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Understanding the Maoist threat
Krishnakumar in Raipur
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February 08, 2007

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called them the single biggest internal security threat to the country. Figures -- depending on what data you are holding -- say they control nearly 165 of India's 602 districts in the country. They are the Maoists.

A movement that began in 1967 and has since seen many ebbs and tides. But now it has assumed such huge proportions that the State has no control over huge tracts that is called the Red Corridor.

On Thursday, various experts, analysts, retired intelligence officers and serving officers from 14 Naxal-affected states came together in the Chhattisgarh capital Raipur to discuss and find a solution to the Maoist threat.

As soon as the conference, organised by the Institute for Conflict Management, on 'Maoist Insurgency: Assessment of Threat and Doctrines and Strategies of Response' began, the Maoists set off an improvised explosive device in nearby Dantewada district, killing five people.

With the air of people who have all along known that the problem will take such proportions, the delegates warned that it is high time the central government understood that it is not an issue faced by 14 individual states but a national threat.

"The state governments are just not equipped, prepared or competent to combat the problem," said former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh R P Bagai, adding, "The people of Delhi must understand that this is truly an all-India threat. The Centre has to understand this and formulate a policy."

Raman Singh, chief minister of the heavily-affected Chhattisgarh, agreed.

Singh said: "Naxalism has adversely affected India's freedom. In their journey from 1966 to 2006, the Naxalites have constantly expanded their influence territorially, politically, socially and economically. If the Maoist Communist Centre and People's War Group can unite, why can we not act in unison?"

"It is neither a local law and order problem, nor a problem of a single state. It is a national challenge that demands a comprehensive strategy. This strategy must take into account not only the policing or the military aspects, but also the economic, social and cultural dimensions," he added.

Setting the alarm bells ringing further, independent writer and analyst Sudeep Chakravarti said that if not contained now, the Maoists will creep into the urban areas as well.

"If they enter these urban areas -- like say the slums of Mumbai -- then we are looking at total chaos. And this will happen if the Centre does not intervene quickly," he said.

Driving home the point that they are not a merely military problem, former Andhra Pradesh minister Vijayarama Rao said Naxalism is a major threat to democracy and the very process of democratic development.

Rao, who has also been a Central Bureau of Investigation director, predicted that Naxalism will die a slow death.

"But we can't wait for that. By that time, it would have left the body politic and our democracy in tatters," he said, adding that if the State intervenes and sets developmental work rolling in the affected regions, the popular issues that the Maoists claim to represent will no longer exist.

"Once the issues are gone, they are a bunch of goondas," Rao said.

A serving officer in one of the affected districts, without wanting to be identified, said that the State has not assessed the threat correctly.

"The Maoists will take up political, martial and military forms of struggles against the state. We have to focus on all facets of their struggle," he said.

Identifying displacement as a major problem that the Naxalites exploit, he said they might create unrest across the country. "Khairlanji, Singur, Kalinga Nagar all saw violence being unleashed in a flash. If such protests continue veering towards violent articulation, the Naxalites will exploit it to destabilise the democratic system.

Even as the participants went about analysing the Naxal threat, one aspect stood out.

Most officials who are in the centre of the issue do not have a broad understanding of the extent of the threat. They appear content to deal with the threat on a case-to-case basis. The disconnect was evident in the manner in which many officials struggled to put their experiences in perspective of the larger threat.

Also alarming was the fact that there are no accurate figures of either the number of armed/active Maoist cadre or the number of districts that have been affected. The figures vary depending on the agency that puts the numbers out.

One officer even said: "At least 22 states are affected by some Maoist activity or the other. They have at least 15 state committees. With such a vast spread, the states have no relevance. There is much more to the issue than meets the eye."

At the end of the day, all these fears confirm what the officials -- former and present -- have always been warning and what the prime minister rightly acknowledged recently. As one officer summed up, "The Maoist threat is no more the problem of a handful of states. It is a national problem. And if a plan is not put in place immediately, we will be pushing our future generation into deprivation."

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