Going by the latest spate of Naxal attacks in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, one would think that India’s most potent perpetrators of terror have raised their ugly head once again. The fact of the matter is that the proverbial ‘ugly head’ has hardly been out of view in a while. If the gunning down of a former Chief Minister’s son and 17 others last Saturday in Giridih, Jharkhand, has led to a flurry of activity touted to be a more pro-active approach in the battle against the Naxals, it still hasn’t amounted to the State machinery being firmed up to fight this asymmetrical war with success. The three main Naxal-hit states, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, have practised an ad-hoc, reactive policy when it comes to fighting the terrorists. We see compartmentalised fire-fighting in which not only is there little coordination between the states’ security forces, but there is also the more worrying disconnect between methods of gathering intelligence at the ground level.
Much has been written about the failure of Chhattisgarh’s Salwa Judum policy. The aspect of bringing together locals from Naxal-infested areas and providing them ‘shelter’ in camps has proved to be a serious risk in terms of protection — the Naxals being able to clearly identify non-sympathetic targets in these camps — and has also made intelligence gathering that much more difficult. While initially the authorities managed to gather information from the locals about Naxal movement, that conduit of information has dried up as the locals are now no longer ‘in touch’ with Naxal activities.
Apart from these practical, and thus vital, matters, the stop-start character of anti-Naxal operations is an invitation to terrorists to attack, lie low and regroup. Then there is the bigger issue of Naxal sympathisers. It is an unpalatable fact that the violence wreaked by the Naxals is grudgingly accepted by many locals as they have no option when it comes to a support structure. Displacement is only one part of this lack of State concern. And where the State doesn’t bother to tread, others with a fierce agenda against that State are bound to rush in. To drive out the terror that affects 13 states, the authorities do not have the luxury of focusing on development or taking on the Naxals with guns. It is imperative that the states learn to multi-task effectively.