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Twice as farce
The hostage crises in Odisha and Chhattisgarh may have blown over, but these abductions in the two states have also brought into sharp focus our urgent need to codify a response to the Maoist threat. Indeed, it is all the more disappointing if we consider that while we've been dealing with this problem for over 40 years, we have not cared to formulate our response or clearly define our policy.
In 2006, the Union government issued a 14-point policy to deal with the Maoist problem. The salient features of the policy were: deal sternly with Naxalites indulging in violence;address the problem on political and security fronts;focus on faster socio-economic development of the backward areas;improve police response;and no peace dialogue with the Naxalites unless they agree to give up violence.
Unfortunately, this policy never got implemented at the ground level. It remained a paper exercise. The then Union home minister, Shivraj Patil, termed the Maoists as "our brothers and sisters". No wonder the Maoists took advantage of this idealistic approach to expand their influence and strengthen their organisation. His successor, P Chidambaram, said at the very outset, when he took over after 26/11, that the gravity of the problem had been underestimated in the past.
The government's new response was then summarised by Chidambaram in 2009 in three graphic words: 'Clear, Hold and Develop'. It implied a three-stage strategy. In the first phase, the Maoists would be drained out of their swamps by undertaking well coordinated counterinsurgency operations against them. In the second phase, civil administration would be established in the areas cleared. Economic development would then be undertaken on a priority in these regions.
The policy was sound, though a little too cryptic. It should have been more elaborate and should have covered all aspects of the problem - addressing the grievances of the tribals, winning their hearts and minds, inter-state coordination, intelligence sharing between states, and also between the centre and the states, surrender and rehabilitation policy, developing infrastructure in the affected states, and other related issues. In any case, the policy, even in its limited import could not be implemented fully. This was because certain elements within the Congress high command either did not want to see Chidambaram successful in the anti-Maoist campaign, or they had genuine reservations about the soundness of the policy. Digvijay Singh, Congress general secretary, struck a discordant note when he emphasised development to win the loyalty of the tribals. Different signals emanating from the Centre naturally confused state chief ministers. While enunciating their policies towards the Maoists, CM's also spoke on different wavelengths. Nitish Kumar, Bihar's chief minister, said that enforcement action alone would lead to further alienation of the people and stressed that the "underlying disease" needed to be addressed. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee's attitude has been ambivalent. Jharkhand's response has generally been tepid.
Inadequate coordination between the Centre and states is also unfortunate. Soon after the Odisha kidnappings, CM Naveen Patnaik blamed the Centre for not helping the state. The home ministry was quick to rebut and said that the state had not asked for any help. The Chhattisgarh government and the Centre, however, appeared to be on the same page.
Clearly, tackling our Maoist problem calls for a comprehensive strategy. It will have to be a whole-of-government approach. At the political level, a concerted effort will have to be made to isolate the Maoists and challenge their ideology. Politicians will have to resist the temptation to seek the support of Maoists on election eve. The option of peaceful negotiations should always be kept open, but these should be conducted only from a position of strength.
Economically, there can be no substitute for development with at least a functioning primary health centre and a primary school in every village. Roads should be the next priority as they have the potential to transform an entire region. It will also have to be ensured that MNREGA is properly implemented and that forest rights of tribals are protected. Land reforms must be carried out and alienated land restored to their rightful owners. If any group of people gets unavoidably displaced for any reason, the state must look to rehabilitate them properly. It is also vital that we look to protect social customs and cultural traditions of the indigenous people.
More importantly, administration should have a people-friendly face;it must actively look to address the legitimate grievances of the people in a humane manner. Police capability will have to be enhanced too: by adding manpower, giving forces better weapons and communication equipment, and imparting to select personnel better training in counterinsurgency. Police and paramilitary personnel deployed in Maoist-affected areas must necessarily be sensitised on human rights. And there should be full coordination between the forces deployed in different states, while intelligence must be shared and disseminated to all stakeholders.
There should be, above all, a conscious desire to win the hearts and minds of the people and efforts made to mobilise their support against these insurgents. These measures, sincerely implemented, would take the wind out of the sails of the Maoist movement.
The writer is a former Director General of the BSF, and was DGP, UP and DGP, Assam
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