Friday’s unfortunate attack on a Mumbai-bound train in West Bengal and the tragic loss of several innocent lives has once again brought to fore the enormity of the Naxal problem which our country faces today. By all yardsticks, Naxalism today poses the gravest threat to the country’s internal security. The tragic incident has also proved that Centre’s response to the home-grown guerrillas has been ‘inadequate’ and unstructured, if not slow.
The UPA government has time and again invited the Maoist rebels to abjure violence and come to the negotiation table for a proper redressal of their grievances. However, Centre’s appeal for peace with Naxals has borne no fruits so far and the banned ultras have vehemently rejected the truce offer.
I don’t wish to blame Union Home Minister P Chidambaram for his inept handling of the Naxal issue as he has been working tirelessly to improve and strengthen the internal security scenario in the country ever since he assumed charge.
But what disappoints me is the fact that at the UPA government’s much-touted two-pronged strategy – one aiming at the all round development of Naxal-infested regions and the other aiming at ending the deadlock through peaceful manners – has been unstructured and replete with flaws.
The Maoists have, in fact, been using the developed infrastructure in conducting recce of their targeted spots, planting bombs, acquiring sophisticated weaponry - either by looting it or buying them from open arms market, as indicated by Chidambaram himself. Indications are strong about ‘outside help’ being offered to these banned ultras, leading to the disintegration of the Indian state.
The Home Minister has succeeded in achieving unanimity on Centre-state approach towards the Naxal problem and a greater coordination among various agencies in weeding out the problem. However, despite the concerted efforts, we have helplessly failed to avert major tragedies like the attack on CRPF troopers, on bus carrying civilians in Dantewada and derailment of Gyaneshwari express.
Centre’s reluctance in treating Naxals like terrorists and its constant refusal to use armed forces against them is further aggravating the problem. The Centre has so far been sticking to its stand of using central paramilitary forces and local police in dealing with the Maoist rebels.
I would like to stress, that no one has any doubt over the competency and capabilities of the paramilitary forces camping in the Naxal-infested forests to fight and dismantle their network.
But the situation now warrants a change in our approach towards Naxals, who should not be pardoned at any cost.
Although, the Maoists’ hand in Gyaneshwari Express derailment is yet to be established, but if it is confirmed, the opposition parties would step up pressure on the UPA government, forcing it to review its anti-Maoist strategy.
After a string of deadly attacks, the Naxals are still unrelenting and possibly readying themselves for a bloodier confrontation with the armed forces.
Expressing grave concerns over the Naxal issue, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has termed Naxalism as the biggest threat to the country's internal security, so the situation now warrants that the issue be treated as a national problem.
The derailment of Gyaneshwari express has also brought to fore that Railways- the life line of India- has become an easy target for Naxals, as any attack unleashes maximum destruction, loss of lives and a big setback to the government.
The incident has also raised serious questions about the safety and well-being of passengers and put to test our preparedness to meet such mishaps and the effectiveness of our rapid response mechanism.
The incident also points towards the failure of our intelligence agencies since they failed to detect that Maoists’ had removed the fishplates or tinkered with the tracks.
Our intelligence agencies should have been at maximum alert and security of tracks should have been reviewed in the wake "black week" declared by Naxals to condemn police atrocities against their leaders and for an immediate halt to an armed campaign against them.
In March, Naxals triggered the derailment of country's prestigious high-speed Rajdhani Express and held it hostage for hours.
The rebels have attacked police, destroyed government buildings and infrastructure at will in recent months and appear undeterred by the Centre’s offensive to clear them out of their jungle bases.
The Maoist rebellion, which began in West Bengal in 1967 in the name of defending the rights of tribal groups, has now spread in rural pockets of as many as 28 states and is hampering economic progress.
The Naxals claim to be fighting against the exploitation of landless labourers and tribals but they have, in fact, waged a war against the Indian state. By killing innocent people, they no longer represent the most oppressed, deprived and exploited sections of our society.
Their disbelief in democratic institutions and people’s representation and their unwillingness to come forward for talks is actually hampering the progress and development of Naxal-affected regions.
The fruits of our economic progress cannot reach the tribals, Dalits, and the poorest of the poor, until and unless the Naxals shun the path of violence.
It is high time that we must stop debating whether Maoist violence is a central or state subject or a law and order problem. The situation now warrants that the Centre must change its ‘soft approach’ towards the Naxals, who have been mercilessly killing innocent people like terrorists and take tough military action against them.