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Action Time
The government needs to take definitive action on Naxalism
By Ghazala Wahab

First Person- By Ghazala Wahab, Anatomy of Loss, Prejudice, delayed justice and a family in ruins. First Person is the regular column in FORCE-A newsmagazine on national security, Defence Magazine covering issues related to Indian Defence, Indian Defence forces, defence procurements, paramilitary forces BSF, CRPF, ITBP, NSG etc If at all there was a need for evidence of Indian government’s total lack of ideas and willingness to take action on the crippling Naxalism problem in India, it just offered one: By constituting a high-powered committee to ascertain the cause of Naxalism and the means of overcoming its creeping growth in various parts of India. In the recently-submitted report to the government, the committee, comprising retired bureaucrats and a human rights lawyer, has pointed out that Naxalism is a political movement, which has developed because of poverty, poor governance, lack of development, faulty land distribution system and archaic forest laws and so on. The committee has also called for the disbanding of Salva Judum as it has led to dehumanisation of people and had de-legitimised politics.

It does not require genius to see that every word of the report is steeped in truth and common sense. Yet, ironically, the government needed a high-powered committee to understand what has been well-known for decades now. There is an old joke that whenever you do not want to take any action and yet pretend that you are doing something you constitute a committee. While it keeps some people busy, it takes the responsibility of taking action off your hands so that you can continue with doing nothing.

One only hopes that the government was not playing this joke; and Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district are a part of a sensible, thought-through initiative and not a one-off tour. Naxalism needs more than photo opportunities.

In September 2005, FORCE travelled to Andhra Pradesh for a cover story on Naxalism. The peace talks that the Andhra state government had initiated with the Naxals in the state following a mutual ceasefire had unravelled. Travelling across the Naxal country, talking to a large number of Naxal supporters, ideologues as well as human rights activists, lawyers and senior police officials, FORCE had concluded that Naxalism was not a mere law and order problem as the government was trying to project. It was a socio-economic-politico issue which has spiralled out of control because governance hadn’t reached the down-trodden. FORCE tried to speak with the Union minister of home affairs Shivraj Patil and managed to get a few questions across to him in a press conference called after the first meeting of the standing committee of state chief ministers on Naxalism in September 2005. However, instead of responding to what the government would do in real terms to address the problem, after coining the term hard-policing and hard-economics, the home minister was caught in the nuances of Centre-State relations. He admonished the journalists for their lack of adequate understanding of the Constitution.

In July 2007, FORCE visited another Naxal-affected state, Chhattisgarh. In addition to the existing problems of poverty, lack of development, tribals’ right to forest produce, land acquisition by the state government for industrial projects, Chhattisgarh also had the unique issue of Salva Judum, which had been in the news for various reasons for over a year. FORCE had concluded that it was a half-baked idea which has not only made people refugees in their own districts, but have also made them sitting targets for the Naxalites. While, both the state government and the opposition had thrown their weight behind Salva Judum, it was clear to anybody that arming civilian population was not a good idea. One, the state cannot arm and train them at the level of the Naxalites; two, it created civil war like conditions in villages, where members of the families had to chose between the two armed groups; three, it made nearly 50,000 displaced people totally dependent on state support and police protection; and four, it further brutalised the already tortured population by constant exposure to violence. In fact, Independent Citizen’s Initiative Group comprising Ramachandra Guha and B.G. Verghese among others had slammed the movement and urged the government to disband it and rehabilitate the affected villagers.

But the government is still caught in the battle of semantics. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly called Naxalism the single largest threat to internal security, his own home minister has dismissed such claims as exaggerations. He insists that Naxalism is not as big an issue as it is being made out to be. It is no surprise that the home minister feels this way, given that in a recent interview he said that his first priority is Centre-State relations and not internal security. So we can safely ignore reports from Punjab’s intelligence warning that Maoists have made inroads inside the prosperous state as alarmist. Since Naxals already have their tentacles in 11 states, what difference would one more state make.

Meanwhile, instead of responding to what would appear to be truth staring in the face, the government constituted a committee. Nothing wrong with that as long as this report shakes it to devise a course of action which goes beyond giving specialist training to police and Para-military personnel to take on the Naxals in pitched battles. But what is most likely is that yet another committee would be instituted to review the findings of the present one. Till such time, the ministry of home affairs can further fine-tune the Centre-State relations.

Ghazala Wahab now tweets. Follow her daily comments on Twitter @Gwahab
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