Soon after Mir Jaffar did a deal with Robert Clive and helped him grab Bengal in 1757, adivasis in the East Godavari district revolted in 1770 protesting against their exploitation by local jagirdars and traders. Other revolts followed through to the 20th century against similar British exploitation.
In December 1946, the legendary adivasi leader Jaipal Singh, ex-ICS and former captain of the winning Indian hockey team at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928, addressed the Constituent Assembly as it debated the Objectives Resolution. He said .... “The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at his word.”
Jaipal was looking at a future where there would be no exploitation. The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of Article 244 of our Constitution provided for local self-government in specified tribal regions in nine states. This never happened.
Successive governments prevaricated and, across the political spectrum, used the tribals as vote banks. In 1982 the Telugu Desam Party leader N T Rama Rao declared his party an ally of the Naxalites describing them as true patriots. So did other chief ministers later and the Congress Party indicated in 2004 that it would scale down counter insurgency efforts if elected. No wonder the counter terrorist is confused with these mixed signals.
Like Manipur or Assam and other parts of the North East, this adivasi region of Central Asia has left metropolitan India unmoved because these do not affect our daily lives; these places are far too remote. Ensuring implementation of the Fifth and Sixth Schedules now are impossible without the state reestablishing authority in the region. Otherwise New Delhi would appear to have seceded from the region. To begin with, we need an attitudinal change that gives us political will and administrative tenacity for the long haul.
The Dhabra Massacre executed with ruthless precision confirms that the terrorists had detailed advance knowledge from the time the Congress Party event was planned. There was some advance intelligence with the authorities about movement of terrorists into the Bastar region but was not pursued. There was inadequate security for the convoy and it took a police party two hours to cover the 10-kilometre distance from a police post to the scene of the incident.
The forces were not only inadequate in numbers, they also ran short of ammunition. The massacre confirms that old weaknesses remain and the remedies are also known. Ironically, Chhattisgarh has one of the finest jungle warfare schools in the country.
The battle cannot be won purely by military means even though this may be the first requirement. It cannot definitely be won by introducing the Armed Forces in place of the para militaries. This would be the most retrograde of all steps and should not even be considered as an option.
While it is important to try and prevent terrorist incidents, it is equally important that the state is visible and in control during an incident and in a post event situation. Our special forces like the NSG must be regularly upgraded, always given the best equipment possible with virtually instant mobility of operability and constant improvements in their training with expertise from other countries if necessary.
Our intelligence agencies have to be strengthened, refurbished, reoriented. No amount of technical intelligence can substitute human intelligence in planning and executing counter terror operations. There is need to rethink how we recruit and reward our intelligence agencies.
Our police force remains under trained, ill-motivated, ill-equipped and there has been no reform in 66 years. The ratio of police personnel to population in India remains among the lowest in the world. The old beat constable system, traditionally. the eyes and ears of the local intelligence, in urban and especially in the rural areas, has disappeared.
Counter-terrorism must be kept away from political pressures and from a media demanding results like instant coffee. The temptation to score political points at election time through hasty negotiations or concessions must be resisted. At all times, the state must support its anti-terror agencies and avoid any witch hunt that seems to follow every successful anti-terror operation. The sequencing of negotiations and battling are vital.
The state must defend those who die protecting it, against those who make a career out of pre-event demands and post-event sophistry. Meanwhile, why does one get the impression that the government and party were more concerned with the party casualties and there was far less obvious concern for the security personnel who died?
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)