With the commencement of the new year, the Centre has decided to strike the Naxals. The much-touted anti-Naxalite offensive of the Central para military forces in coordination with the state governments, which should have begun by now, has been quietly put off to January.
And, that too will be limited to only two states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The strategy for simultaneous operations to isolate the Naxalites at the five junctions of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra will be possible only in March.
The home ministry officials, as also a top officer of the Central Reserve Police Force, which is to be involved in the offensive, say there are only two COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) battalions for fanning out in the jungles to root out the Naxalites; and hence the plan has been cut
down only to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand for the time being.
Four more COBRA battalions of about 4,500 commandos are undergoing
training, and as such the final assault begins only after they are available for taking on the left ultras, the officials said.
Raman Singh, the national coordinator for the anti-Naxalite offensive and special director general of CRPF, says the action now times in January in two states first, and then in other affected states, based on specific intelligence inputs to ensure that the tribals living in the area do not come under the crossfire or killed mistakenly.
The home ministry sources said that the offensive had to be delayed because of the ongoing assembly elections in Jharkhand that will be over only on December 18, and until then, the state police forces were not available to join the Central forces in launching the drive.
Home Minister P Chidambaram has given strict instructions to the security forces going into the anti-Naxalite drive to ensure the safety of the tribals and not to create a situation like the Jammu and Kashmir, where the locals were antagonised by the forces resulting in the distrust that hangs on for the past 15 years.
The government wants to win back the tribals misled by the Naxalites, but their sympathies will be elsewhere if the offensive results in their killings, Chidambaram has stressed, pointing out that the Naxals already have a propaganda mill that will churn out stories of excesses of the forces that are lapped up by the 'pro-human rights media.'
"While you should be firm, decisive and unrelenting in dealing with those who indulge in violence, you should show a great degree of sensitivity, patience and maturity to the poor people, specially the tribals," Chidambaram told the CRPF at a function in Kadarpur in Haryana on the occasion of its 70th raising day on Friday.
His message to the CRPF forces was to reach out to the tribals and the marginalised simultaneously with the offensive to remove them from the influence of the Naxalites, as that alone will encourage them not to protect but hand over the ultras, and make the drive successful.
He pointed out that the Naxalites had succeeded in brainwashing the innocent tribals through their propaganda machinery that they are the saviours who can protect them against the government's excesses.
Image: Security forces patrol a Maoist-infested zone
Photographs: Parth Sanyal / Reuters