The murder of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) General Secretary and Minister of Parliament from Jamshedpur Sunil Kumar Mahato, allegedly by Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) gunmen on Sunday, has sent a message that was begging to be heard: Naxalite violence is no longer restricted to making targets out of faceless ‘class enemies’. For better or worse, the brutal killing of a representative of the people in Parliament by terrorists — and it is only semantics that differentiates between extremists and terrorists — should give the nation the will and the determination to strike hard against the Naxal menace. In November 2005, Naxals under the CPI(Maoist) tag had stormed Jehanabad district in Bihar and conducted a jailbreak, killing at least a dozen people. In March 2006, Maoists hijacked a train in Jharkhand’s Latehar district and held its 200-odd passengers hostage. Something has to be wrong in the State’s strategy to fight internal terror that now sees an MP gunned down in a village 45 kilometres away from the steel town of Jamshedpur.
MCC strongholds exist in areas across Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa — its presence being part of the larger presence of Naxalite outfits across 118 districts in 12 states of the country. The inability to tackle the problem seems to be the result of foot-dragging, a distinct lack of will, and an incoherent policy that sees the menace only as an ‘either-or’ problem — either launch a full-out war against the extremists or bring in development in the affected areas to shut out local sympathy and support. While one now hopes that the first two obstacles will be taken care of with the killing of Mr Mahato, it is the last hurdle that the terrorists take advantage of.
While the Home Ministry states that the government will “continue to pursue its multi-pronged strategy to fight the Naxals”, it clearly has an idea of its own about what ‘multi-pronged’ is. Centre-state mechanisms must be bolstered by state-state operations against the extremists. The Naxals are unfettered by state borders or ideology. The Indian State — at the Centre and the states — needs to work out more than just a blueprint that sees only sporadic implementation (usually after an ‘incident’). Brining development into ‘Maoist areas’ is just half of the tactic. Using force, something that the State empowers itself with when it comes to protecting its people, is the other half. The government(s) must treat this as war. For it is nothing short of it.