G R O U N D   Z E R O

Good start, Rajnath must now push hard and fast
With the small wars turning out to be a major battle, the real challenge for Rajnath would be to bring about greater coordination among the Naxal-afflicted states and quickly resolve turf battles.
Raj Chengappa

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh appears to have got his priorities right. There are many pressing issues concerning internal security in the country but none as urgent as dealing with Left Wing Extremism (LWE). In 2010, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had described it as the “gravest” and the “biggest” internal security threat faced by the nation. This was soon after Maoists, in the single largest Left-wing strike, killed 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and wounded 50 when they were on anti-Naxal combing operation in the remote Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh.

Manmohan Singh was never prone to exaggeration and four years later, the threat remains as real. There is a huge arc of 106 districts spread across the 10 states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal that have been identified as “worst affected” by LWE. In these districts, the writ of the government has now not run for more than 20 years. Successive Central and state governments have launched various drives to root out the problem but without much success.

Rajnath Singh
Rajnath Singh is talking tough.

While Left-wing extremism has afflicted India ever since the birth of the Naxalite movement in India in 1967, insurgents have made tremendous gains in the past few decades, particularly in backward districts where the poor suffer from widespread exploitation. In 2004, Left-wing extremists received a major boost when the Peoples War Group (PWG) operating largely in Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), with its stronghold in Bihar and adjoining states, decided to merge and form the CPI (Maoist) party.

That created a “Red Corridor” between the afflicted states which the armed wing of the CPI (Maoist) party, the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), exploited to the hilt. Given the party’s philosophy of using violence to set right injustice and overthrow existing power structures, the Maoist guerrillas stepped up attacks across the 10 states, unleashing a wave of murderous reprisals. Between 2004 and 2014, Maoists killed 4,918 civilians and 1,905 security personnel, making them India’s single largest internal security threat. The “small wars” had turned to be a major battle for India.

When P Chidambaram was Home Minister, after the 2010 Dantewada incident, he convinced the PM to launch a twin-pronged strategy to curb Maoist insurgents. One prong was directed towards considerably beefing up the police forces and equipping them to tackle the guerrillas. These included setting up a Unified Command for the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, the most affected states, to conduct coordinated operations against the armed insurgents. Meanwhile, money was pumped in to fortify 400 police stations in the affected districts. The other prong was focused on bringing rapid development to the “Red” districts by empowering district officials with the powers to sanction roads, toilets, schools and drinking water facilities.

On Friday, Rajnath held a major review meeting in New Delhi with officials of the states afflicted with LWE that included the Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police, apart from the DG of the Central Armed Police Forces. To his credit, Rajnath dealt with the entire problem with the gravitas it deserves. He shunned bluster and focused on giving a fresh impetus to the twin-pronged action plan, which had begun to flag after Chidambaram’s departure in 2012.

The new Home Minister said the Central Government would continue the policy of not negotiating with the insurgents unless they gave up the gun. He talked of tackling the problem “in a balanced manner through administrative leadership and political commitment”. Rajnath said the Central Government would add another 10,000 troops to the existing 80,000 Central forces in Maoist-affected states. The Home Ministry was also planning to fund the formation of special forces akin to the Greyhounds, Andhra’s successful anti-Naxal force, in the chronically affected states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar.

The balance in Rajnath’s approach was evident when he gave equal attention to provide much faster development in the afflicted districts. The root cause for the spread of insurgency in these districts has been the disillusionment of people with the state machinery and its inability to provide them with basic necessities like water, toilets, schools, houses, roads, communications and jobs. To improve connectivity, Rajnath said the Centre would set up 3,000 mobile towers, apart from building more roads. Much more needs to be done though by the states involved to ensure that the people living in these areas are given a better deal.

The real challenge for Rajnath would be to bring about greater coordination among the states afflicted and quickly resolve turf battles. If a couple of states remain lax or fall behind in tackling the problem, these become a refuge for Maoist insurgents when the other states step up their anti-Naxal drives. These militants then regroup and strike again when the resolve of the nation begins to weaken. Rajnath has made a good beginning but he needs to sustain it by constantly pushing harder and faster.





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |