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The Maoist menace

punjab Updated: May 31, 2013 09:31 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
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The Maoist attack in Bastar on a Congress convoy has been variously described as an attack on the nation, an attack on the very idea of India and a conspiracy. There is pressure on the state to strike back. The consequence of such a hyperbole can lead to over-reaction. What is required is a well-considered calibrated response.

Suggestions to deal with the menace are flying thick and fast giving the impression as if it is something we have only recently encountered. Maoists have been active for long and over time spread their area of operation into more than 240 districts, which when grouped together have come to be known as the Red Corridor, running from Nepal border to down south.

Possible solutions

Former police officer Kiran Bedi advises having a Unified Command and post 50-60 specially selected IAS and IPS officers as DCs and SPs in these districts and give them four times their salary and they will solve the problem. India, in spite of the most pressing need, has not been able to create a Unified Command of the defence services, and to expect it to do so for the police, cutting across so many states, appears a far cry.

Bedi's other suggestion implies that all affected states do not have even 50-60 officers to do the job and four times the salary, we reckon, is to refrain them from eating into funds meant for development work in these states.

Ajit Doval, another police officer, finds the remedy in increasing the strength of the state police, framing strong laws and gearing up the judiciary. An important element in this fight is intelligence, which continues to be poor, and the agencies take the safe route of 'crying wolf', and if one of the information turns out to be true, then the standard stance is, 'we told you.'

Terrorism and insurgency

The ministry of home affairs finds great expertise in KPS Gill and dispatches him to the affected states to render advice on dealing with the ongoing insurgency. It only shows that the ministry does not know the difference between terrorism and insurgency. Gill's expertise springs from his handling the Punjab problem. But Punjab was afflicted by terrorism and not insurgency. In Punjab of those days, the police dared not stir out of its barracks at night and the night belonged to the terrorists. It is only when the army was deployed and undertook extensive night patrolling that the terrorists lost freedom of the night, people gained confidence and information concerning terrorists started pouring in.

The vigilante groups created by the police in Punjab, to combat terrorists, eventually became the second arm of terrorism. These indulged in extortion, kidnapping and killing. Some bad elements also joined in. In the Maoist-affected states, the Salwa Judum is doing no different. The ministry of home affairs is undertaking recruitment of tribals from 26 worst-affected districts as a strategy to fight Maoists. They will be given six weeks' induction training. A Salwa Judum of the government!

No two insurgencies are alike, because the underlying causes are seldom the same. The British handled insurgency in Malaya with complete success. When the Indian army instead of picking up the relevant lessons, applied the exact template in Nagaland, it proved a failure and further complicated the problem. Defeat of the Sikh army (by guile though) and annexation of Punjab left the populace of the province in a state of anger, alienation and extreme hostility towards the British. Lawlessness had set in. The British turned around that hostility to loyalty within less than a decade. There are many useful lessons to be learnt from the handling of that situation.

Law and order was restored, efficient administration was set up and simultaneously development work by way of creating the best canal system was taken in hand. Of the large number of officers selected to head the district administration and police, 70% were captains and majors from the army.

Decades of neglect

The tribals, adivasis and other downtrodden of these states have had a rough deal. Mining barons have taken over their lands without adequate compensation and alternative avenues of work. In other cases, jungle rights have been forfeited.

There are no worthwhile schools, hospitals, means of communication and employment opportunities. They have suffered decades of neglect. The pictures of the road on which the recent incident took place portray a sad story of the state of communications. There is no administration worth the name. Officers live under heavy security, don't stir out of their houses, where they have set up their offices.

Corruption is rampant and endemic. All progress has bypassed these areas and there is extreme poverty. We created the breeding ground for Maoist movement to take root. Police are ill-trained and poorly led. This convoy had, according to one newspaper, an escort of 77 policemen (considered too little!) and soon their ammunition finished and not one Maoist was killed. A minister in Maharashtra claims that a VVIP while moving out requires an escort of over 550 policemen.