The spate of killings of security personnel from April 11 to 13 in Chhattisgarh at the hands of Naxalites is just a reminder of what more is to come in days ahead. The sight of massacred policemen lying abandoned, with their seniors debating how to recover them ‘safely’, was the most abhorring one. One wished the dead ones could hear the empty outpouring of sympathy and hypocritical statements of how the state was determined to wipe out Naxalites, how much compensation would be paid to their family, and what new strategy would be adopted to rid the state of this menace. In this cacophony of platitudes, real challenges and issues remain sadly ignored.
Let us not gloss over the fact that security personnel will occasionally lower their guard; village contacts and local police will fail the intelligence agencies out of fear for their lives; and lack of knowledge of the terrain by Central forces that are frequently changed will always offer territorial advantage to killers in laying ambush. You can strategise, constitute inquiries, appoint fresh set of security experts and advisers, rush more troops in panic, and sanction funds to buy weapons, vehicle and communication equipment, but killings will continue. The reason: The State is paralysed and cannot look beyond patchy remedies.
If you call it a war, try to win it the hard way. Shorn of any idealism, the Naxalites today are a bunch of criminals who thrive on extortion and sit on an impressive arsenal. Draw up a five-year plan to root out their scourge. Deploy initially 10 to 12 BSF and CRPF battalions, and earmark well-defined, vulnerable zones for them to protect and secure. Try and get the Prime Minister’s elite force involved that will critically help you to expand safe zones as the situation improves. Begin to trust the forces ‘completely’ and keep interference minimal. The state machinery can provide food, water, roads, electricity, education and employment to villagers in the protective environment that forces would create. But the final word of how and when it will be done must rest with the security forces. You will, of course, hear shrill voices of protest against this arrangement from champions of democratic rights. But you will have to ignore. Sometimes, however, you may allow their presence in the camps whenever forces operate. Let them suffer the heat in live actions and remain by the side should forces overstep their legal responsibility.
Announce unambiguously that no surrender will be organised. All surrenders historically benefit wrong persons, create potential double agents for the enemy and, worse, legitimise criminality. Also, give up pursuing the fanciful idea that development and police action go together. You cannot build infrastructure under the spectre of fear and uncertainty.
The question is whether we have the will to pursue this course of action. All stakeholders have actually vested interests in keeping this problem alive. It helps the state governments to extract money in the name of development and security, provides NGOs a platform to establish visibility in order to garner more funds, and allows dons to use thugs and criminals to ensure that their financial reserves and political clout keep rising. Does it really matter to them or to any one after 48 hours if a few lives in uniform are killed in this billion-plus country and lie cold among bushes in a jungle far away from their homes?
The author, a former Special Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing, is a security expert