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Curbing the Naxals

Issue: 10-2009By Air Marshal (Retd) V.K. BhatiaIllustration(s): By 371.jpg

In a contemptuous challenge to the Indian government’s anti-naxal strategy, Left-wing extremists raised the provocation bar a notch higher by killing 17 policemen in a brazen ambush on October 8 in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, close to the border with Chhattisgarh. The extremists also showed that apart from raising the provocation bar, they were ready to raise the bar of brutality by beheading a man in a Taliban-style execution before launching the attack on the police party. Hours later in Delhi, the government’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) while debating on how to tackle the surge in naxalite violence was almost unanimous in the view that the Indian armed forces should not be used in the fight against the Maoists.

Recently, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had admitted that the naxal violence had reached a stage so as to become the gravest internal security problem for India. In making such a statement was he hinting that the naxal terrorism was even more serious than the ones emanating from Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast? Apparently so. But why differentiate between the perpetrators of terrorism operating in the naxal affected areas from the ones operating in other parts of the country? Could it be the Centre views the naxal problem under a different lens of conflicting ideologies?

The naxal movement was started as essentially a peasant revolt in the 1960s by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal from a hamlet in West Bengal called Naxalbari (from which the naxal movement derived its name) propagating an alternative system of governance through revolutionary opposition. The movement which got fractionalised in the 1970s picked up momentum again in the 1990s and today has expanded to cover as many as 220 districts in 20 states across India—the so called ‘Red Corridor’ stretching from Nepal border in the north to Karnataka in the south. It is estimated that the combined armed cadre strength of different naxal groups has reached a hefty 20,000, possessing close to 6,500 regular weapons including the AK-47s and the SLRs, besides a large number of unlicensed country arms.

Naxal organisational profiles and strategies have been continuously evolving and with a centralised command and control structure the entire set up has taken the shape of a well-trained guerilla force which does not hesitate to resort to mass killings and brutal violence. The group’s affiliations with the Nepalese Maoists, the Northeast insurgents and even Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence pose a grave threat to India.

Against this formidable force the Home Ministry under P. Chidambaram had laid out an offensive plan during the CCS meeting on October 8, with the employment of para-military forces comprising the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and so on. However, even though a staggering 100,000 security men are reportedly involved in the operations, their past five years’ record inspires little confidence.