Fight the Maoists, not with guns, but with good governance

Fight the Maoists, not with guns, but with good governance

The first shock came about two months back, when the left-wing extremists ambushed and slayed 75 CRPF jawans in the morning light. The second one came soon after when a bus carrying both civilians and the security personnel was targeted. According to official estimates, in the last three years, Naxals have killed 474 security men and 436 civilians, taking a heavy toll on the morale of our force as well as the establishment.

Though the Centre launched an expansive security programme, called Operation Green Hunt, in November 2009, but with the latest  carnages near Dantewada and Jhagram, the opposition parties’ demand for an ‘all-out offensive’ has only become louder and their criticism shriller of the UPA government’s ‘soft-stance and half-hearted approach in tackling the country’s biggest internal security challenge.’

From misguided ideologues, to rebels and lately to have become terrorists, the changing nomenclature of the Maoists is now giving ground to a fear that the government’s two-pronged strategy might take a back seat in the loud cry for more fire power. Many of the state governments have demanded a revision in the strategy, more arms and ‘air support.’ The main Opposition, BJP has said the government should embark on a ‘fight to (the) finish’ against the extremists.

But will an increase in troops do the wonder that many hope it can achieve? If history is to testify, a similar surge in other guerrilla wars have achieved nothing but condemnation. Even with 1,00,000 well-armed troops, the Soviets could not contain the Afghan mujahideens, just as the US struggles at present in the same theatre of war.

From the latest attacks, it is clear that the government needs to intensify its fight against the Maoists, but reading it as “surge first, negotiate later from a position of strength” strategy will be a mistake. An enhancement of troops would primarily not work because there is no infrastructure on the ground to marshal it and because it is important that the locals do not view the increased security personnel as ‘enemies,’ as they have been made to believe by the Naxal’s top brass.

The government clearly cannot afford to wait till the forces have fought and eliminated the last of the Maoists. The region’s jungle terrain, its rural and tribal population, poverty and illiteracy make for unique challenges, which would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.

If India is to reclaim its fight against the Naxals, then it must draw lessons from the past failed policies of other nations such as the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we don’t need is an Afghan war within our own borders. The country has limited resources and far too many liabilities to indulge itself in a billion dollar war of false pride. What is needed is not a top-down approach but bottom-up efforts that will involve the tribals and local leaders.

Crisis of confidence

Naxals were born in an environment mired by weakness of state institutions, widespread corruption, negligence, malign action and abuse of power by various officials. And this status-quo, maintained over the years, gave the local population little reason to support the government of the day. The consequence has been a frustration with the slow development and a crisis of confidence.

And at this point Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must enter the scene of action, whose absence has been disappointing. He should come forward and address the nation announcing his government’s two-pronged strategy. The purpose of this intentional divulging of the details of military and development operations will have to be three-fold.
First, prime minister’s address will help in deeming it an urgent and important status. Second, it will help in winning back the crucial support of the locals, in turn cutting the Maoists from their points of survival. It will let the locals know that our resolve of development is certain and solid. Third, it can result in fewer casualties on both sides as the Naxals would be aware of the government’s military strategy and would get less support from the locals.

And as the area is cleared, the government can bring along relief efforts, aid organisations, start development process. In short, provide the previous absent government services — an approach which is often referred to as the ‘unpacking of the government in a box.’ Military’s role, on the other hand, needs to be limited only to safeguarding our development operations and road network, especially highways.
The Maoists need to be fought because they hinder India’s growth to become a global power in the true sense. The government has already ‘lost’ 40 per cent of its territory to Naxals, who are ramming their way through new areas, meanwhile, killing security personnel and destroying any extensions of the government.

We must fight them because their actions have far exceeded the point where they can justify the cause they pretend to champion and have captured indispensible amount of resources needed to fulfil the needs of a one billion-plus nation. But let’s not in a haste give into the political pressures as our home minister P Chidambaram seems to have when he said that he has ‘limited mandate.’ Let’s not play puppets to the bad guys.

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