In the continuing asymmetrical war — of intent, purpose and result — between the Indian State and Naxal terrorists, Orissa finds itself as the latest victim. A ‘full-scale’ operation has been launched in retaliation of the successful Maoist raid on police establishments in Nayagarh district on Saturday. State authorities claimed on Sunday that 20 Maoists had been killed in the exercise. While one is not in a position to doubt the veractity of the success of the counter-operation — the bodies of the slain terrorists were reportedly taken away by the Maoists — one is in a position to judge how serious the state government and the Centre have been in fighting this menace. According to a Home Ministry report, posts have been lying vacant in the Orissa police forces. Orissa had 10,839 armed police personnel, instead of the 14,891 that should be there. In terms of the number of police for every 100,000 residents, the ratio is below the national average of 122, and abysmally lower than the UN-recommended ‘peactime norm’ of 222 policemen per 100,000 people.
The Naxal situation is worst in Chattisgarh, followed by Jharkhand. But in these two states too, one finds gaping holes in terms of police recruitment. In the face of such asymmetry, is it such a surprise that Maoist violence has little chance of being stubbed out or even challenged? The earlier problem of states and regions not sharing forces and intelligence may have improved. But what use is the semblance of unity against terrorism if there are simply not enough hands on the ground?
Add the Keystone Cops nature of the way the State conducts its ‘anti-Naxal’ operation to the statement of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil after the Nayagarh episode — “It is very difficult to provide security to every individual and house. It is necessary that individuals take some steps to protect themselves...” — and we realise the magnitude of the disaster brewing. Mr Patil has, for all purposes, washed his hands of his ‘day job’. The irony is that Indians across large swathes of the country — in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal — are indeed taking “some steps to protect themselves” against Naxals. Unfortunately, with little to choose from, these protective steps are to ‘sympathise’ with the Maoists. For the State seems to be the last entity that can — or is willing — to do that job for them.