Originally Published 2006-04-03 12:36:12 Published on Apr 03, 2006
On March 13, 2006, the Union Home Minister announced a 14-point policy on Naxalism in the Lok Sabha as outlined in a booklet, 'Status Paper on the Naxal Problem'. In an effort to counter political criticism and allay the oft- repeated concerns of knowledgeable and informed circles,
Policy to fight Naxalism: Need for political consensus
On March 13, 2006, the Union Home Minister announced a 14-point policy on Naxalism in the Lok Sabha as outlined in a booklet, "Status Paper on the Naxal Problem". In an effort to counter political criticism and allay the oft- repeated concerns of knowledgeable and informed circles, who have moaned about the lack of a Central policy and action plan on fast spreading Naxalite violence in the country, the Home Minister stated, "…We were telling them that we do have a policy and we are following the directions given in that policy and yet every now and then we were told that we lack a policy. So we thought of putting the policy in a booklet form and giving it to the (honourable) Members."

A policy is a course of (expedient) action, a programme or a strategy. It is supposed to be formulated on the basis of all related operational and political factors and reflects a fair amount of consensus. The status paper, unfortunately, falls far too short in those terms. 

Speaking on the very day (March 13) when the Home Minister spoke in Parliament, Mr Raman Singh, Chief Minister of the worst-Naxalite-affected state, Chhattisgarh, said there was "confusion" in the policy response to the Naxalite threat and there was little or no coordination among the affected states. On a number of occasions before he had called for a national policy on the Naxalite problem. 

Earlier, on August 21, 2005, Mr Sitaram Yechury of the CPM had made a diametrically opposite statement in Hyderabad that "it was not possible to have a national policy on the Naxalite issue". 

It is not known when the Union Government framed this counter-Naxalite policy. Most analysts are apprehensive of the quality of inputs and the level at which these were received, and whether the affected states were consulted adequately. It is also not known whether the policy to tackle the most serious internal security problem confronting India currently was discussed and approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. However, now that a policy is in the public realm, it would be useful to make a preliminary assessment of some of its aspects. 

Point III of the policy reads: "Naxalism being an inter-state problem, the states will adopt a collective approach and pursue a coordinated response to counter it". The government had made similar assertions in Parliament on different occasions. However, the contradictions and lack of coordination are self-evident. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu have proscribed the CPI-Maoist. Orissa was against such a ban earlier but is mulling over its revision now. West Bengal has "ruled out" the possibility of proscribing the Maoists. Mr Raman Singh complains of "confusion" in the policy response with no coordination among the affected states and little guidance from the Union Government. "We need an integrated plan to tackle this problem among the affected states, and under this plan there has to be joint action…", he states.

Point V of the policy says: "There will be no peace dialogue by the affected states with the Naxal groups unless the latter agree to give up violence and arms." But, speaking on the sidelines of the Conference of Chief Ministers of the Naxalite-affected states on September 19, the Home Minister said: "If they drop arms, it is good. But if they want to carry arms and still talk … we don't have any difficulty. We are not afraid to do so." Was it in line with this idea that the Andhra Pradesh government implemented a peace process with the CPI-Maoist and the Janasakthi, allowed them to bear arms brazenly, and sat at the negotiating table with them on October 15-18, 2004? 

The present U-turn reveals the Central government's confusion and betrays a lack of consistency in policy formulation. Arms or no arms, a dialogue with the Naxalites and Maoists would be futile at present because they believe in talks as a "war by other means".

Point VIII of the policy says: "Efforts will continue to be made to encourage local resistance groups against the Naxalites but in a manner that the villagers are provided adequate security cover and the area is effectively dominated by the security forces". This can be a dangerous course and one wonders if it has political and operational consensus. The Chhattisgarh example is becoming counter-productive. In that state, a peace campaign, known in Gondi as Salwa Judum (Purification Hunt), has been continuing since June 2005 under the leadership of opposition leader and Congress legislator Mahendra Karma. (Here one is reminded of Bhindranwale in Panjab.) The state government supports this movement. 

However, contrary to the government claims, ground reports indicate that the campaign is neither voluntary nor spontaneous. Some people in the tribal population have been designated as Special Police Officers (SPOs) and given arms to resist the Maoists. In sum, the tribal people have been set off against one another. This action has resulted in the uprooting of 46,000 tribals from their homes, and the tribal population continues to face repeated reprisal attacks by the Maoists in the camps. 

There is a possibility that the armed SPOs at some stage may get out of the control of the security forces and create lawlessness. Many experts feel that the movement should have been confined to encouraging "peaceful revolts" by the people, as was done successfully in numerous villages in Andhra Pradesh. 

Point XI of the policy notes: "The Government of Andhra Pradesh has an effective surrender and rehabilitation policy for the Naxalites and has produced good results over the years. The other states should adopt a similar policy." The "package" seems quite favourable to make Naxalites surrender. But the surrender policy has also created a small band of criminals who run protection rackets and have entered the lucrative real estate business, sometimes by eliminating business rivals. The implementation of the package is known to be tardy and caught in the bureaucratic red-tape. As a result, some surrendered Naxalites have already returned to the Naxal-fold. 

The lesson, therefore, is that great care needs to be exercised to ensure that there is effective and speedy implementation of the package; surrendered militants do not indulge in criminal activities; they do not return to the Naxal fold; and hardened, serious offenders of law are not allowed to go unpunished. Under all circumstances surrender and rehabilitation should be accepted on a case-by-case basis.

With the Maoists and the Naxalites conducting spectacular attacks one after another, a serious, well-informed debate is essential on the Union Government's policy on Naxalism. There is no time to score brownie political points. The policy requires an urgent political consensus. A well-coordinated Centre-state action plan is essential to tackle the menace.n

General Malik, a former Chief of Army Staff, is President, Institute of Security Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, and Mr Ramana is a Research Fellow.

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh, April 3, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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