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Eclipsed by terrorism, Naxalism rears its head again

Eclipsed by terrorism in cities like the Mumbai terror attacks, the killing of 15 policemen in Maharashtra has brought naxalism - that killed more people in India than all bomb blasts together - back into focus, reports Aloke Tikku.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2009 20:39 IST
Aloke Tikku
Aloke Tikku
Hindustan Times

Eclipsed by terrorism in cities like the Mumbai terror attacks, the killing of 15 policemen in Maharashtra has brought naxalism - that killed more people in India than all bomb blasts together - back into focus.

Naxalism killed nearly 650 people last year, more than three times the number of lives lost in bomb blasts by terrorists throughout the country. But security officials emphasise the extent of the problem seems to have been largely missed out because the naxalites have largely operated away from cities.

"It is one of the most serious problems at hand for the security establishment," said a senior home ministry official, echoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who had famously called naxalism the "single biggest internal security challenge".
Nearly 200 districts are affected by naxalism in varying degrees.

Last year, the number of incidents and deaths went up throughout naxal-affected states, including Chhattisgarh where, despite massive deployment of central forces, the naxals still managed to carry out about 60 incidents in pre-poll violence.

"There were nearly 300 companies (30,000 central paramilitary forces) in the Dantewada region of the state ahead of the polls," the home ministry official, who asked not to be named, said.

That the naxalites still managed to carry out about 60 pre-assembly election attacks despite security forces practically saturating the naxal-affected state speaks volumes about the capacity and ability of the naxalites to strike.

But there has been, what Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management, called "panglossian obduracy" to acknowledge and address the realities of the naxalism.

Home Ministry officials said there had been a change in Delhi's approach that till recently insisted on underplaying the problem.

"There is acknowledgement that reading too much into statistics can yield misleading results… by their very style of operations, naxal violence increases when the State challenges their authority or threats of violence do not deliver the desired results," said a senior home ministry official.

Maharashtra made the same mistake last month when it pointed to a marginal decline in naxal-related violence to conclude left-wing extremism was on the wane.

"This has been the biggest problem all these years… Because there was no violence, governments were in a state of denial," said a home ministry official.

It took a series of attacks and fierce encounters between naxalites and the Orissa police - including the one in February 2006 that recently landed a young IPS officer, Himanshu Lal, with a gallantry award - that the state government recognised the problem.

Chhattisgarh, another state that has been playing host to the naxalites for more than a decade, again was in denial mode.

"It was only after Raman Singh became the chief minister in 2003 that the state conceded there was a problem," said an official.

Independent reports with the Centre indicated the naxals had been around for more than a decade.

Two months into the job, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has chosen to mark a departure from the past when he conceded that the problem was big and a resolution no where on the horizon.

"In 2008 the security forces seemed to gain a slight upper hand, but the challenge of naxalism is not yet over. In fact, it will not be over in one week or one month or even one year. It will take time, it is a long and hard struggle," Chidambaram declared during his visit to Jharkhand last week, his second to a naxal-affected state to send out a clear message to state governments to squarely meet the challenge and defeat the naxals.

First Published: Feb 02, 2009 20:35 IST