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V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

Grassroots experts can help tackle Maoist menace

Naxalite leader Varavara Rao interacts with villagers in West Midnapore district of West Bengal on Wednesday. PTI

t will be a misfortune if our leaders pontificate instead of acting on internal security problems. This is what is happening on the Maoist front. In fact, the UPA government's dissonant notes on this have been jarring and evasive.

The Prime Minister told the National Integration Council (NIC) on 10 September 2011 that terrorism and Maoist violence were the two major challenges that the country was facing. He told the directors general of police (DGPs) as early as 4 November 2004 that the Maoists were a greater threat than militancy in Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast. He also told the Maoist affected state-Chief Ministers (13 April 2006) that the Maoist menace constituted the single biggest internal security challenge. However, on 16 February 2008, former Home Minister Shivraj Patil denied that leftist extremism was the biggest security challenge to the country. This astonishing statement came even though Maoists had killed 14 persons in Orissa.

Our present Home Minister told his ministry's Consultative Committee on 29 July 2010 that government was "confident" that the problem of "left wing extremism would be overcome in the next three years". However, this confidence was missing when he addressed the "Integrated Action Plan" conference on 13 September 2011. He admitted that left wing extremism was the most formidable challenge to governance in which more civilians were killed than in J&K or Northeast insurgency. While the MHA's web statistics are not clear, independent researchers had estimated that Maoist violence had resulted in 480 deaths this year. The toll in the Northeast, J&K and elsewhere was 355. Last year it was 1,180 in Maoist violence as against 722 "others". The Maoists had killed 825 civilians and 470 security personnel in 2010-11.

In 2004, the Congress president started well by setting up an AICC Task Force under Andhra Congress politician Shashidhar Reddy, who submitted his report in 2005. The late S.R. Sankaran, who had mediated between the Andhra government and the Maoists in 2002 and 2004, told me on 22 October 2007 that no action was taken by the government on this report. The UPA government then lost its way in a maze of political squabbles. Instead of finding a solution, they politicised the issue by blaming the former CPM government in West Bengal even though there were visible signs that the Mamata Banerjee movement had covert Maoist support. The latest reports from West Bengal are alarming. The Maoists are reported to be building infrastructure projects and running schools in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts. Home Minister P. Chidambaram too told the DGPs on 15 September that the Maoists had added at least four companies to the Peoples' Liberation Guerrilla Army and turned the Jangalmahal area into a guerrilla base.

Is there any solution? The UPA has lost valuable time from 2004 since they appeared keener to blame others to derive political mileage, which they did not get. Chidambaram was right in saying that governance and rural development schemes were intricately linked with the Maoist problem. His exhortation that the "villages have to be on our side" looks good on paper, but is difficult to implement. The villages in Maoist dominated areas lost confidence in successive governments because 5.5 crore of our rural population was displaced between 1951 and 2005 because of developmental work, according to a study by D. Bandopadhyaya, chairman of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission on "Development Issues to deal with Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism". This fertile ground was exploited by Kondappally Seetharamiah, who sent only nine volunteers 30 years ago to Dandakaranya to spread the Maoist philosophy. The result can now be seen in this area which straddles Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The UPA should now set up a small group of bipartisan public experts including media, human rights and grassroots revenue and police officials to study this problem and recommend how we should deal with it gradually. In October 2007 I was briefed by a junior Andhra police officer who had spent his entire service studying the Maoists. He knew more about them than several of his seniors. A national plan should be drawn up. Government conferences or National Security Advisory Board deliberations will not work since they do not have grassroots knowledge.

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