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Naxal shadow looms over Punjab, again

It’s a shattering realisation: for Punjab is as far removed from the classic breeding ground of contemporary Indian Naxalism as it could possibly be, reports Manish Tiwari.
Hindustan Times | By Manish Tiwari, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON APR 04, 2008 01:52 AM IST

The scourge that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describes as India’s “greatest internal security threat”, has reached one of the nation’s richest states. Punjab intelligence has sent a clear distress signal to the state government: Naxalism is here.

It’s a shattering realisation: for Punjab is as far removed from the classic breeding ground of contemporary Indian Naxalism as it could possibly be.

It is not a poor, remote, badly connected, forested, hotbed of agrarian discontent. It is, on the contrary, among the states that lead India in per capita income and energy consumption, rural electrification, area under TV coverage, and the ratio of organised sector employment to the total population.

And this apparent contradiction is what is worrying the police and intelligence establishment. All senior superintendents of police have been briefed. The police now plan to sensitise all ministers and administrative secretaries to the importance of the development.

Punjab DGP NPS Aulakh confirmed to HT pro-Naxal groups were fast infiltrating into farmer and other unions and making concerted attempts to spread their area of influence. “The government is concerned,” he said, adding, “We are keeping a close watch on their movements and are well prepared to deal with any situation.”

Soon after the SAD-BJP government took over, Punjab intelligence had detected Naxal stirrings not only in the Malwa — where extreme Leftwing elements had considerable hold in the late ’60s and early ’70s — but the Majha and Doaba belts too. About five months ago, state intelligence chief Shashi Kant sent a report to the government in this regard, sources said.

Kant confirmed to HT that extreme Leftwing elements had made inroads into unions and been spearheading some agitations for the past few years. “This is a sinister, well-planned design to make a base. We have information people leading certain agitations are in constant touch with various Naxal groups at the national level,” he said.

The police began studying the phenomenon after receiving information that Naxals had identified Punjab among 15 new states into which they wanted to make inroads, Kant said. Literature has been recovered from Naxal groups already operating in other states. They talk about tactical manoeuvres based on army drills.

So why has Naxalism returned to the state which rejected Revolution four decades ago to embrace all-round prosperity?

A senior police officer says the situation in Punjab may not be what statistics appear to show. “If we try to draw a comparison between what happened during the Naxal movement in the ’60s and ’70s, we find the state today is facing a similar situation — unemployment, anti-establishment feelings, mob mentality, restiveness, farmer problems, etc. One of the reasons for the present situation is growing disparity between the haves and have-nots,” said the officer.

Dr Pramod Kumar, director of the Chandigarh-based research organisation Institute of Development and Communication, who recently conducted a study on farmer suicides in Punjab, said: “The agrarian crisis, a steep decline in farmers’ income and their alienation from land due to rapid urbanisation have provided fertile ground to radical elements. The institutionalised redressal mechanism in both the civil and police administration has collapsed, leading to accumulated anger among groups living on the margins of society.

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