The attack by left-wing extremists in Orissa’s Malkangiri district, which killed over 20 policemen, is the second major strike in the district in the space of 20 days. The extremists, who were hiding in a forest, triggered a powerful landmine blast that destroyed the police vehicle. They then fired at those who survived the explosion, killing everyone in the convoy. The carnage comes close on the heels of another ambush on June 29 in the Chitrakonda reservoir, when Maoists waylaid a boat carrying personnel of the crack Greyhound anti-insurgency unit from Andhra Pradesh, killing over 40 people.
If there’s anything more unfortunate than these outrages, it is the government’s attitude towards tackling the menace. The frequency of attacks indicates that the extremists are consolidating their hold in rural belts and building buffer zones from where they could move towards urban areas. The Maoists even seem to have created a network of front organisations for upgrading weapons and mounting frontal attacks. That these are not exaggerated jitters is borne out by the fact that they have used light machine guns, automatic rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades in recent strikes — unlike their earlier use of obsolete rifles and pistols.
It is all very well for New Delhi to think loudly of setting up counter-insurgency schools for training forces in naxal-hit states. But these are half-hearted proposals, going by the rider that the states should fund these ‘war colleges’ themselves.
In fact, this, perhaps, is the biggest hurdle in the way of drawing up an effective response to what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described as the “biggest threat to the country”. It is high time we saw the naxal scourge as much more than a law and order problem alone, and brought it within the jurisdiction of both the state and central governments. If only New Delhi showed half the enthusiasm that it does in tackling militancy in Kashmir and the north-east, then naxalism would have become a mere law and order problem.