State must win this battle

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

One of the hallmarks of good governance is to ensure equality of justice and not compromise on basic democratic values. Good governance has been sacrificed more than once at the altar of expediency or for the sake of buying peace.

Instances of this are galore. The rule of law that politicians like to brag about is seldom enforced. Case in point: The latest surrender of the West Bengal Government to the Maoists. The former freed as many as 21 Maoists foot-soldiers in exchange for the life of the abducted police officer in charge of Sankrail police station. Both the West Bengal State and the Union Governments have been flexing their muscle and threatening to take a tough stand against the Maoists. But this they have been doing without ensuring the basic tools that are needed by security personnel who are at the forefront of this battle against the extremists.

It has been reported that 24 policemen, including constables, inspectors and home-guards, all unarmed, were present at the Sankrail police station when the Maoists struck October 20. Not a single shot was fired by them. The reason is that all their weapons were securely locked in the store-room as required under the rules.

In any cases, the weapons they had, that is six .303 rifles, three revolvers, one 9-mm pistol and several rounds of ammunition, were antique and no match for the sophisticated semi-automatic guns used by the Maoists.

What is even more shocking is that till the last Lok Sabha election, the policemen at the station had to make do with lathis. It was only during the election that they received their archaic weapons. Apart from being ill-equipped, the policemen at the Sankrail station had no firing practice and had to live and work in sub-human conditions. Their station has no boundary wall and is situated in an open field with a forest behind it. It is a dilapidated building that houses the main station and the adjacent barracks, which have been rented from a local businessman. The police station has no doors or bunkers to thwart an attack.

It would be wrong to say that Sankrail police station and the poor facilities there are an aberration. In fact, majority of the police stations in the country are no better. But this somehow doesn’t concern the powers that be.

Indeed, the reaction of all Governments affected by the Maoist menace is kneejerk. Nobody is clear whether it is a law and order problem or a socio-economic issue. Perhaps it is all these things put together. Everybody has his own interpretation and prescription for solving the problem. In the meantime, the problem continues to aggravate. The Maoists have already declared war against the Indian state. But our Government has not yet formed a concrete policy to deal with the situation.

The Maoists have intensified their attacks in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, in the Gadchiroli region in Maharashtra, and in parts of West Bengal. Policemen who stand in the way of the extremists are usually no match. For example, 18 members of a police party were killed in an ambush in Gadchiroli district on October 8, five days before polling for the Maharashtra Assembly election began. The brutal beheading of Jharkhand Police Inspector Francis Induwar is still fresh in the minds of the people. There are numerous such incidents from across the Maoist-infested States where policemen have been butchered by the Left-wing ultras. The State Governments are lackadaisical about implementing development plans for the tribal areas despite substantial funds being available, but it is the police that pay for it with their lives.

According to the Union Home Ministry’s own figures, overall Maoist influence has spread from 56 districts in 2001 to 223 of in 2009. It ranked approximately 70 of these as worst affected.

There is an urgent need to ensure that the poorest of the poor get their share of development of growth. The Government must ask itself what has prevented the delivery of the benefits of its developmental schemes to the deprived masses.

It is nothing but corruption which lies at the root of the problem. Maoism cannot be vanquished through big speeches or announcement of grand plans, but only through empowering the poor. Small problems become big if they are not tackled in time. This is what has exactly happened with Maoism.

The ultimate responsibility for maintaining peace and tranquility in the country lies with the Union Government. It might be true that law and order is a State subject. But the Centre cannot shirk its responsibility. The figures speak for themselves. According to Home Ministry data, Maoist strikes on economic targets have increased from 71 in 2006 to 80 in 2007,109 in 2008 and 56 in the first half of 2009

Communication towers have been most targeted this year, apart from power plants, with Andhra Pradesh bearing most of attacks. The police have borne the brunt of the attacks with 44 per cent casualties in 2007. As many as 55 police personnel were killed in a single incident in Bijapur in Chhattisgarh on March 3. A whopping 395 police stations in 11 States reported Maoist violence in 2006 with 93 in Andhra Pradesh alone. Do we need any more proof to underline the seriousness of the Maoist menace?

It is not enough to go on making plans and have a vision as to how to deal with the problem. These things have to be combined with enterprise and action. We must tackle the Maoist crisis head on. This is the only way in which we can hope to win this war. Failure is simply not an option.