Since returning to power earlier this year, the UPA has been painting the Maoists as India’s greatest internal security threat. What started out in Lalgarh as a protest movement against police excesses morphed into an armed popular uprising, thanks to the machinations of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and the CPI (Maoist). The frontier regions of West Mindapore district were engulfed in a state of virtual People’s War; the Maoists wouldn’t have it any other way. The Chairman would have been proud.
The glare of national media, as well as rumblings in New Delhi resulted in the ensuing counterinsurgency operation, which effectively began on June 18. Lalgarh was retaken by local police, with the aid of the BSF, CPRF and paramilitary units by the end of day 3 of the operation. That the Maoists were able to exert control over Lalgarh in the first place is an indictment of the flippant, almost collusive approach to the problem by the ruling CPI(M).
This should come as no surprise: the CPI(M) is an ideologically bankrupt entity that has driven the two states where it has held power — Kerala and West Bengal — into virtual economic bankruptcy. Prakash Karat and his ilk do an excellent job at effusively marketing their non-ideology, and taking potshots at other political parties, but when it comes to brass tacks, there is a virtual paralysis in decision making.
However, singling out the CPI(M) for the mess would be unfair. Other prolific actors, such as the Trinamool Congress (TC) have played a very significant part in perpetuating the Maoist menace in the hinterland. Ajai Sahni writes of a law and order/moral vacuum that provided an ideal festering ground for Maoist indoctrination and expansion:
Other players have, of course, been critical — the (TC) principal among the veritable armies of ‘useful idiots’ who have been taken along. The backdrop of this increasing ‘joint front activity’ has been augmenting violence and a consolidation of the Maoist presence across West Bengal — something the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPI-M) state government has sought consistently to deny, underplay and cover up.
CPI(M)’s wishy-washiness when it came to declaring the Maoists as a “terrorist” organization makes one question whether or not they capable of acting in good faith with the interests of the nation at heart. The need to declare the Maoists “terrorists” was dismissed with the excuse that they (the Maoists) needed to be countered “administratively”. That’s rich, coming from a party that has left behind a trail of unmitigated administrative disasters in West Bengal and Kerala.
What the UPA must do upon the cessation of military operations is to ensure that there is a mechanism to redress the grievances of the local tribes. Police excesses and human rights violations must be investigated, and those guilty of excesses must be brought to book. A distinction must be made between the adivasis and the Maoists, who, for all intents and purposes had no stake in the anti-police agitation but the desire to indoctrinate and recruit tribals for their cause.
The law and order vacuum that allowed the Maoists to establish control over the 17 villages must be plugged. The capabilities of security forces in the area need to be significantly enhanced, if only to act as a deterrent against any future contemplations of armed popular uprisings in the area. B. Raman cautions that in doing so, the UPA needs to formulate strategies baring in mind the differences between Maoist terrorism and jihadi terrorism:
Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda….Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.
The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don’t. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.