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March of the Red army

Earlier this year, top leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) gathered in a secured enclave along the Jharkhand-Orissa border and drew up a list of what they planned to do over the next few months. Six months down the line, party members seem to be doing exactly that, in a manner that is chilling and is as good an indicator as any about how the Naxal cadre operates.

That occasion was the 9th Congress of Maoists. The message that went out was clear. While they continued with their existing agenda of armed struggle, mega projects–including steel and bauxite projects in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh–and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) planned in other regions had to be ''resisted'' since they were leading to ''massive displacement and marginalisation'' of the Adivasis and farmers. The result of the call: a major mobilisation exercise to increase the numbers Naxalites and establish a presence in areas where they had till now been inactive; sourcing of arms and a 48-hour economic blockade last month that paralysed life in many parts of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.

The latest intelligence inputs suggest that left extremists have managed footholds around cities and industrial hubs in Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. Parts of Uttar Pradesh–particularly Sonebhadra and Mirzapur–and Uttarakhand have also reported the presence of Naxalites. And their influence in the south no longer ends at the borders of Andhra Pradesh; Karanataka and Tamil Nadu too are now waking up to the threat.

The red footprint: 185 districts in 16 states across the country.

''They are now present wherever an industrial or development project is coming up. After all, their strength lies in exploiting the sentiments of people in areas that are underdeveloped, so they want to resist all kinds of development,'' a senior police officer involved in tracking the Maoists said.

It is not as if the Centre is not aware of the new development. A meeting held in New Delhi in April saw senior officials from these states being ''sensitised'' to the threat. ''We asked them to be watchful and asked them to be prepared in view of the pattern seen in Naxal-affected states in the past,'' said Vinay Kumar, Additional Secretary (Naxal Management) in the Union Home Ministry.

Officials are also aware of the Naxal's new strategy of targeting communication, transportation, railway and other essential services. But as the 48-hour economic blockade showed, the security forces could find it hard to counter these new tactics. After all, it is almost impossible to guard every inch of power or communication lines.

Where they are not inflicting major damage, they are busy consolidating. Chhattisgarh has taken the brunt of recent attacks. The state Government feels this is a sign of success and an indication that the Naxalites are feeling the pressure. The Centre maintains that the sharp rise in incidents in the state is indeed the result of this. In Orissa, where Naxalites have had a presence for many years now, the state Government wants to raise the number of ''Naxal-affected districts'' from the nine identified in 2003 to 14. The new areas where Naxal activities are now prevalent include Deogarh, Sambalpur, Kandhamal, Jajpur and Dhenkanal, essentially regions that are either witnessing development or fall within the so-called Red Corridor that is supposed to run from ''Pashupati to Tirupati'', referring to the swathe that cuts through forests from the Nepal border to Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu.

Orissa Director General of Police A Patnaik, however, maintains that the situation is under control. ''The number of incidents have gone up this year but the instances of violence have not,'' he says, that the figures were low compared to those obtaining in neighbouring states, particularly Chhattisgarh.

In fact, the warning bells had begun sounding well before the 9th Congress. Figures put out by the Union Home Ministry tell the story.
Consider this.
The total number of security forces personnel killed in Naxalite violence in the past two years was more than those killed in Jammu and Kashmir or even the Northeast during the same period.
The number of civilians killed in Naxalite violence is far more than in insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir. The civilian figure in the Northeast is marginally up till March 31, 2007.
Yet, the total number of Naxalites killed by the security forces is far less than the number of terrorists or militants killed in the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.

The Centre's response: a multi-layered mechanism. So one has an empowered group of ministers (EGOM) headed by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil; a standing committee of chief ministers of Naxal-affected states, again headed by Patil; a Coordination Centre headed by the Union Home Secretary and comprising chief secretaries and DGPs of 13 affected states; a Task Force headed by the Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Union Home Ministry; and an Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) headed by Additional Secretary (Naxal Management) in the Union Home Ministry.

In real terms, the Centre has the Security Related Expenditure scheme, under which it reimburses expenses incurred by states in strengthening and modernising their police force, including improving the equipment. Over Rs 100 crore have been spent on this so far but there is concern over improper utilisation, particularly in states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The Centre has also been helping in raising India Reserve Battalions.

On the development front, there is the Backward Districts Initiative under which over Rs 1,700 crore has been spent and the Backward Regions Grant Fund programme.

The Centre maintains that it is up to the states to tackle the situation on the ground. ''Law and order is after all a state subject. We are providing all the assistance we can,'' a senior official says.

But as a top official of the ministry pointed out recently, ''It's a long haul.''
Indian Express

posted by Resistance 7/23/2007 07:38:00 AM,


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