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EDITORIAL : The Naxalite menace
Monday, 21 January 2013 09:17

 

The Naxalite menace
Need to prepare an action plan

AMONG the serious internal challenges before India today is the Naxal-Maoist threat, commonly dubbed as Left wing extremism (LWE). Alluded to publicly as being the most serious internal security challenge by the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, this threat currently spans nearly 170 districts spread over 16 states with a wide swathe running in the centre of the Indian hinterland from the Nepal-Bihar border to the Karnataka and Kerala borders in a south-west orientation, referred to as “The Red Corridor”.

That some areas within this corridor are bereft of any governmental presence and control, referred to as “liberated zones” by these militants, should be a cause for serious concern to the governments both at the national and state levels. That this serious challenge to India’s security has cross-border linkages compounds the already serious ramifications of LWE in India.

Growing from a small movement in 1967 in the remote village of Naxalbari in West Bengal, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Charu Mazumdar, initially to primarily address local problems of landless, small farmers and farm labour from rapacious landlords, the movement has gradually developed into a malignant cancer engulfing, in varying intensity, nearly one-third of India. At least 48 districts in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal have been seriously affected. The recent arrest of a leading Maoist leader, Kishenji, from Guwahati displays the growing spread of LWE to even Assam.

LWE embracing Naxal, Maoist, CPI(ML) and People’s War Group cadres have now grown to a widely dispersed yet interlinked, vehemently anti-democratic and a gruesomely violent movement which aims at the overthrow of democratically elected governments and all state institutions across the country. By conservative estimates, this movement has nearly 50,000 highly motivated armed cadres, many well-trained in the use of improvised explosive devices and landmines, and are equipped with sophisticated smuggled small automatic weaponry from China. The LWE hierarchy has a budget, based on an extortion economy of over Rs 1500 crore, to propel their violent struggles against the Indian state. That in the “Red Corridor”, even newly well-equipped police detachments trained to combat LWE have suffered large casualties, is nothing very surprising. Over 11,000 civilian and police fatalities have resulted in the last five years owing to LWE violence. The Dantewada massacre in April 2010 in Chhattisgarh, which resulted in 76 casualties to security personnel, is a classic case of the reach of the militants and the lack of operational preparedness of our counter-insurgency police forces.

As the nation braces to get rid of this scourge, it will only be prudent to introspect the reasons for the growth of LWE insurgency in India. Notwithstanding our many failings and the so-called “foreign hand”, it is a matter of some satisfaction that India has successfully managed, after many years of costly struggle, to contain and manage insurgency in Kashmir and the restive North-East to a large extent. Therefore, defeating LWE should also not be impossible for a nation which aspires to be in global reckoning.

Not many in the government or security analysts in the country will doubt that LWE in India has materialised in its present alarming dimension owing to a variety of reasons since Independence. These are lack of a clear national policy in combating indigenous insurgencies, political differences between many states and the Central government, woefully poor intelligence especially at the ground level, ill-equipped and under-trained police and central police forces, lack of coordination among state and Central security agencies and, above all, a total neglect of locally significant development issues in the insurgency-infested regions. That most state governments have not implemented the various forest laws and land-ceiling laws, enacted as early as in 1955, to safeguard the basic rights of tribals and the poor in rural areas has compounded and fuelled the problem of growing insurgencies in the hyper poverty-stricken regions of the country.

There is no doubt that the nation is more than seized of the LWE malaise. For the past few years, Central intervention in combating this menace has seen liberal assistance at capacity building, deployment of central police forces, generous allocation of security-related expenditure to the affected states, better equipping and training of special police forces for counter-insurgency operations, construction of specialised infrastructure and fortified police stations. The Centre’s Integrated Action Plan and Road Requirement Plans-I have made some inroads into the development of remote regions after years of neglect. As the government allocates additional funding for special development projects, it must scrupulously ensure that funds are being utilised properly on the ground and not being misappropriated by corrupt elements in the states as some NGOs have pointed out.

To merely attribute the spread of LWE to socio-economic reasons like the lack of development in the regions affected will be rather simplistic in formulation. At the moment when the Naxals have explicitly refused to talk to the government and are indulging in the worst form of violence not only against the police forces but also against innocent civilians and lower functionaries of the state, the sole priority of the government should be to take on these terrorists head-on, eliminate and jail as many as possible without causing collateral damage to own civilians and villagers in the regions affected. The stated policy of “Clear, Hold and Build” is eminently workable provided there is synergy in action between the political and security elements at the state, national and regional levels.

The nation has only one choice and that is to speedily and unitedly combat and defeat the LWE cadres before full-scale insurgencies erupt at many places within the country. Drawing up a five-year immediate action plan and a 20-year long-term perspective plan needs to be conceptualised and taken to its logical conclusion. These plans to defeat the Naxal menace will have to be an amalgam of the three non-negotiable pillars — security for all, equitable development and political rehabilitation of those who surrender to the state. The overriding principle should be to encourage local genius and resources to be fully utilised.