories and work in coordination with the Centre and other states.
Since 26/11, we have diligently strengthened our counter-terrorism capabilities both in the states and at the Centre. I believe that today the state and Central Police and Intelligence agencies are working in harmony and in close coordination. These efforts have resulted in several noteworthy successes. The State Police forces have achieved some excellent results in the recent past. On the whole there is broad agreement on the strategy and measures that we must adopt to counter terrorism in all its multifarious dimensions in India, including cross-border terrorism, Left Wing Extremism, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, insurgency in the North-East and religion based terrorism. However, much remains to be done.
Our government remains committed to working with the State governments and providing them all possible help in combating terrorism. We have been providing financial assistance to the States and helping them train State Police and Intelligence agencies. We are also implementing schemes on border management and on coastal security, and the scheme for modernisation of state police forces. Our government will continue and strengthen these efforts.
The antecedents of the NCTC lie in the recommendations by a Group of Ministers and by the Administrative Reforms Commission, commencing from the lessons learnt in Kargil. It is our belief that the NCTC, in its design and its operational aspects, will supplement the counter-terrorism capabilities of the States and not supplant them. The NCTC mechanism will give each state agency an ability to see the bigger picture of terrorist threats and thus would enhance their counter terrorism capability and access to resources to tackle them.
But for the NCTC to function smoothly and effectively, it is very important that we have a fairly broad consensus on its powers and its functions. We would like the State governments to be with us in this important initiative, which we believe would strengthen our counter-terrorism efforts. We remain open to the suggestions of Chief Ministers. We would like to benefit from their vast knowledge, wisdom and experience.
In preparation for our discussions, the Ministry of Home Affairs has circulated drafts for the Standard Operating Procedures for the Standing Council and for the exercise of operational powers under section 43 A of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Both drafts reflect the detailed provisions for Centre-State coordination in both the organisational set-up of NCTC and in its proposed powers and functions.
With these words, I wish you success in your deliberations and I look forward to an open discussion today. May today’s deliberations enable us to continue working together to put in place even more effective counter-terrorism architecture in our country.
A year later, on March 12, Maoists from Sabyasachi Panda-led Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) kidnapped two Italian nationals—Paulo Bosuco and Claudio Colengelo from Daringbadi area of Kandhmal District of Odisha. After hectic parleys and pleadings with Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a front organisation of the OSOC, the Italians were released on March 25 and April 12. Panda’s wife Subhashree alias Mili, who had been in jail since January 2010 under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, was released along with 23 cadres of CPI (Maoist) and CMAS. Cases against Subhashree were withdrawn. Some of the freed Naxals were so dangerous and high-ranking that Odisha Police Association had opposed government’s decision to free them under the swap deal.
Close on the heels of abduction of the foreigners, on March 24, Maoists aligned to AOBSZC-kidnapped Jhina Hikaka, a tribal himself and a sitting member of State Legislative Assembly from ruling Biju Janata Dal party from Koraput district of Odisha. Hectic parleys through government and Maoist-appointed mediators went on without any result. After being tried by a Praja Court (a kangaroo court of the Maoists) the legislator was let off on April 26 with instructions to resign from state assembly and membership of his political party. On his release after 32 days in captivity, a visibly-shaken legislator reiterated his promise made to Maoist to resign from the assembly and the party.
Reacting to Jhina Hikaka’s statement Biju Janata Dal spokesman said the legislator might be suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, where victim after prolonged captivity develops sympathy for his/her captors and starts identifying with their cause. Unspecified numbers of jailed Maoist cadres were freed by the government to secure release of the legislator.
“WE NEED A COUNTER-TERRORISM ORGANISATION” —P CHIDAMBARAM, HOME MINISTER
“I think we have had a useful and productive discussion today on a proposal which I think is extremely important in order to face the threat of terrorism to our country. I came to this meeting with an open mind and I continue to keep an open mind and I assure you that all your suggestions will be carefully considered before a decision is taken by the Government. Ultimately, however, Government would have to take a decision. Taking no decision on a matter of such urgency does not advance the objectives to which we have met today. It is not my intention to sum up the discussion today. However, I would be failing in my duty if I do not highlight the areas of convergence and areas which require more examination.
I think it is broadly agreed that there are two separate issues, one, the need for NCTC or a similar organisation. The other is what should be the powers and functions of such an organisation, should one be created. I think this distinction was brought out in every intervention and I am grateful that all Chief Ministers maintained the distinction as far as support or opposition to the proposal is concerned and I think it will be fair to say that a number of speakers expressed strong support, a number gave qualified support and a few out rightly rejected the proposal. We will give serious attention to both those who strongly supported the proposal and those who suggested that it should be rejected outright.
The third aspect is about the role of agency designed to do counter terrorism, in a sense this is new to our system. We have intelligence agencies, we have investigative agencies. Between intelligence agencies and investigative agencies under the traditional system of administration of law and order, we have the police but my experience in this job for the last three and a half years tells me that what we need is not simply a police organisation; what we need is a counter terrorism organisation. I think one of the Hon’ble Chief Ministers brought out borrowing the language of the NCTC in the US, what we need is a counter terrorism organisation that mobilises all elements of national power – diplomatic, financial, investigative, judicial, police. So we need to move beyond looking upon counter terrorism as a police operation and enlarge our scope to make it a truly counter terrorism organisation that will mobilise all elements of national power. That is why we believe that an NCTC or a similar organisation or organisation by any other name is absolutely necessary. While we will continue to have intelligence agencies, and the premier agency is the IB, and we will continue to have investigation agencies, the agencies are the State CIDs and Crime Branches and at the Centre, the CBI and now the NIA, we need and I underline this, we need a counter terrorism agency which is in my view more than a mere police agency.
In the last two and a half years, there have been significant successes in our CT operations, (Counter Terrorism operations). I listed them on 16th of April, I listed them today but against the significant successes in the CT operations there have also been the cases of failure. Why did we fail? We failed mainly because of lack of capacity; sometimes we failed because of a lack of timely decision. Each case has been documented; each case has been examined carefully. We document each case of success, we also documented each case of failure. Each case of failure contains within it the potential of another terrorist attack. Therefore, we cannot afford to fail. The adversary can fail ninety nine out of hundred times but the State, the governments, cannot afford to fail even once out of hundred times. Every case of failure-there will be some terrorist attack somewhere. That is why it is important that we get over these weaknesses, the weaknesses arising out of lack of capacity, the weaknesses arising out of lack of timely decision. We think the NCTC or any other organisation or any similar organisation with whatever powers will fill this gap.
The fourth point is the misgivings about operations of the NCTC. It is not the NCTC which is being given certain powers, it is the operations wing of the NCTC which is being given powers and I have taken pains to say, both in the draft order that was made available and in the draft SOPs, that it is under exceptional circumstances. Normal operations will be done by the ATS and the State police. It is only in exceptional circumstances. As I said in the morning, suppose in a given situation only an officer of a Central Agency has the opportunity to interdict the terrorist, what should we do? Suppose that action has to be taken within hours or within minutes, what should we do? Suppose there is no real time between gathering intelligence or interdicting a terrorist what should we do? It is in exceptional circumstances that we have said that the operational wing may act, as far as possible by giving advance intimation and certainly by immediately providing information. But I recognise that a number of speakers are not still satisfied and they want more safeguards on this and those who gave qualified support are not satisfied with the safeguards that are built in. So this requires greater reflection.
And finally the other point of misgiving: why is it located in IB. I may recall, when I stood at this very podium in December 2009, I did not propose that the NCTC should be located in the IB. In fact, the new security architecture was certainly more ambitious but did not propose that it should be located in the IB. Finally, the decision was taken to locate to it in the IB because the GoM which made its recommendations in 2001, named the IB as India’s nodal counter terrorism agency. A number of speakers who pointed out that we must have a NCTC, asked why should it be located in the IB? Certainly this matter deserves re-examination and we will certainly re-examine it.
Once again I am deeply grateful to all of you for the useful, productive and illuminating debate on the subject. If we can debate all subjects that come before the Central Government in this manner in a very balanced manner, I think decision-making will be easier. Hard decisions have to be taken. Our decision cannot be based upon our past experience alone, because the past does not contain any indicators. We do not have experience of many matters. Some risks have to be taken, some calibrated steps have to be taken. But given the nature of threats we face, we must take hard decisions. As one of the Chief Ministers pointed out this morning, as we came to this meeting there was a terrorist attack in Russia, 20 people were killed; in a terrorist attack in Pakistan, 24 people were killed; there was a counter terrorist operation which commenced in the early hours in Jammu and Kashmir, the security forces succeeded in neutralising two terrorists. That is the way most days begin for me, but at the end of the day, if there has been no terrorist attack in India or terrorist threat to India, we end the day peacefully. But that is what I face every day. That is precisely why I plead with you to work with us. Working together, Central Government, State Governments working together, we can certainly make India a safer and more secure country for our people. All your suggestions will be carefully examined and when a decision is taken or a process of decision making is initiated, we shall certainly share it with you.”
In Bastar region of Naxal-affected state of Chhattisgarh cadres of South Bastar Divisional Committee of Maoists abducted Alex Paul Menon, Collector of newly-formed Sukma district (Sukma shares its border with Malkangiri district of Odisha where in February 2011 Maoists had kidnapped its Collector Vineel Krishna). The kidnapping was carried out by dozens of Maoists cadres in broad daylight from village Manjipara where Menon was presiding over a farmers’ meet. Maoists also killed two of his security guards before taking him hostage. After hectic negotiations through government and Maoists’ mediators Collector was released by Naxals on May 3 after state government agreed to set up a high-powered standing committee under former bureaucrat and one of the government’s mediator in the present crisis, Nirmala Buch to review cases of the Maoists under detention in jails.
In all these kidnappings the Maoists have put forward similar set of demands. Cessation of Operation Green Hunt and combing operations; withdrawal of security forces from the forests and ‘liberated zones’; release of arrested Maoists and cadres of their front organisations; and fast-tracking of court cases against the cadres are few common demands in every case. All kidnappings were well coordinated operations and controlled at the apex level by CPI (Maoists).
Why do insurgents and terrorists opt for kidnapping and hostage-taking? It is a cost-effective option which gives them an opportunity to undermine the authority of government and bask in the media limelight. Left with no option but to follow the precedence, government comes under tremendous pressure to secure the release of the hostages within the time limit dictated by the ultras. While abduction of high-profile politicians, officials, citizens and businessmen makes it to the headlines, abduction of political workers, low officials, common citizens and petty traders goes unreported. In the Naxal-affected areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra there have been sporadic incidents of kidnapping of common citizens. In most of the cases, either the victims have paid ransom for their release or were tried by Praja Court and met a gruesome end.
A SETBACK TO DEMOCRACY
Praja Court’s verdict
Will the ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka in Odisha quit from the State Assembly as he promised in a Maoists self-styled ‘Praja Court’ before his release? This million-dollar question now dominates the political circles across the country after Maoists released the young tribal legislator on April 26. If Hikaka does not abide by the Praja Court verdict, there is every possibility that the Maoists could take extreme steps against him. The 37-year-old MLA’s life is, therefore, in danger. But the question is not that the life of just one MLA is under threat. In fact, it is a big challenge to democracy. If Jhina Hikaka resigns due to Maoist threat, it will set a wrong trend in democratic politics based on certain noble values. If the trend continues, the Maoists can pick up any democratically elected MLA or Minister and order him or her to resign or face death.
“Though the Maoists have abducted and killed many people, including politicians, in the past, this is for the first time that they have made a different demand by asking an MLA to resign. If he resigns, then none of the 60 MLAs and eight MPs belonging to the Maoist-infested areas are safe as the ultras can anytime issue a fiat to anyone to quit,” said a senior Minister who hails from a Maoist-hit district. Hikaka’s resignation would have a serious impact on the state’s politics and democracy at large, say the constitutional experts. In fact, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, as the leader of the state, has a tough time ahead as the basics of the country’s Constitution are at stake during his regime. The Maoists, who had hauled up Hikaka before a ‘Praja’ (people’s) court before releasing him unharmed on April 26 after 34 days in captivity, had asked him to resign within 15 days and claimed that the legislator had given a written assurance to them as such and that he would also quit the BJD. The Maoists may have released the legislator physically unhurt, but he is deeply hurt from within and he is yet to recover from the mental shock that was meted to him during captivity. Last year, the abducted Malkangiri District Magistrate R Vineel Krishna was also subjected to appearance before the Praja Court before his release.
Yet to recover from the trauma of having spent over a month in Maoist captivity, Hikaka has persistently refused to speculate on whether he would keep his promise to the rebels about resigning from his post since the government had failed to meet their demands, including the release of 29 Maoists and the rebel-supported Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) leaders from jail. His dilemma has hit both the state government and the ruling party very hard. And for the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, nothing could have been worse-timed. For the last several weeks, he has been struggling to cope with a strong challenge from within his party and he would surely avoid making any move that can erode his position in the party or affect the image of his 12-year old government.
The state government and the ruling BJD are now working overtime to make sure that the MLA does not resign—because that would send a wrong signal to the tribal people who account for over 23 per cent of the state’s population while showing the government in a very poor light both within Odisha and outside. Hikaka, on his part, has not cleared the air.
Several possibilities and options are being discussed at the highest levels of the administration and the ruling party. Some are in favour of offering Hikaka a ministerial berth in the imminent reshuffle of the Cabinet, which can then ensure a strong security cover to him besides granting him the authority to take a number of welfare measures and programmes in the Laxmipur constituency. Some are suggesting that if he resigns the legislator should be immediately placed as the chairman of an important state-run corporation and provided the security cover. The development on part of Maoists is quite undemocratic as Hikaka is a legislator and has been elected by the common people, not by the Maoists, who asked him to resign. Moreover, Hikaka is the representative of people in Laxmipur assembly constituency, not the leader of the outlawed organisation and he will not do what the rebels want him to do. After all, what legal authority is the Kangaroo court having to punish a lawmaker?
Of late, Naveen Patnaik, who is also the BJD president, broke his silence on the tribal MLA’s possible resignation hours before Hikaka, accompanied by wife Kaushalya and two sons, met him at his residence on April 30. Hikaka traveled by train with enhanced security cover to meet Naveen. The Chief Minister said: “Why should anyone who has been elected democratically resign under pressure? I do not believe in that at all.” “While kidnapping of Malkangiri Collector R Vineel Krishna in February 2011 was seen as an one-off case, the recent hostage drama made it amply evident that Maoist-sponsored abductions are a challenge to the state government and it should remain prepared to tackle it,” a top police official of the state government says. The recent ordeal has forced the state Government to put in place a hostage policy to deal with such a situation in the future.
With the twin hostage crisis triggered by Maoists abducting two Italians, Claudio Colangelo and Bosusco Paolo, and Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka now over, officers are discussing the lessons learnt and want to improve upon various policies, including security guidelines, to curb recurrence of such incidents.
Home department sources in the state says, preparing a strait-jacketed policy to handle hostage situation might not be pragmatic, but the government should consider evolving a response mechanism to deal with such eventualities. The union government recently asked nine Maoist-affected states, including Odisha, to prepare SOPs to handle hostage crisis. The Centre has certain guidelines in place to tackle hostage situations perpetrated by terrorists, but nothing for Maoists. Being a signatory to certain international conventions, the central government is opposed to conceding to the demands of abductors. “In any emergent situation involving hostage taking of a building or kidnapping perpetrated by terrorist groups, giving into blackmail or threat and conceding to the demands of the terrorist group is counter-productive from the point of view of national security,” a union government document says, adding, “In the event of hostage situation the major demands of the hostage takers should not be conceded under any circumstances.” It further says: “There should be no hesitation in starting negotiations as a matter of strategy as it serves as an effective ploy to buy time. The primary objective in handling a hostage situation includes preservation of lives, including those of hostages, the inhabitants of the area, the law-enforcement personnel involved in crisis management and hostage takers also.”
The hostage crisis is over and the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is certainly relaxed. Naveen as the critics say has always failed in tackling the left wing menace in the state. The need of the hour is to focus on an effective anti-Naxal policy which would be two-pronged measures supported by coercive measures against the Maoists being supplemented by a development drive in the left wing extremist-affected region. This approach has been discussed several times in the past but never implemented with any degree of sincerity. Let’s hope that the state government has learnt a lesson from the recent ordeal and would make an honest attempt in meeting the greatest internal security challenge posed by the outlawed CPI (Maoist), failing which the development process would continue to suffer for the vested interest of the politicians.
By Kishore Dash from Koraput
There is a psychological angle to this strategy. In any insurgency about five per cent population is actively involved in anti-government activities; 15 per cent forms the cadres of overt and covert sympathisers and 80 per cent population is non-committal the ‘fence sitters’. As ultras intensify kidnappings and other offensive actions against the government officials, they stop venturing out from their headquarters. Tehsils, courts, block offices, police stations, primary health centres, banks, primary schools, colleges, etc. register less and less attendance. Public problems remain unaddressed and the ‘fence sitters’ start leaning towards the insurgents’ ideology for grievance redressal.
Sporadic violent incidents like improvised explosive device attack, ambush, jailbreak, looting coupled with kidnappings create an impression of invincibility about ultras in the minds of general public and government officials. This shift of perception is the ‘tipping point’ of any insurgency from where it takes the shape of a mass movement. In so-called ‘liberated zones’ Maoists have been able to overshadow the authority of government; silence all opposition and ‘govern’ the area as per their wish.
In the absence of any credible response from the government the population starts accepting ultras as keepers of law and conscience. In far-flung areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, it is a reality, where Maoists kidnap people, try them in kangaroo courts and dish out verdicts ranging from insults, corporal punishment, fines, banishment and more horrific, the capital punishment. Recently, the Maoists in Garhchiroli area of Maharashtra have issued warning to panchayat and corporation-level political leaders and workers to resign from their posts or else face the consequences.
Kidnapping is a source of good income too. In mineral-rich and poorly developed Naxal-affected areas there are many mining and infrastructure companies operating with huge investments. Ultra are extorting mind-boggling amounts from these agencies as protection money.
Though the state governments, under the given circumstances, have managed to secure release of the hostages by opening communication channels and carrying out negotiations but for how long can this ad hoc measure continue? During negotiations the Maoists have been able to extract undue concessions from the governments and this seems to be the beginning of a never-ending crisis. For ultras kidnapping an official or political worker is quite easy. Will the government negotiate the release of a petty official (patwari or constable) with same alacrity as it has done for foreigners, legislator and bureaucrats? Unlikely. The response is bound to differ and this perceived discrimination will sow the seeds of dissention within the establishment. Maoists’ kidnap strategy seems to be paying off.
MAOISTS AGAIN DISPLAY THEIR BARBARISM
In a chilling reminder that confirms recent intelligence reports that the Left Wing extremists had consolidated their position. While armed operations against them had been suspended during the recent high-profile kidnappings in Odisha, the Maoists in a cowardly act on May 08 killed the abducted assistant sub-inspector of police, Kruparam Majhi, in the state’s Nuapada district. Since the release of two Italians and Laxmipur BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka from Maoist captivity after a long-drawn high drama, this was a major incident of violence reported in the state.
Kruparam Majhi’s bullet-ridden body was recovered from Bharuamunda village, approximately 22 km from Nuapada town, in the afternoon. The 45-year-old cop of Beltukri village was posted at Dharambandh police outpost. The ASI, on a motorcycle, was escorting a water tanker to a CRPF camp in the sanctuary when the incident took place. Just about two km from the camp, the Maoists first blank-fired. As the ASI stopped his two-wheeler they surrounded him. While some took him away to the jungle at gunpoint, others in the group detached the tractor hauling the water tanker, pulled it to the forest and set it ablaze. The Maoists, however, did not harm Constable Debnarayan Sahoo accompanying Majhi. As they vanished into the jungle, Sahoo fled from the place and informed local villagers and authorities about the incident.The Maoists have been opposing the CRPF camp in the area, and have been targeting Odisha police, who often provide logistical support to the security forces there. Police suspect that Tuesday’s incident was the handiwork of the Maoists’ Mainpur division headed by one Sujatha, which operates in Nuapada and bordering districts of Chhattisgarh. Security agencies here pointed out that it was clear that the Maoists had kidnapped Majhi with the intention of killing him and to send out a strong signal that they could hit the security forces at will. State police officials claimed that the Naxals also wanted to disrupt the supply of essential commodities to the CRPF, which had been carrying out combing operations in the area, for their survival.
The 600-sq-km sanctuary, with extensive plateaus and waterfalls provides a safe haven for Maoists to conduct regular training camps. In March, Maoists operating in the area had set fire to nearly 15 vehicles of a contractor engaged in construction work in the area. They also killed a woman, who had married a Red rebel, suspecting her to be a police informer. The Maoists in the area were also instrumental in killing a local block chairman and 10 police personnel of Chhattisgarh in May 2011, who had come on a security mission. What is significant is that it is suspected that Majhi was killed by a group of Naxals from Chhattisgarh and not the cadres of Odisha-Andhra committee that normally operates in that region. This, senior security officials argue, is extremely important as armed operations against the Naxals in Odisha were suspended for more than a month during which period the Naxals from neighbouring states shifted base to Odisha to avoid any confrontation with the security forces.
“There are intelligence reports that Naxal cadres, particularly from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra, crossed over to Odisha to cool their heels. The latest incident is not just a lesson for the Naveen Patnaik who is already under fire for its soft approach towards the Naxal challenge, which has been exposed repeatedly, but all Naxal-affected states that they simply cannot go soft against Red terror. In the last five years, more than 200 policemen have been killed by the Naxals in Odisha alone and the killing of the ASI suggests that they continue to be an easy target.
The question being raised after the incident is the Odisha police becoming too much of an easy target of the desperated Maoist rebels as the Naveen Patnaik government is going soft on them? He has described the incident as barbaric and announced a compensation of Rs. 18 lakh including Rs. 10 lakh towards insurance cover and a government job for the next of kin of the killed police ASI, but this alone cannot boost the morale of the demoralised police force in the state. Even as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik condemned the brutal killing, the Union Home Ministry has sought a report from the state government. The Mainapur divisions of Maoists camping along the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border were under great pressure following intensive combing operations in the area over the past three days and may have resorted to this to ensure all such operations come to a halt. Unfortunately, the state government is having no policy to deal with growing Left Wing extremist menace in the state and abduction at gunpoint has become a routine affair for the rebels over the years.
In fact, the history of abduction in the state goes back to July 7, 2010 when the outlawed rebels kidnapped police ASI Umesh Chandra Marandi in Keonjhar district. Then came the Malkangiri District Magistrate Vineel Krishna episode on February 16, 2011 followed by the abduction of two Italian tourists on March 12, 2012 and ruling BJD legislator Jhina Hikaka on March 23, 2012. The latest was the abduction of ASI Kruparam Majhi in Nuapada district in the state. Naveen as usual this time also termed the killing an inhuman and a barbaric act. To quote the Chief Minister, “Stringent action will be taken against those responsible for the ASI’s killing.” But it remains to see, when the Chief Minister who also holds home minister portfolio would act against the Maoist guerrillas who have waged war on the state.
By Kishore Dash from Nuapada
While the Centre and States squabble over the powers and jurisdiction of proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the Maoists seem to have adopted a simple strategy: spread a fear psychosis by direct and indirect actions against the individuals and the establishment. Ironically, the chief ministers of Naxal-affected states are most vociferous in opposing the counter-terror body.
Multi-pronged strategy is needed to address this menace. Intensify counter-Naxal operations and aim at eliminating top leadership by surgical operations. The states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been provided with helicopter and UAV support. Make use of these force-multipliers for locating movement and hideouts of the Maoists and carry out offensive actions. Every force the state police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have raised special task forces and commando units, which could be employed for targeting the Maoist leadership. Unless the leaders are liquidated, the kidnappings are unlikely to stop. For instilling a sense of security into the population and wresting control from Maoists, operations by police and CAPF in the so-called ‘liberated zones’ have to be intensified. ‘Boots on the ground’ do matter. The government officials must not stop visiting areas under their jurisdiction. Development works with short gestation period in the field of healthcare, nutrition, education, sanitation and employment must be started in inaccessible areas. Sound policies regarding forest rights to the tribals, land acquisition, compensation and rehabilitation should be made in consultation with the affected party and implemented. Police and security forces should operate with professionalism and responsibly to reduce collateral damage, custodial deaths, unnecessary detentions and general inconvenience.
Lastly, we as a nation should adopt a no-negotiation policy in such crises and take a principled stand. There will a mixed bag of successes and failures. The nation will at least convey its resolve to ultras no capitulation to threat and blackmail.
By Colonel (Retd) US Rathore
(The author is a threat and risk analyst and defence and security expert)