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The Naxal problem: Failure of political leadership

By Vivek Gumaste
April 27, 2010 14:14 IST
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While security personnel and equipment are important, it is the mindset that is the pivotal tipping factor in the battle against the Maoists, writes Vivek Gumaste.

The shock and awe of the Dantewada attack was unsettling to say the least: an entire platoon of 76 CRPF personnel annihilated in a single blow by a diabolically well-planned and gruesome assault executed out with almost military precision; a transient but definite coup de grace that shamed the security establishment and exposed the vulnerability of a seemingly powerful nation.

Understandably the post mortem zoomed in on the glaring logistic deficiencies of the security operation namely the inadequate expertise of the personnel, the outdated equipment and faulty ground planning.

But such strait-jacketed analysis misses the wood for the trees and overlooks the quintessential fallacy that has allowed our nation to come to such a sorry pass vis-à-vis the Naxalite imbroglio: namely the hiatus in continued effective leadership both political and intellectual; a lapse that is not restricted to the immediate pre-Dantewada period but one that stretches back in time to more than a decade at least and encompasses all layers of the political hierarchy. In fact it is an astounding failure that borders on negligence, smacks of frank irresponsibility and depicts a pathetic dearth of intellectual acumen.

Dantewada was by no stretch of imagination a bolt from the blue. Neither was Lalgarh. These were sudden and violent reminders strategically inserted in a gradually escalating war for which the Naxalites have been preparing for years and one that we chose to ignore, wittingly or unwittingly. We would have seen these attacks coming or even aborted them had we just bothered to look.

The preceding five years was a watershed period in the fight against Naxalism for it was marked by an exponential and dangerous growth in this scourge. In 2004, Naxalites were confined to 156 of India's 602 districts. By 2008, Naxalites had expanded their reach into 180 districts or roughly one third of the nation's territory.

The same period saw Naxalite-related incidents assume alarming proportions, both in terms of frequency and intensity. In 2003 there were 1,597 incidents. By 2009, this number had shot up to 2,239 -- an increase of nearly 40 percent. Additionally the number of casualties suffered by security forces reached an all time high of 317 in 2009 compared to 217 Naxal casualties. And for three years running the annual death toll of security personnel has consistently exceeded the corresponding figures for Naxalite deaths -- not a reassuring statistic

The million dollar question that cries out for answers is: Did Nero fiddle while Rome was burning? Could this dangerous proliferation of Naxalism been averted or stymied? The answer is in the affirmative.

During this crucial period the man in charge of India's internal security was Shivraj Patil, who owed his position more to canine loyalty than any administrative agility. He was a misfit and certainly not up to the serious challenges that his job description warranted. His persona though camouflaged by an impeccable exterior, accurately projected the nation's security plight during his tenure: confused, distracted and catatonic. He didn't know what to do and did nothing allowing inimical forces like terrorists to strike at will and Maoists to flourish with impunity.

Overseeing this tragic-comedy of errors and allowing it to continue unchecked was a greenhorn prime minister -- again a man who was not there in his own right. He lacked the decisiveness or the authority that is implicit in the position of a prime minister, looking askance from an extraneous source for every move; a failing of proxy governance that the Congress party must become aware of.

Shivraj Patil should have been relieved of his post earlier rather than latter. The overall consequence of these mistakes was disastrous for the nation with the serious business of national safety on auto-pilot with no one in control allowing detrimental forces a free run of the land.

There was another negative element in this debilitating equation: the Communist factor. The Communist parties milked the situation to their advantage with UPA 1 dependent on their support for survival. Ascribe it to an act of commission or omission but one thing is certain, with the Communists in power at the Centre, the Maoist movement did get a much needed fillip. The magnitude of Naxalite expansion during this period makes it unlikely to be a mere coincidence.

Every individual and section of society perceives some sense of injustice that maybe real or imaginary. If the solution to each of these inequities is a call to arms, the result would be a thousand armed mutinies leading to a state of unbridled anarchy that does good to no one. It is for this reason we have a system that allows one to vent ones grievance in a systematic manner. Our democracy however flawed still works and any reform must come through this channel.

And it is in the interpretation of this concept that the so-called intellectuals have gone wrong. Endowed with sophisticated powers of thinking, one would have expected them to accurately analyse the situation and provide sane counsel to further the process of democracy. Instead they have proved to be apologists for the barbaric and lawless shenanigans of the Maoists seeking justification for violent acts where there is none.

The Maoist movement may have started off on purely altruistic terms but has metamorphosed over the years into an ugly monster indecipherable from its original avatar as encapsulated in this incisive description (R S N Singh, Associate Editor IDR. Maoist Threat and Politics. India Defence Review.Vol 25.1. Jan-March 2010):

"The fact of the matter is that the Maoist movement is aided and abetted by China. A major part of the red corridor lies in India's mineral heartland. It is a deliberate attempt to slowdown or derail India's economic development. The Maoists are engaged in illegal mining with the tacit support of the political dispensations in some areas. The people of that area have revealed to this author that minerals like iron ore, illegally mined by the Maoists, gain legitimacy through bona fide mining concerns by intimidation and inducement, and are transported to Haldia port in West Bengal from where it is shipped to China.

For China, the Maoists are the most reliable tool in the proxy war that it is waging against India. In the event of an Indo-China armed conflict the Maoists would act as 'fifth columnists'. The nexus of the Maoists in India with Maoists of Nepal is well established. The linkages between the Maoists and insurgent groups like ULFA as well as jihadi terrorist organisations are also known. A Maoist leader has on record said that he supports the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, as it is essentially anti-American."

The Maoist leadership, therefore, are not a bunch of alienated and dissatisfied people. They have a definite agenda, which is scripted outside the country. They have not been averse to being used by the mafia, politicians across the political divide and elements inimical to India, even Pakistan's ISI. They have elaborate network. On their payroll are page-3 intellectuals, who surface on the media from nowhere when going gets tough for the Maoists."

Shorn of its utopian charade, Naxalism in its present form boils down to movement that is barbaric (as evidenced by Dantewada) at times, mercenary in large measure, populist only in name and anti-national in character. So let us see this movement for what it actually is. It is time to strip the Maoists of the fake halo of saintliness. Half the battle is lost when we wrongly imbue our opponents with even an iota of moral rectitude.

While security personnel and equipment are important in any battle of any kind, it is the mindset that is the pivotal tipping factor. We need to change our manner of thought, develop foresight and become decisive if we want to win this battle and salvage our democracy.

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Vivek Gumaste