The government reacts along predictable lines
Expectations were running very high when the Union home minister Shivraj Patil Chaired the first meeting of the standing committee of state chief ministers on 19 september 2005 in New Delhi. The media had converged at Hotel Ashok in New Delhi, expecting for a grand new strategy to combat a menace which is increasingly appearing to be unmanageable. The previous week’s newspapers had some Naxal-related incident reported everyday and somehow it appeared that following the ban in Andhra, Killing of CRPF personnel in Chattisgarh and the demand for ban in other states, the problem really needed some decisive measures. As it turned out, the meeting was a non-event.
As Chief ministers after chief ministers strode out of the meeting after having their say, the general picture that emerged was that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Even as there are reports that Maoists may be getting assistance from other terrorist organisation via Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal, the central government’s responses were disjointed and along predictable lines. While promising necessary Central assistance, Patil made it clear that each state will need to evolve its own adequate response depending on the extent of the problem in the state. Having said so, he advised the chief ministers on a two-pronged approach: police action coupled with development work in the states to remove backwardness, injustice and unemployment. In his press conference, the home minister said that the immediate focus would be on joint action by the states. For this purpose, nodal officers will be appointed by each state to facilitate intelligence sharing. He said that it is important that intelligence collection gets strengthened and it should be collated and analysed to make it actionable. He urged the states to strengthen their respective police forces and evolve their own plans for internal security. “ we have to understand that different states need different policies and approach to tackle the problem, because it is not uniform. Some states are more affected than others,” he said “ so while some states may need to take hard policing measures, others may find a way around with negotiations, “ This line of thinking belives that Maoists are still a disjoined body and not a whole despite the merger.
On a concrete note, Patil announced the formation of joint task forces between states, which is something the states would work out themselves. These task forces can conduct joint operations and can work out mechanisms for intelligence sharing if they so desire. Clearly, nothing could be more ambiguous than that. Throughout his meeting with the press, Patil kept referring to the Constitution, saying that since law and order is a state subject, Centre cannot do more than this. He also insisted that creation of Central Coordination Committees is not a good idea. Incidentally, the NDA government had formed a Central Coordination Committee under the ministry of home affairs which met 15 times to review the Naxal problem. A Strategic Policy Group was also created. But all this fell in disuse with the change of government. Dismissing the committee, Patil said that there is a committee under the union home secretary, V.K Duggal to coordinate with the state government, just as there are many other committees to deal with various issues. There were suggestions of joint command also to deal with Naxalism, which were rejected outrightly by the home minister, who is convinced that the problem does not warrant greater role by the Centre.
Interestingly, the CPI-M and CPN-M are already members of a few international Maoists organisations and their leaders travel for meetings and conferences. Not only that, intelligence reports have suggested that Inter-Service Intelligence of Pakistan may be helping Maoists indirectly. Senior intelligence officer from Andhra Police says, “ For any outside force to help an insurgent movement in a foreign country the movement needs to reach a critical mass. A few months ago before we imposed the ban on all Nasal outfits, including some of their cultural front organisations, it appeared that they would have had reached a critical mass.” He describes critical mass as a state where Maoists could have ordered around members of Parliament and members of state legislative assembly. “ We had report that in remote areas, government officials were being manipulated by Maoists, “he says. But the home minister feels that the situation is more exaggerated than real. Hence, he advised the state governments to act compassionately but in a determined manner. He also said that his ministry will get in touch with the forest ministry to see ways and means of modifying forest laws to suitably protect tribal people living in forests.