Damanjodi is a remote corner of Southern Orissa in India. A few days back an intense battle in India's forgotten war against Naxalism was fought there by a few ill trained, poorly equipped but brave and stout hearted policemen who rescued the lives of over 150 miners. This frontline came into the limelight when 200 Naxals struck on 9 April a week before general elections in the country targeting the largest bauxite mines in Asia. Beyond the glare of television cameras, valiant policemen of the Central Industrial Security Force fought a long battle to ward off the Naxals who had come looking for a truck full of explosives.
They lost 10 of the bravest comrades, but were ignored by national and international media and received none of the accolades reserved for the National Security Guards post Mumbai 26/11. While in no way detracting from the valuable contribution made by the National Security Guards, India's leaders, civil society and the media need to question their conscience for virtually ignoring this attack on the state by the Naxals.
Damanjodi is the very anti thesis of the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel where Pakistan borne terrorists struck on 26 November 2008. But the bauxite mines are very much Indian Territory so were over 150 mine workers held hostage by the Naxals, yet the Indian state failed to respond equitably.
Political parties busy in inane dialogues of 'jhappi and papi', weak and strong Prime Ministers, choose to ignore this assault while the citizens were looking forward to television sojourns for the forthcoming Indian Premier League cricket series, ironically being held in South Africa. The media chose to overlook Damanjodi as if it was happening somewhere remote in Antarctica. There was no television coverage of the event, no photographs in front page of newspapers not even obituaries to our brave policemen.
Naxals were quick to notice this public disinterest. Thus they stuck on the polling day on 16 April. There were over 20 deaths in the violence that followed and despite the heavy polling appeared to be out of sync with the overall smooth conduct of Phase 1 of general elections in the country. Naxal affected states had a polling average varying from 40 to 60 percent despite the violence, this led to commentators touting it as a successful conduct forgetting that there were so many lives lost in the bargain, which sadly, the Indian public and the media does not seem to care.
The Naxals thus succeeded in disturbing if not disrupting the election process in Central India, which also highlights amateurish security management with elections in all Naxal affected states planned in one go which had led to thinning out of security forces. Surprisingly the Election Commission members continued to defend this decision, possibly none of them have been to Dantewada, Bastar, Bijapur or Latehar all Naxal strongholds.
Clearly there was a case for multi phased elections as in Kashmir and the North East, but the Election Commission mandarins failed to appreciate the signals coming from the Naxal heartland. The key shortfall there is of well trained troops who can challenge rebels of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA).
On the other hand the security in the North East which went for elections was good because these are being held in two phases, thus in the first phase the critical areas other than the Brahmaputra Valley went to polls while the Valley which also has the state of Assam from where the Prime Minister of the country, Mr Manmohan Singh is a member of the Upper House the Rajya Sabha will vote in the second phase, which led to strengthening of the security grid.
The Naxals clearly took the police and para military forces in India by surprise. Their continued fight in the most under developed and remote parts of the country as Abujmadh has gone unnoticed apart from the occasional sympathy for loss of innocent lives of locals and policemen alike.
Even the large number of casualties caused during elections received scant attention thus highlighting lack of public support to the anti Naxal forces police and para military. There is a need to completely change this approach. Greater public concern would provide for the police and the paramilitary fighting the Naxals required wherewithal for combating the ills of militancy. While this has received financial approval its implementation has been tardy leading to large money allotted for modernization unspent.
The best government talent in the country is in the civil services including the police, the Indian Police Service. Yet the fate of the counter Naxal forces remains that of peripheral fighters. It is time they are given the centre stage for the war against Naxalism is as much our fight as theirs.