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Naxals gain as states dither on response

delhi Updated: Feb 19, 2010 01:29 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra
Rajesh Mahapatra
Hindustan Times
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This week’s spurt in Maoist violence has again put the spotlight on the lack of a cohesive strategy in tackling what the prime minister called the greatest threat to the nation’s internal security.

There are fewer signs that insurgency-hit states and the Centre would soon hammer out a consensus on dealing with the rebels. The Maoists, on the other hand, appear to be getting better at their act.

Sample this: A day after the rebels slaughtered 24 jawans in a gruesome attack along the border of West Bengal and Jhark-hand last week, the chief minister of Jharkhand, Shibu Soren, said talks must precede any armed offensive against the Maoists. On Thursday, his government initiated a process to free 14 suspected Maoists from jail in exchange for a block development officer abducted by the rebels.

In Bihar, where Maoists shed blood overnight, killing 11 villagers in the tribal-dominated district of Jamui, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often stressed on the need for a political resolution to the problem.

Last week, both Soren and Kumar skipped a meeting convened by Home Minister P Chidambaram to discuss internal security with chief ministers of West Bengal and Orissa.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have lately come on board, but his administration is far from ready to take on the rebels.

The lack of cohesion is evident. And the Maoists are making the most of it.

“With the kind of ideology, weaponry and training the Maoists have, you can’t take them lightly,” said A S Gill, former director general of the CRPF.

The CRPF, along with other paramilitary forces, was to join state police after the Lok Sabha elections for a “massive offensive” across the Maoist-affected states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. That offensive never took off the way it was hyped in the media as several states dithered, fearing it could result in civilian casualties and prove politically expensive.

The differences are not limited to states. There are different voices within the central government.

On Thursday, when Chief Minister Bhattacharjee of West Bengal pledged to intensify a joint operation of central and state forces in the Lalgarh region, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee came out against it. “The CPI (M) and the state government are using the joint operation for their own benefit,” she said.

“There isn’t even consensus on whether to fight Maoists or not, let alone any consensus on how to fight them,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Studies.