The recent spate of abductions by the Maoists - first in Orissa and then in Chhattisgarh - is yet another strong reminder that the Union government needs to formulate a step-by-step policy for handling such hostage crises, without any further delay. With security operations increasing in intensity in the Maoist-held areas, there will be many more such cases in the future and, therefore, ad hocism will not do anymore. We also need trained negotiators to tackle such situations: they could help the State buy time and also ensure that the abducted person is not harmed in anyway. Moreover, negotiators can make certain that the image of the State does not suffer in the process. This is extremely important since in tribal-dominated areas, the 'dadas' - and not the 'sarkar' - enjoy the confidence of the people. While many would argue that the Maoists have managed to win that confidence, thanks to the firepower they enjoy, no one can deny that the State has also not covered itself in glory in these areas. So it becomes doubly important to show that the State is equally in control of such situations.
The case of Alex Paul Menon, the abducted Sukma collector, also shows that there is little room for error in these parts and that the young officers must realise that they are working in a very difficult situation. There is no doubt that Mr Menon, and before him Orissa collector Vineel Krishna who was abducted last year, are well-meaning officers and, as one of Hindustan Times' columnists wrote last week, the government's best bet against the rampaging Maoists. It is also true that fear must not stop an officer from doing his duty, but in difficult field postings like these, they must realise that adequate precautions have to be taken. Mr Menon could have gone to the village for the government outreach programme after ensuring that the area was sanitised. More so because he was warned by the intelligence agencies that he could be a target. Officers like them must also realise that no matter how much they work for the people, the Maoists will still see them as part of a structure that has pushed security forces to clear their strongholds.
Last but not the least, as we have said before, the states must realise that Maoism is a pan-Indian problem and has to be dealt at the national level. The states cannot continuously obstruct the smooth roll out of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, which can help in joining the dots as far as intelligence-gathering, coordination and operations are concerned. Yes, it is true that law and order is a state subject, but the state governments must also realise that minus the Centre, it will be difficult to mount a coordinated response to this challenge.