Originally Published 2005-08-31 05:00:03 Published on Aug 31, 2005
The presence and influence of the Naxalites are increasing dramatically and rapidly in various parts of the country while we remain engaged in endless debates on how to address the problem.
Emerging 'Maoist corridor'
The presence and influence of the Naxalites are increasing dramatically and rapidly in various parts of the country while we remain engaged in endless debates on how to address the problem. 

The Union Home Ministry conceded in its annual report for 2004-2005 that while the "over all quantum" of violence remained nearly unchanged, "the problem, however, has affected a larger area, in varying degrees". At a meeting of Chief Ministers of Naxalite-affected states, on September 21, 2004, an official note circulated by the ministry said that 125 districts in 12 states are affected by Naxalite violence to varying degrees, while 24 more were being targeted. Strikingly, in 2003 the presence and influence of the Naxalites were limited to just 55 districts. 

The Naxalites of the CPI-Maoist, according to well-informed sources, are making fervent attempts to penetrate into virgin territories in Uttaranchal - Nainital, Almora, Champawat, Pittoragarh and Udham Singh Nagar - in the North, Dharmapuri, Salem, Coimbatore and Madurai in the South, as well as areas such as Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, from where they had once been completely ejected. 

A disturbing, if not frightening, pattern emerges if, on a map of India, one were to look at the districts currently under the influence of the Naxalites, or being targeted. They might soon gain a continuous presence along the length and breadth of the country and thus carve out a north-south and east-west corridor; the later both below and above the Tropic of Cancer. It is in the intersection of these two corridors, Bastar in Central India's Chhattisgarh, that the Maoist central leadership is said to be in hiding. 

If the Maoists were to ever launch coordinated, simultaneous attacks along the east-west corridor, they would be able to nearly cut off peninsular India from the rest of the country. On the other hand, the north-south corridor can "virtually drive a wedge through the vital areas of the country, cutting off the rich north-eastern part of India from the rest of the country. This very large zone will have control over huge deposits of minerals, oils and industrialised territory", and give the Maoists "a powerful bargaining chip", as noted by Ranjit Kumar Gupta, who fought the Naxalites in West Bengal in the 1970s. 

Also, Rajya Sabha member and former Army Chief Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury, said on December 15, 2004, in the Upper House: "The Naxalite movement is the main threat which is menacing the state today. It is more dangerous than the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or the situation in the North-East. You won't be able to go from Delhi to Kolkata or from Mumbai to Chennai if this movement ever catches on."

On the other hand, fatalities in Naxalite-related violence across the country have been high. The Union Home Minister said on July 27, 2005, replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, that 251 persons and 101 Naxalites were killed in the first six months of the current year alone in 10 states while Parliament was earlier informed that a total of 566 lives were lost in Naxalite-related violence in 2004. If the now-failed peace process was not on in Andhra Pradesh for the greater part of 2004, the fatalities would have been higher during that year. In 2003 the number of fatalities stood at 515 while in 2002 the figure was 482. 

On the one extreme, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr Raman Singh of the BJP, has repeatedly called for a national policy to address the Naxalite issue while, at the other extreme, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said in Hyderabad on August 21, 2005, that "it is not possible to have a national policy". On its part, the Congress had appointed a "Task Force on Naxalite Violence" with Mr M Shashidhar Reddy as the convener. The report was submitted in April 2005 and nothing was heard of it later. The difficulty is that different political parties are in power in the various states affected by the Naxalites and at the Centre. Therefore, a national consensus and a broad national approach - within the framework of the country's approach to internal security - prescribing guidelines on addressing the Naxalite issue, while leaving the specific modalities and measure for individual states to formulate, has been acutely elusive, and urgently needed. 

Moreover, the difficulty is further compounded when political leaders at various levels, cutting across party lines, strike opportunistic deals with the Naxalites for their selfish ends. For instance, one former Telugu Desam legislator Paritala Ravindra actually used the Naxalites to liquidate his rivals. Over-ground Maoist supporter P. Vara Vara Rao admitted this on February 2, 2005. Besides, on August 23, 2004, some Naxalites were arrested from the residence of RJD MLA Dinanath Yadav in Paliganj, Bihar. The situation is no different in the other affected states. 

On the other hand, the Naxalites of the CPI-Maoist are working methodically towards fulfilling their objective of "capturing state power through protracted armed struggle". On the occasion of the merger of the PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre of India, on September 21, 2004, they had adopted a "constitution" and various documents relating to the political resolution, party programme, domestic situation, and strategy and tactics. 

Moreover, the Maoists' lethal capabilities and daring attacks on the security forces have doubtless grown enormously. They now field sophisticated weapons like the AK rifles and SLRs. They have innovated and fabricated rocket launchers. They have also loudly "demonstrated" their skills at manufacturing and successfully exploding improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Mercifully, they have yet not gained access to the deadly RDX. 

In fact, on February 6, 2004, the Naxalites launched the biggest ever attack of its kind in the history of Naxalite movement in the country. They looted the District Armoury in Koraput, Orissa. The entire weaponry - an estimated 500 in number - and ammunition in the armoury were looted in an extraordinarily meticulously planned and executed operation, which included snapping telephone and power lines and blocking the highways and roads leading to Koraput town in order to prevent security reinforcements from rushing in. They had laid siege to Koraput, brought it to a complete halt and held the town, including the district headquarters complex, under their grip for a few hours.

Indeed, it is not merely a question of body-count and the sophistication of weapons, but the sheer loss of physical territory which is the more alarming feature and is, perhaps, a chilling reminder that the state has simply failed to govern in nearly 150 districts. 

Especially because the Naxalite movement is not secessionist, and as there is no external involvement, including of the cadres, the government has thus far failed to realise the dangers of a "Maoist corridor". To this extent, a hard-line military solution, which would involve killing one's own people like in Nepal, cannot be initiated. Thus, there are real dilemmas for the government. The Naxalite problem needs to be tackled in a more "sensitive" manner. 

Nevertheless, nothing has stopped the political leadership from formulating a national policy on the issue. One can easily arrive at broad parameters and leave it to the states concerned to rationalise the nuances at a more local level. 

And while we continue to debate about, and grope for, a policy, the Naxalites are gaining from strength to strength.

The writer is a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh, August 31, 2005.

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