Confronting naxalism

Print edition : October 22, 2004

At a meet organised by the Union Home Ministry in Hyderabad consensus eludes States on a unified approach to tackle the growing problem of naxal extremism.

in Hyderabad

NAXALITES have been striking with deadly regularity in different parts of the country stretching from areas adjoining the Terai region in Nepal to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and from West Champaran in Bihar to Vidarbha in Maharashtra.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda and Andhra Pradesh Home Minister K. Jana Reddy at the Chief Ministers' conference in Hyderabad on September 21.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

In the first eight months of this year alone, naxalite violence claimed 405 lives against 348 during the same period last year. The level of violence remains high in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Maharashtra.

These grim facts furnished by the Intelligence Bureau did not sufficiently impress representatives of the nine extremism-affected States, who met in Hyderbad, to arrive at a consensus on the strategy to curb the growth of naxalism. At the meeting of Chief Ministers convened by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on September 21, they did not agree to his proposal to emulate Andhra Pradesh and start talks with naxalite outfits.

Instead of giving freedom to the States to tackle the complex problem, they said, the Government of India should initiate a composite dialogue with the naxalites. They argued that all extremist outfits had ideologically the same objective - bringing about an armed revolution.

Shivraj Patil's reasoning was different. He contended that naxalism was spreading fast, with 125 districts in 12 States affected by violence, though of varying degrees. Another 24 districts are being targeted. Besides, law and order was a State subject and the Centre could not go beyond providing moral and material assistance.

A coordinated approach by State governments, he said quoting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was essential. The problem might "defy a viable solution" if each State government adopted a different approach.

The Home Ministry was apparently pleased with the Andhra Pradesh government for having entered into a dialogue with the People's War and the Janasakthi. "We welcome such peace dialogue with the naxalite outfits. If the peace talks succeed, well and good, but if they fail, we will not blame you", he told Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

The Home Minister, however, did not help resolve Rajasekhara Reddy's dilemma on the crucial question of allowing naxalites to carry weapons in the areas of their operation during the peace talks. The Centre's position is that the ceasefire period should not be used by the naxalite groups to consolidate their positions by acquiring more weapons and recruiting cadre. It believes that the groups should come out and surrender their arms to sustain the dialogue process.

Balladeer Gaddar at a rally organised by the People's War and the Janashakthi in Hyderabad on September 30.-ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

Far from being regarded as a model for others, the peace talks in Andhra Pradesh came in for rather strong criticism from some States, especially neighbouring Chhattisgarh. Brij Mohan Agarwal the Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, said that naxalites had stepped up violence in his State since the commencement of the dialogue in Andhra Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh too voiced its opposition to the idea of holding peace talks in isolation. Bihar, which wants the border with Nepal effectively sealed to prevent the Maoists from having a free run, adopted a slightly different approach. It suggested that the Centre frame guidelines for States to hold talks with the naxalites.

Shivraj Patil rejected Chhattisgarh's suggestion that the Centre take the initiative for beginning a dialogue with the naxalites. He said it would enter the picture only in cases of cross-border extremism.

The Centre's anxiety to have a coordinated approach is based on its concern over the scale and spread of naxal activity. It wants to foil the extremists' plan to carve out a compact revolutionary zone spreading from Nepal through Bihar and the Dandakaranya region to Tamil Nadu. It has already deployed 23 battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the affected areas and advised States to undertake anti-naxal operations in coordination with the CRPF and the Border Security Force (BSF).

According to the Intelligence Bureau's assessment, the two predominant naxalite outfits - the People's War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) have been engaged in merger talks since early 2002. Any such coming together would give a fillip to naxalism, which is witnessing a revival in recent years.

There is also the worry that the violent campaign of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in the Terai region of Nepal, could have an adverse impact in the adjacent States. The links between the CPN (Maoist) the MCCI and the People's War are growing, with exchange of men and material. In 2003, CPN (Maoist) cadre were reported to have received military training in seven MCCI camps in West Champaran district of Bihar, Bokaro, Giridh, Chatra and Hazaribagh districts in Jharkhand.

While States such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand oppose the Andhra Pradesh government's approach to the problem fearing a spillover effect on them, West Bengal's approach is totally different. Its dilemma is that it has no information on who comprise the leadership of the naxalite outfits in the State.

Interestingly, West Bengal's problem is related to that of Andhra Pradesh. The leadership of the People's War and the MCCI, which are active in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts in the State, is mainly composed of militants from Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, extremists operating in West Bengal receive weapons from People's War activists based in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

The Centre perceives that the socio-economic, political and regional inequities widely prevalent in the country are the basic causes for the continuance and expansion of naxalism. In order to tackle it, it has asked the States to accord a high priority for the development of the affected districts.

As all the States agreed in Hyderabad, development of backward areas is indeed a long-term solution to prevent expansion of naxalism. But, whether talks can be held without the naxalites surrendering arms remains a contentious issue.

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