Maoists take on soft state

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

Policing has become extremely complex in our country. While some States may have problems of caste violence, others suffer from agitations and spiralling crime, while many more may be facing insurgencies or infiltration. But States like Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra have to deal with another kind of menace. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist problem prevailing in these States as the “biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”.

The Maoists are Left-wing extremists who were almost wiped out by the counter-insurgency efforts in the 1970s by determined State Governments. They broke up into smaller factions such as the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. Then they merged in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which challenges state power with violence, allegedly in the name of helping the landless poor, tribal people, and ‘lower’ castes.

Three days after they killed 10 policemen in a landmine explosion in West Singbhum in Jharkhand, the Maoists, in the first week of June, brazenly launched two daylight attacks in and around a small town close to Bokaro, killing 10 policemen and injuring several more. They used landmines and bombs in the attack. In the first five months of this year, at least 162 security personnel have been killed by Maoists, most of them in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. The policemen in these places are cannon fodder for the Maoists. Hardly a day passes without some or the other policeman falling victim to their bullets or land mines.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a clear strategy or policy in dealing with the Maoist problem. Depending on political exigencies, different parties sing different tunes. During elections politicians can go to any length for the sake of votes and even cut deals with Maoists.

Laws are framed keeping in view the existing situation. In 1863, when our present criminal laws were framed, nobody could foresee the grave security challenges that we face today. As a result, given our archaic laws, we have been following a policy of ‘willing to strike, but afraid to wound’.

The law requires that there should be independent witnesses to any Maoist killing, even in remote areas where people are scared to come out of their homes. But from where do you get witnesses who will have the courage to come to the court for years and depose against those who can easily kill them?

Our laws are not only inadequate but also unenforceable. In fact, there is no concrete law to deal with Maoist violence. This, in spite of the fact that there have been reports of Maoists trying to kill the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Recently, a Maoist leader said his organisation wanted to carry out the death sentence on Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee because “the people of Bengal demanded he be hanged”. He was referring to the landmine explosion targeting the Mr Bhattacharjee’s convoy in November 2008.

Till the security forces moved in, Lalgarh area in West Bengal reportedly looked like a ‘liberated zone’ where the State Government’s writ did not run. The Maoists and the local population’s People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities were calling the shots, as police camps were abandoned.

The argument that a law aimed at curbing the Maoists would not stop their activities is both outrageous and puerile. Laws exist against rape, murder, dacoity, dowry and rash driving. They have not put an end to those crimes completely. Does that mean that we should have no laws against criminals responsible for such crimes? It will be a good practice if those in the Law and Home Ministries are made to spend a month in a Maoist-infested area so that they can have a clear picture of the ground situation there.

Maoism looks different on paper and in the safe, air-conditioned environment of North Block and South Block. Whenever there is talk of a tough law being introduced, human rights activists move heaven and earth to have it spiked. As a result, the laws are not only diluted but are so framed that they can make no difference on the ground. The Union Government says that fighting Maoists is the responsibility of the State Governments, which have neither the money nor the wherewithal for the job.

Today, the Maoists are waging a guerrilla war, often with weapons looted from the police. Our security forces are fighting a life and death battle against them. People who are out to kill innocent civilians are ruthless and cannot be controlled by sermons on human rights violations.

A guerrilla enemy is invisible and is very difficult for conventional security forces to combat. The Centre is setting up National Security Guards hubs all over the country to quickly respond to terrorism. But no need for a similar strategy has been felt by it to fight the Maoist threat.

The Government proposes to set up a 24-hour, multi-agency centre for providing continuous, integrated tracking of terror-related data. It also plans to develop a co-ordinated response capacity through the establishment of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. However, the impact of the Government’s efforts is yet to be felt in the fight against the Maoists.

Whenever policemen are killed while battling terrorists or Maoists, not even a tear is shed for them. The standard excuse or justification for such violence given by our so-called intellectuals is that it is either due to unemployment or poverty. They never call a spade a spade. Nobody denies that there is dire poverty and widespread unemployment in the country. But skewed movements like that of the Maoists’ make it impossible for such problems to be solved.

Whether we like it or not, if we are to survive and thrive as a nation, we have to wage war on all disruptive movements, including Maoism. Mere intentions are not good enough. They have to be translated into action on the ground. The Government must go all out to stamp out the Maoist menace before the situation gets out of its hand.