Friday, April 16, 2010

Use of Military: If Not Now, Then When?

A spurt in Maoist violence is taking place speedily. Their network has spread in seven states of the country -- West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Adivasi (native tribal people) forest regions of Maharashtra, and is trying to spread its tentacles to other states as well.

Responsibility of States
Former Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil did not recognize Maoists as any grim threat as he maintained that 'out of the country's 10,000 police stations only 361 and out of 100,000 villages only 1,400 villages are affected by Maoism, which works out to just one-three percent of the total area of all villages. Even otherwise, law and order is the responsibility of the states.'

The truth is that since 1989 the influence of Maoists has expanded to several states and over 1,300 citizens and 6,000 security personnel have been made victims of their violence. They mustered up so much courage that after their massive attack on the Jahanabad prison and Police Lines, they started series of strikes through big groups. Five hundred Maoists struck Nalagarh in Orissa, killing 14 policemen by attacking the police training center and escaped with over 700 firearms and ammunition.

Anti-Maoists Campaign
Following the anti-Maoists campaign at Malkangiri in Orissa, when the squad of Gray Hound commandos of Andhra Pradesh was being ferried in boats, the boats capsized as Maoists attacked, killing 35 of them. Thereafter, Maoists went ahead with their strikes on railway stations, schools, block headquarters, police stations, and centers of security forces in various states and the government continues to talk in terms of strengthening police stations.

The police systems in the state are generally weak and there is acute shortage of manpower in police stations and armed forces. They do not have arms with which they can counter Maoists equipped with modern weapons. The number of police stations and police personnel has not increased in commensurate with the rise in population.

Increasing Strength of Security Forces
In the wake of the Mumbai attack, P. Chidambaram took over as the home minister and took a number of steps to increase the strength of policemen and security forces and providing them with modern weapons. The CRPF was entrusted with the task of tackling Maoists, but they have their limitations.

Notwithstanding all this, the Maoist activity continues. Recently, they attacked the Eastern Rifles camp at Silda in West Bengal, leaving 24 soldiers dead. On the eve of Chidambaram's visit to Nalagarh (West Bengal), Maoists launched attacks at two different places, killing two security personnel. Even then he declared that military will not be used but Maoists will be wiped out within three years. Within 24 hours of his announcement, 1,000 Maoists exploded landmines in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, blew up the patrol vehicle of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), killing 83 of them. At least 150 CRPF personnel are still missing.

The government goes on experimenting even in such grave matters. In Jammu and Kashmir when peace returns, the government at the instance of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) leadership or the ruling party National Conference leaders reduces the strength of the military there, as a result of which, cross-border infiltration increases and a spurt in violence takes place. Likewise, nonutilization of the military boosts the Maoists' courage. Two examples of Punjab and Sri Lanka are before us where peace could be restored with the use of military.

In order to wipe out Maoists, it has become imperative to use troops trained in guerilla and jungle warfare by equipping them with modern weapons. The mindset of ruling leaders is that the use of military will bring bad name, but one may ask whether a bad name is not being earned due to the Maoist attacks. They also think that the families of those killed will be satisfied with the compensation of Rs.1-2 million. Our leaders care a fig for the common people because not a single member of their family gets killed in such attacks.

Elimination of Maoists
The government took effective steps when bomb explosions took place in the vicinity of the residences of ministers and MPs and when militants attacked the Taj Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai as rich people stay there.

Chidambaram has spoken in terms of elimination of Maoists within three years. But by that time Maoists will fortify themselves. At present, he is engaged in strengthening his forces by paying a monthly salary of Rs.3,000 ($60) to the Adivasi and rural security personnel. Owing to the government's policy of thinking in long-term and complacent approach not only the courage of Maoists is being bolstered but also that of the dacoits and criminals in North India where incidents of loot and murder are taking place in broad daylight. Hence it is high time the military is pressed into service.

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