After the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action and counter-insurgency forces managed to locate and kill Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishenji, in West Bengal last week, Union home secretary RK Singh said that his death would be a "huge setback" for the Red Army. Whether his prognosis is correct or not will only be known in the coming days. But at this juncture any show of triumphalism by the government is certain to backfire. Instead, it must seriously look into the controversy that has followed the senior Maoist leader's death: his family and human rights activists have alleged that it was a staged encounter and have demanded a judicial inquiry. Instead of cold-shouldering such a demand, the government must investigate the killing in a transparent manner. Only then will the trust deficit between the government and the people will be bridged.
The Indian government's stand on how to deal with the Maoist problem is far from clear. While a certain section in the government believes that first the security forces should be allowed to move in and clear the ground for development activities, there is another section that feels it should be the other way round. While both arguments have some basis to them, what is certain is the fact that victory over the Maoists cannot happen unless and until there is the support of the tribals in the affected areas. And that will only come if long-term development measures are undertaken. More important, to ensure that these measures are sustainable and have the desired effect on the people of the land, the security forces will have to have the resolve and resources to hold onto the ground that has been cleared. There is often talk that the Maoists are aiming at the balkanisation of the country. But the government often forgets that common people hardly care for such theories and they can be weaned away from the Maoists only if they are provided with the amenities that they most need: schools, hospitals and above all a sense that they will not be branded as Maoists/pro-Maoists at every opportunity. After all, it is the sense that they have no access to a just system that forces many to join the Maoist ranks. Over the years, the State has also not done itself a great favour by unveiling absolutely mindless, indeed sinister, programmes like the Salwa Judum. Instead of helping matters and improving the ground situation, this kind of vigilantism has only led to more violence and bloodshed in the Maoist-hit areas of Chhattisgarh.
There are no easy solutions to the Maoist problem. While the Maoists are free to change their strategy, geographical locations and not listen to critics, the hands of the State are bound by certain institutionalised principles. If the government of the day manages to follow those principles, peace will come eventually. The government must have that patience and also a united approach in dealing with the problem. No quick-fix solutions - even if it is rolled out by force - will work in the areas controlled by the Maoists.