An abject surrender

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

Once again the Maoists have succeeded in forcing authorities into accepting their illegitimate demands through the expedient means of taking hostages.

The recent hostage drama that unfolded in Odisha saw Maoists and the State Government play the proverbial cat-and-mouse game. The Maoists emerged the winners. The kidnapping of the Collector of Malkangiri district, Mr RV Krishna, and a junior engineer brought the Government of Odisha to its knees. Both the State Government and the Union Government cut a sorry figure as they abjectly surrendered to the extortionist demands of the Maoists.

While proclamations are made from time to time to defend the integrity of the nation against any enemy — internal or external — State Governments, wittingly or unwittingly, continue to adopt the line of least resistance and capitulate without putting up even a semblance of a fight. The Governments of Jharkhand and Bihar, despite pressure from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, are not extending the support of their local police to hunt down Maoists. Rather than risk the death of policemen, they have opted to go slow. This in turn has emboldened the
Maoists whose sole objective is to subvert the Indian state.

According to reports, Maoists held 75 ‘Jan Adalats’, or people’s courts, in 2010 which ordered the execution of 36 civilians. Thousands of civilians and security personnel have died in Maoist violence over the last five years. Out of a total of 10,268 casualties between 2005 and May 2010, as many as 2,372 deaths were reported in 2009, 1,769 in 2008 and 1,737 in 2007. These figures include the 76 CRPF personnel killed by Maoists at Dantewada in Chhattisgarh in 2010.

The state has failed to tackle the Maoist insurgency due to lack of a clear-cut policy or a unified command to deal with the problem. The tendency of succumbing to the pressure of Maoists has its genesis in an incident that took place in 1987 when NT Rama Rao was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. The People’s War Group abducted 11 Government officials, including seven IAS officers. The NTR Government buckled under pressure and gave in to the PWG’s demand to release its top leaders from prison. This policy of capitulation has been followed
by one State Government after another because they have neither resources, be it weaponry or adequate manpower, nor the political will to stand up against the Left extremists.

The problem is not confined only to the States. Even the Union Government it seems has washed its hands of the problem as the Cabinet has given only a limited mandate to the Union Minister of Home Affairs instead of going all out to neutralise the Maoists. In a candid admission on the need for air support to tackle the Maoist menace and
the Cabinet Committee on Security’s refusal to endorse the same, Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram said, “I can implement the mandate that is given to me … the security forces, the Chief Ministers
of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, all asked for air support.” Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has more than once said that Maoists pose the most serious threat to the
country’s internal security. Hence, it will not be wrong to contend that the Union Government lacks the political will and determination to take on the Maoists.

Since abductions have so far yielded the desired results for Maoists, it has emboldened them. In the recent abduction of the Malkangiri district Collector, not only the Maoists forced the Odisha Government to concede the release of five of their jailed leaders but also immediately stop counter-insurgency operations and withdraw all
Central paramilitary forces. Although the lives of the kidnapped Collector and the junior engineer were saved, the Government paid a heavy price. The effects of the surrender will be felt in the short term as well as in the long term while dealing with the problem of Left extremism in Odisha and elsewhere.

However, what the Odisha Government did is nothing new. They followed what has been the practice for long. For instance, during the VP Singh Government in 1989, five senior ‘commanders’ of the JKLF were freed from prison to secure the release of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Again, when the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, IC 814, was hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999, dreaded Pakistani terrorists were freed and escorted by a Union Minister to barter the release of
the passengers taken hostage.

Thus, it would appear that the Union Government, irrespective of the party in power, does not have either the will or a policy to deal with hostage situations precipitated by terrorists. The Governments at the Centre and in the States seem to be more interested in buying peace at any cost, thus confirming, again and again, that we are a soft state.

At the heart of the problem lies poverty in tribal areas. The benefits of the Government’s schemes have not reached tribals because of the corruption in the local administration as also at senior level of the bureaucracy. As a result, officials assigned with duties of improving the lot of the tribals fail to show results.

Further, it becomes difficult to address the issue of lack of development — the main grievance of Maoists — because no contractor is ready to put his neck on the block as long as violence and terror prevail in tribal areas. Even Government officials do not dare to go against the wishes of the Maoists and their henchmen.

The Union Government has asked the Maoist-affected States to formulate a ‘cash-for-surrender’ policy, in which a rehabilitation package of Rs 2 lakh is to be given to Maoists who surrender their arms. The policy gives each Maoist who surrenders an immediate grant of Rs 1.5 lakh, a monthly stipend during vocational training for up to three years, apart from a graded incentive of Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 for surrendering weapons like AK-47 rifles or grenade launchers.

It becomes imperative for the Union Government and the far Left insurgency affected States to work in tandem to neutralise the Maoist menace. Further, the Union Government should pick up the entire tab for this fight, including that for deploying manpower, creating infrastructure and procuring weapons.

The Government would do well to remember that the objectives of Maoists are no different from any external enemy — they want to subvert the authority of the state. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”