Recently at the UPA bash to celebrate nine years of the coalition in power, Sonia Gandhi had admonished reporters saying, “You Dilliwallahs know nothing about the feelings of the people.” She was right, many metro-based reporters are divorced from the reality of the country’s hinterlands. But then so are many of our Delhi-based politicians, who live in colonial bungalows, surrounded by government-appointed liveried staff and security. They step out from their cocoons into the heat and dust of real India only during elections and for token visits to their constituencies.
Saturday’s horrific Naxal attack is a reminder of how divorced Delhi is from the rest of India. The bureaucracy and politicians who had believed that they were winning the war against Naxals have been jolted to reality. The Naxals have been recruiting and regrouping while they gave the impression that they had been debilitated because several top rung leaders had been arrested or eliminated. Naxalism still remains the topmost internal security problem in the country. The Congress-led coalition has been chillingly reminded that it has failed to even dent the terror-inflicting capability of Naxals.
After the 2010 Naxal attack that led to the death of 79 CRPF personnel, the centre had gone on an offensive mode, increasing force capacity and investment in counterinsurgency operations. But villagers said that in many places what happened was that police stations that housed anti-Naxal paramilitary forces got fortified and the forces got better weapons to defend themselves against Naxal attacks. It had little impact on the Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign of the Maoists. While it is necessary to ensure safety of counter-insurgency forces, the signal that went out was that security forces had gone on a defensive mode, fortifying themselves against attacks like the one in 2010, but had no plan in place when civilians were attacked or used as human shields.
Praveen Swami writes, “In 2011, Chhattisgarh had sanctioned positions for 27,597 police officers patrol its 192,000 sq km of brutal terrain, ill-connected by road-contrast that with 64,200 in Gujarat, about the same size, or 69,801 with Delhi. The number sanctioned in 2008, when the Maoist insurgency was just gathering ground, was 25,716, of which just 17,392 were actually in service. The worst deficits are at critical mid-level command positions: Chhattisgarh needs 370 officers from the rank of deputy superintendent of police to senior superintendent of police, but has just 288.”
Policing is just one part of the problem. The absence of administration is another. There are large swathes of the country which are so underdeveloped and ungoverned. Professor Hargopal, who has long experience in interlocution with Maoists, says that in such areas, tribal resistance movement is encouraged by Maoists and vice versa. It is only when development reaches these areas that insurgencies will die down.
The Maoists meanwhile are able to tap into the insecurities and hopelessness of the poverty stricken people in India’s hinterlands with their propaganda that politicians and administrators are corrupt oligarchs exploiting natural resources that belong to the people. Their message is powerful, they speak the language of the people and they live among them.
Alex Paul Menon, the brave District Collector of Sukma who spent 13 days in Naxal captivity in May 2012, tweeted yesterday that he, “was a sympathiser earlier because (I was) misguided and misled by armchair leftists, till I saw it myself.” Now he rightfully calls them terrorists. A gun to one’s head and a knife to one’s neck can shake out idealism from one’s system in a jiffy!
Alex is a PLU (people like us). He has access to computers, air conditioners, cars, television and travel. But he has also experienced what people like us don’t have. And he has the power to be the bridge between PLUs and Not PLUs. He and thousands of other earnest civil servants should impress upon the political leadership that absence of governance in large tracts of our country needs to be immediately addressed. Enhanced centre-state coordination in policing and development programmes needs to be recalibrated with focus on counter intelligence and counter terror mechanisms.
Mao termed it a ‘Protracted People’s War’. Government should realise that one rarely wins wars with hands tied to ones back. As Bertrand Russell said, “War doesn’t determine who is right, just who is left.” India must win the war so that the weak and the vulnerable are not left — at the mercy of the brutal Maoists.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash