Indian leadership’s ambivalent approach towards Naxalism is likely to cost the country dear if the present drift in strategy continues. The Railway Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee is recently reported to have offered to, “touch your (Naxalite) feet” and asked them with folded hands to come to the mainstream. Mr Shibu Soren in Jharkhand expressed a some what similar line on taking over as the Chief Minster. The Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram is thus in a quandary having got the forces ready for an operation to establish the writ of the government in Central Indian states extending from Jharkhand to Chhattisgarh. It is obvious that India’s leaders have failed to understand the nature of Naxal violence and shield their ineptitude to deliver governance by political rhetoric from time to time to assuage the masses.
That Naxal violence poses one of the gravest internal security threats before the country was evident with the numbers. In the current year (till 30th November), the number of incidents of Naxal violence have been 2016 compared to 1452 incidents in the corresponding period of 2008. 514 civilians and 304 personnel of security forces have been killed compared to 444 civilians and 217 security forces killed in the corresponding period last year. Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh; Deogarh, Jaipur, Kondhamal, Dhenkanal and Nayagarh districts of Orissa and Kunti and Ramgarh districts of Jharkhand have also been brought under the ambit of Security Related Expenditure Scheme thereby indicating a spread now to 41 districts from the original 33 worst affected districts.
With successful culmination of the Jharkhand elections and installation of the Shibu Soren government, the Union Home Minister said that the 58 per cent turnout in Jharkhand assembly elections is a stinging rejection of the CPI (Maoist). Despite poll boycott by the Maoists in Jharkhand there was good polling for instance in the most severely affected areas of Latehar voter turnout was above 57%, in Garhwa and Chatra districts, the voter turnout was 62% and 61% respectively against the overall state average of 57.04%. The Home Minster Mr P Chidambaram can rightfully take credit for the success of the Jharkhand elections as there were many who were skeptical about the same. However by effective management of forces, the Home Ministry could be justly proud of this achievement.
Chief minister Shibu Soren's statement inviting Maoists for talks and indication that the government is ready to address their grievances triggered a political storm. Senior CPI(Maoist) leader Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji however welcomed Soren’s invitation for a dialogue. Former Maoist Satish Kumar, offered to mediate between the government and Maoist activists in the jungles. "We are ready to facilitate a dialogue so that both parties could arrive at a consensus and stop violence," he said.
Now the larger question of militancy would have to be effectively addressed for so far it is only an episodic response based on an event and in no case indicates that the overall danger of Naxalism has been reduced in any form. Hopefully this would not be ignored in the wake of the so called victory of holding elections successfully in Jharkhand.
The Indian approach to tackling Naxalism has been political so far with police being used for maintaining mainly defensive pressure on the guerrillas who are dominating large tracts of Central India. The positive response to the elections in Jharkhand indicates that possibly the approach is succeeding but this may not be the case in other areas such as the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra or parts of Orissa and Jharkhand borders, where the Naxalite are well entrenched and would be difficult to evict without strong military action by the PMF and armed police. Some of it may even require assistance from the Army such as the Abujmadh forest area. Thus a mixed approach would be necessary.
The centre of gravity of the Maoist political agitation has shifted to the Eastern districts of West Bengal with key leaders now lodged in the area and leading the charges against the police and the government. Thus a bandh call is generally given from this area of West Bengal to Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar.
The Maoist leadership has threatened that if 2009 was bad, 2010 would be “bloodier” as per Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), reported by the media. “If they (security forces) begin their operations, I promise you 2010 will get bloodier. There will be no respite from violence,” Kishanji, in charge of operations in eastern India, was reported by the IANS in a telephonic interview. Kishanji originally a resident of Andhra Pradesh is now controlling the frontline in West Bengal. He is wanted in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh for waging war against the state.
The confrontation between the Maoists and the security forces may thus increase in 2010 as the government has launched operations to establish the security grid. As the elections in Jharkhand has shown there is a tremendous advantage of establishing the security grid as that can enable all organs of the state to function effectively. This is seen to enhance the scope of administering governance and therefore a sustained push in establishing security grid in 2010 will pay rich dividends.
The successful conduct of elections in Jharkhand despite being impacted by Maoist violence can provide important lessons for the counter militancy operations as well. According to senior police officials, area domination by Central forces that were deployed soon after the elections were declared in the last week of October, led to the Naxalites being forced to abandon their hideouts. Prior to this, a series of meetings were held between senior police officers of bordering districts of Bihar, Orissa and Bengal to chalk out a deployment pattern to plug the vulnerable inter-state borders. Around 75,000 security forces personnel, drawn from CRPF, BSF, ITBP, RPF, SSB and CISF, besides state armed forces, were deployed, aided by a fleet of 10 helicopters used for air surveillance and transportation of poll officials. This massive deployment of forces has avoided major untoward incidents and the pattern could be replicated though with lesser troops in the days ahead.
All this underlines the need for adoption of a common strategy and leave political expediency behind, for that was the lesson learnt from Punjab and Mizoram two successful resolution of insurgencies in India. Will the Indian leaders learn their lessons or will they continue to burn the boats remains a moot question?