Naxalism : First Signs of Better Policing
Improved policing in Naxal affected states over the past few weeks, gives new hopes for gradual return to normalcy in these areas. This column has been one of the severest critics of the lackadaisical approach of the state governments and the police in tackling Naxalism in the past. This was based on continued domination of the Central Indian heartland by the Maoists to include the economic and the security space. There are however first signs of the police attempting to seize the initiative which is welcome.
In one of the most successful counter Naxal operation so far, the Andhra Pradesh Greyhounds eliminated 17 Maoist rebels near the Andhra border in southern Chhattisgarh. In the joint operation, the Naxal hideout in Bijapur district's Pamer police station, 'Rebels, about 35 in number, found it tough to handle the flash attack and retaliated with firing to sneak into nearby forests, but we gunned down 17 of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) senior cadres,' reported district superintendent of police Ankit Garg A number of those eliminated are suspected to be key commanders.
The police were successful in gaining information of a major Naxal congregation in the forests from spotters, which led to the operation which is commendable. There are also reports that the police in the states of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have gone in for a multiple, coordinated raid in the Abujmadh area which is the heart of the Naxal territory. However penetration by police in this area is likely to be extremely difficult as this is largely uncharted territory without any maps or survey grid.
Coordination between police forces of states is no doubt an effective measure which will bring the cross border activities of the Naxals to a halt. There are many successes gained by the police against Naxals in recent times in the Central Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. Peace will however take many more years due to deep penetration of the Naxals geographically as well as in all walks of governance and administration in the states.
This was evident by a study of the Nayagarh attack in Orissa on 15 February. The Nayagarh attack even by police estimates was launched by over 100 to 500 activists. These could not have concentrated even by different routes without knowledge of the locals and local police. It is surprising that the police did not take proactive measures including beefing up security by bringing in additional forces to ensure that the Naxal bid was thwarted. While the subsequent operation launched was laudable, the primary indications if acted upon would have avoided the tragedy.
Extensive measures are being taken by police forces in states to build up capacity to combat Naxalism. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has now been sanctioned 10 battalions for anti-Naxalite operations with each unit comprising of 1,100 personnel. These units will be trained for jungle operations as per a Hindu Report. Uttar Pradesh is also planning to create a Special Task Force (Extremists) headed by a DIG to contain the Maoist problem. This decision was taken after meeting of the Naxal Task Force (NTF) in Lucknow. The Naxals have successfully extended their influence from three districts of Sonebhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli to Allahabad, Chitrakoot, Deoriya, Banda and Ballia in the State raising an alarm.
The Madhya Pradesh police are also training personnel of 35 MP Battalion in counter militancy by taking assistance of Assam. The Naxals have influence in Mandla, Balaghat, Seoni and Chhindwara. On the other hand in Jharkhand there are efforts to train the villagers in the Chandil-Tamar-Bundu-Arki belt in information sharing. 'The anti-rebel group would be unarmed. They will be required to pass on information about rebel movement to the police,' said an officer to Daily Telegraph of Kolkata.
Jail reforms and modernization in Naxal areas as well as other parts of the country is also urgently required. While there have been a number of incidents of rioting in jails, an administrative inquiry into Chhattisgarh's Dantewara prison break on December 16, 2007 where 299 prisoners escaped has revealed as per an Indian Express report that the administration was totally callous and lax. Moreover there was inadequate number of guards and these were not properly trained even in basics of firing weapons. The Naxal prisoners were not lodged separately and thus were able to successfully engineer the break out with 105 Naxals escaping.
Thus while the path ahead is long and torturous, we are happy to see that a beginning has been made.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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