While media was rife with news of launch of a joint counter Naxal Operation Green Hunt by Central and State Police Forces for the past few months, the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram dismissed it as a media, “invention”. So what is the dilemma faced by Mr Chidambaram on Green Hunt, is it a tactical ploy to put the Maoists off guard or has he reviewed his strategy to let State forces continue the low sim fire war in Central India, simmer? We may perhaps never know. But the looming danger is more than obvious even to a layman.
While so far the Naxals were restricting their operations to the tribal areas of Central India which are relatively less populated over the past few months their ingress in West Bengal has focused attention of the government as well as civil society with expansion of the threat. The issue came into focus when a West Bengal Court on 22 October released on bail 14 tribal women as demanded by the Maoists against abducted police officer Atindra Nath Dutta in West Midnapore. The release of the tribal women became controversial with many questioning the wisdom of the West Bengal government by a virtual, “surrender” to the Naxals. There are also news reports suggesting that the hard core Maoist leader in the state Kishenji was on the brink of being captured when the surrender was undertaken thereby security forces missed a golden opportunity.
In a different situation on 27 October Maoists kidnapped the driver of the New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express and his assistant and stopped the train between Jhargram and Sarna stations of South Eastern Railway bringing the prestigious train connecting the State capital to New Delhi to a halt. Pro-Maoists group PCPA claimed responsibility for the attack stating that the train drivers had defied the bandh call and sought release of their leader Chhatradhar Mahato from police custody. However sensing the public outrage the railway men were released and the train continued with the journey with extensive harassment to the passengers.
Transportation networks have been one of the most frequently targeted by Maoists over the past many years and now they are even daring to strike at high profile trains such as the Rajdhani Express which is considered a super fast train serving a large number of people traveling to Delhi. The vulnerability of the railway routes passing through some of the deeply forested areas in Jharkhand and West Bengal is therefore highly challenging and security needs to be considered on high priority for endangering the lives of the people traveling on train which is the primary mode for many in India does not augur well for the states ability to protect its citizens.
Thus the plan of Central and State governments to launch a full-fledged anti-Maoist operations at three locations which are junctions of Naxal-affected states was welcomed by many. The areas identified are the tri-junctions of Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra- Chhattisgarh; Orissa-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh and West Bengal- Jharkhand-Orissa. 40,000 paramilitary personnel will assist respective state police forces during the operations. 7,000 specially trained troops in jungle warfare are also being employed. There are eleven sectors identified which will be addressed in simultaneous operations. “This is their fighting core,” a senior security officer said.
The plan as indicated in the media appears to be for state forces to launch operations in the respective areas even as the task of domination and special operations is conducted by the Central forces in critical areas of the tri junctions thereby preventing the Naxals from escaping. A coordinating HQs with a Special Director General of Police has been established who will directly report to the Home Secretary.
The Maoists warned of possibility of Operation Green Hunt for the past many months are shifting into deep jungle strongholds in anticipation of the onslaught. Others are known to melt into urban pockets of neighboring states as Madhya Pradesh. Thus the main leaders are likely to give security forces a slip.
The government has also allotted Rs 7,300 crore infrastructure development plan for Naxal-affected areas under various schemes. The problem in the Naxal hit areas is not planning and funding but implementation by the time the government plans reach their fruition, Naxals have possibly extended their reach to other areas. Thus while the initial plan of the government was to seek development of 33 districts, the reality is that today there is an extension of the Naxal challenge to 55 districts apart from overall influence in over 200 ones. Therefore speedy implementation would be desirable for that alone can bring about a change in the overall support found at the grass roots to Naxalism.
The sweep operation should lead to the insurgency being contained over a period but the strikes and forays from the jungle to the developed areas in the form of sporadic attacks as in Gadhchiroli and terrorist strikes will continue. The large expanse of the area affected has made it extremely difficult for conduct of operations and therefore speedy success is not anticipated.
Thus whether there is a Green Hunt or not, Mr Chidambaram would have to seriously consider conflict diffusion options at the earliest before threats expand to other areas. The time for pussy footing is over long back, the government has to ensure safety and security of its citizens and firm measures would be necessary while ensuring that the reach of governance and development is expanded simultaneously. Action is required on a war footing and the dithering approach is only sending the wrong signals to the general public.