What is the truth?
Pronouncements have a way of sticking and becoming established truths. If no one questions them they become unchallengeable. Thereafter they’re simply reasserted to prove their own veracity. Is that true of the Naxalite threat India faces?
I ask not because I know the answer but because it seems to have created a significant but perplexing divide at the very top of our government. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have come to contradictory conclusions.
As far back as 4 November 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh described the Naxals as “an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East”. Last December (20th) he said it again. He told the country’s chief ministers: “Left wing extremism is possibly the single biggest security challenge to the Indian state”.
The Home Minister differs. In 2005, he said of Naxals, “These are our children gone astray”. Last month, he categorically and repeatedly refused to accept they constitute the “single biggest security challenge”. And he stuck to his line when told he was contradicting his own PM.
So who’s right? That depends not just on the facts but, I suspect, how you interpret them.
The Home Ministry’s latest annual report (2006-07) says Naxal violence in 2006 was reported from only 395 police stations out of a nationwide total of 12,476. That’s not only down from 460 the year before but represents just 3.1 per cent of the country’s police stations.
Other sources, by no means lacking in credibility, suggest a vastly different picture. The Institute of Conflict Management claims Naxal violence affects a total of 192 districts in 16 states. Ajit Doval, the former head of the Intelligence Bureau, has written that it affects nearly 40 per cent of India’s land mass and 35 per cent of its population.
Are these facts saying different things? Or could it be that the 395 police stations the Home Ministry is looking at are spread across 192 districts in the 16 states the Institute of Conflict Management is talking about? Is that how Mr. Doval concludes that Naxal violence affects 40 per cent of the country’s land mass and 35 per cent of its population?
That, it would seem, is the Home Minister’s answer. He says if you look at Naxal violence in terms of the states affected, it covers 40 per cent of India, if you see it in terms of districts affected it’s 30 per cent, but seen in terms of police stations reporting Naxal activity the figure shrinks to just 3 per cent.
So is the PM scare-mongering? The problem is if you think so, you also have to conclude the same of experts like Ajit Doval and Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management, Ved Marwah, former Governor of Jharkhand, who agrees with this line, and former Home Secretary N. N. Vohra, who does too. So are they all out to frighten us? Why? And what on earth do they gain from it?
What makes the differing pronouncements from Race Course Road and North Block perplexing is that no attempt has been made to reconcile them. If you push the Home Minister he simply says don’t ask me to comment on the PM. And, unfortunately, you can’t ask the PM because he isn’t available for questioning.
However, the Home Ministry’s figures could suggest a possible explanation albeit a bit convoluted. They state that 67 per cent of all incidents and 76 per cent of all casualties occur in just 2 states — Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. This means only 33 per cent of incidents and 24 per cent of casualties occur in the rest of India.
So could it be that the Naxal threat is the single biggest challenge in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand but not the rest of India? If you accept my interpretation you might say yes. But I’m only trying to find an explanation that allows both the PM and HM to be right. What if I’m wrong?
Frankly, we need the government to clarify the situation. To leave us to sort out the confusion they’ve created is a bit much.