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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Red Inferno

*By D. K. Arya - Syndicate Features

What afflicted Kolkata (Calcutta then) and its periphery, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Orissa in the late sixties and early seventies has now engulfed more than forty percent of the country. That fear was dimmed by passage of time but activists like SN Singh, Pulla Reddy, DV Rao, Vinod Mishra, and Venu have continued to keep the pot boiling. The internecine turf and ideological war between the PWG and MCCI was ended by the merger of the two in September 2004 into CPI (Maoist) doubling their material, financial, intelligence and organizational resources.

The Maoists are getting stronger by the day. There are suggestions that a linkage between Indian Maoists, Nepali Maoists, Punjab militants, ISI and the LTTE exists. Now over 125 districts out of 605 or so districts in 14 states are feeling the intense heat of Naxalism. Hundreds of lives have been lost and irreparable damage has been done to social fabric of tribal society besides causing great financial loss to the nation.

I had the opportunity to read over a hundred police case diaries of POTA cases pertaining to Jharkhand. It enabled me to comprehend the magnitude of the problem. Most of those arrested - they were in a large number- had hardly any ideological commitment. They belonged to lumpen category. Some had an axe to grind or retribution in their mind, were unemployed, or had nothing else to bring excitement to their otherwise insipid lives. Only a handful of them knew what they were doing and had the capability to carryout orders of their mentors.

Many such middle level or some higher-level leaders had amassed wealth through extortion or defalcations, and converted into personal property. All of them were ruthless, cruel, and inhuman and exulted in carrying out killing and maiming in the name of meting out social justice. They had surrendered merely to save themselves from severe punishment from the party.

Chhattisgarh region is no different and almost comparable to Andhra Pradesh. The Dandakaranya region of Chhattisgarh comprising of six southern districts of Bastar have average tribal population of 65% (Dantewada 79%- Kanker 56%) of which 98% live in rural areas. Naxalites have been able to make inroads in areas where the population mainly comprised of tribals, dalits and the landless. 90% of them live below the poverty line.

The causes which attract youth to Naxalism- socio-economic factors, social injustice, and discrimination, denial of access to land, want of livelihood, oppression by landlords, moneylenders, forest, revenue and police officials, and political neglect are all there.

Tribal region of Chhattisgarh makes a classical recruiting ground for Naxalism. In the ongoing Naxal related violence, over 271 people in 968 incidents were killed in 2004-2005. This included 175 civilians, 54 police personnel and 35 Naxals. 24 policemen were brutalized and killed this year in a mass attack.

An estimated 9.8 tonnes of gelatine and SLRs and ammunition was looted from the NMDC Baladila magazine after killing eight CISF jawans. Recently three power pylons were blasted disrupting power to a major portion of Bastar region. In the first eight months of 2007 alone, over 405 lives have been lost.

Most people in the country are unaware of the magnitude of the problem because it has yet to touch their lives.

The Salva Judam (peace initiative) movement, hyped as a spontaneous anti-Maoist reaction in Bastar has been castigated by the Maoist front organizations of all the Naxal infested states. For them, it is state ‘sponsored’ and state ‘managed’ enterprise. Maoists also go to the extent of charging that the Salva Judam’s core cadre comprises state paid Special Police Officers (SPO).

Maoists of all hues allege that about 60,000 tribal from about 500 villages have been displaced from their homes and were forcibly brought into roadside camps and that security forces kill those who resist the shifting. The front organizations have conveniently omitted to mention that the exorbitant cut levied by Maoist on contractors collecting Tendu Patta and their refusal to bid for the bidi leaf has robbed most tribals of their only source of living and that as a consequence the Salva Judam movement was born.

The so-called emancipators of tribals took away the ‘means by which they lived’. The attacks by the Naxalites to smother the movement made villagers to flee to camps that had to be set up by the state. Villages of the area today are bereft of population and the Maoists have ready built huts to live in and, in gloat, call it a liberated area.

The state has been accused of paying little attention to critical issues that allegedly sustain Naxalite movement, such as weakening of social roots and support structure, unemployment, non-upliftment of the poor, negative economic regeneration, absence of infrastructure, and the abysmal performance of the institutions of civil governance.

It is politically convenient to beat the government with these sticks but systematic destruction of roads, bridges, schools, canals, transport, railways, and most of the developmental activities is perpetuating the very conditions, which sustain the anti-state movement. There is a vested interest in creating chaos to enlarge recruiting base.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the Maoist insurgency the biggest internal security challenge faced by India since independence. Addressing the Directors General of Police in Delhi on October 4, he urged the administration to take steps by all legitimate means to control the situation. Early this year, February to be precise, a brainstorming session took place in Hyderabad on means to bring normalcy to Naxal infested areas. Another such session was held a month ago in September.

But the fact of the matter is there does not appear to be a well thought of national doctrine to counter Maoist menace and to stop red advance. Knee jerk reaction and fire-fighting will not solve this massive problem. The Maoists are using variegated means of waging war against the state; it can be countered only with a variegated and holistic approach to the problem.

Naxalism is an ideology driven violence and it will be impossible to counter it by denigrating that ideology. The criminality of the violence must be exposed and fought.

The 14-point policy of Government of India advises states to adopt a collective approach and coordinated response to Naxalism. It advocates no peace dialogue without Maoists surrendering arms. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s readiness for peace talks is no doubt laudable but one must not forget that every time the Maoists are under pressure or want a breather they offer ceasefire and peace talks. They then use the lull to regroup, recuperate and reorganise.

Never forget Ho Chi Minh's famous words -"talk talk; fight, fight". Governments must talk from the position of strength. Political parties must fill the political vacuum by strengthening bases in the 'liberated zones' to wean away new Naxal recruits. Financial gains must be denied to them. Village volunteer groups must develop local resistance and the state must ensure their security and further improve police response.

Sustained police action, holistic approach to the socio economic issues, encouragement to surrender and genuine action for the rehabilitation of people will bring desired response.

Various committees have suggested new approaches: “Get tough. Forget talks until they give up guns. Choke off men and money supply. Wean away their support base among tribal and the poor through development and availability of jobs. Train local resistance groups (Salva Judam). Increase men, material, and training support to local police”.

Undoubtedly, the need for a coordinated and combined effort by affected states is imperative. Also, honest and better exchange of human intelligence (humint) can deliver. This is one most important area that needs unwavering focus.

From my experience of long years of policing in Naxalite and insurgency ridden areas, I can say one thing. That is that firm handling of the situation does not mean oppression by the state and its agencies.

The state must not fall for the justification of ‘moral construal in killing’ in response to the acts of terrorists. The state must maintain a dignified human face and ‘moral legitimacy’.

I can do no better than to quote Kofi Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations, who said, “We face a nearly unsolvable conflict between two imperatives of modern life - protecting the traditional civil liberties of our citizens, and at the same time ensuring their safety from terrorist attacks with catastrophic consequences”.

*D. K. Arya a former DG, BSF and ITBP, Presently a consultant with International Red Cross.

- Syndicate Features -

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