Thursday, November 17, 2005

How Delhi slept as Naxalites armed

DAWN By Seema Mustafa

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, shortly after assuming power, that the Naxalites have “the potential to pose an even graver threat than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.” National security adviser M.K. Narayanan pointed out that the Naxalites had created a compact revolutionary zone from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke of the Naxal insurgency as the gravest threat to internal security. Home minister Shivraj Patil described them as “my brothers and sisters” alternating between this and outright condemnation.

Despite the consensus, the government has been unable to evolve an effective and cohesive policy to check the growth of the Naxalites that are now not just increasing in strength but in the ability to plan and execute detailed operations. The Jehanabad incident has demonstrated the Naxalites’ increasing influence in Bihar with the Union home ministry completely out of its depth in dealing with the problem.

Mr Patil’s responses can at best be described, even by his own colleagues, as knee-jerk with little to no monitoring of follow-up action by the states. Sources said that even basic suggestions like pooling of information taken in past meetings have not been implemented with the home minister showing little interest in the matter.

The Jehanabad operation was meticulously planned as was the Naxal attack in Bihar in June when the Naxalites assembled near Madhuban before attacking nine targets, including a police station, post office, banks and a petrol pump. They were carrying wireless sets and were able to coordinate the operation with ease. In fact these and earlier attacks, such as in Koraput, Orissa, demonstrated a high level of planning with roads being blocked, telephone lines being cut and all measures being taken to stall the security forces for as long as possible. There is no word from the government here yet as to how the Naxalites could gather in such large numbers and carry out a well-planned operation with the intelligence agencies failing completely to get even a whiff of this in Bihar where such violence was being expected during the ongoing Assembly elections.

In almost every case of major Naxal violence the security forces have failed to respond in time. In Jehanabad too, the police personnel were reportedly away on election duty with the authorities caught completely unaware. In fact, it now appears that the Central government had not been on the alert at all and made no preparations to keep the Naxalite groups and contacts under some level of watch during these polls. This, despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh and Bihar together account for at least 50 districts of high intensity influence.

Naxalite activity in these states has retained a fairly uniform high over the last five years with the violence profile of the two major Naxal outfits, People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist of India (merged into the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in AP), being sustained, according to intelligence information by “greater militarisation.” The Central government has done little, according to sources, to check the Naxalite groups in Bihar even though the state is under Presidential rule. In the Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa belt the two Naxal groups accounted for 90 per cent of the killings and 85 per cent of the total violence.

These groups now operate under a full time secretary of the Central Military Commission. Intelligence information, available in plenty but clearly not used by the home ministry to tackle the Naxalite problem at any level, maintaining that the People’s War outfit has strengthened its People’s Guerilla Army and was developing “mortar and rocket launchers indigenously.”



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