For the first time since Independence, the Chhattisgarh state assembly held a secret sitting on July 25, 2007. No visitors, no journalists and no cameras were allowed. The secret session was called to discuss the Naxalite menace, described by the Prime Minister as the ?biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country?.
The Chief Minister said that the in-camera session was to allow members to discuss the issue ?openly and freely?. In other words, the elected legislators avoid speaking out, either about the Naxalites or measures to be taken publicly. Otherwise, they would be targetted and even killed. All members had been briefed not to speak about the session. Even minutes of the discussion will be kept under a veil of secrecy.
It underscores that the menace of Naxalites and Maoists is no less than a war. People have not forgotten the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 or October 30, 2001 attack on J&K Assembly. Taking the logic of attack on Parliament and J&K Assembly, should Legislators have gone into hiding, as a sign of surrender? As per the Union Home Ministry, Maoists, Naxalites and other Left-wing extremism-related incidents are outnumbering terror strikes in Jammu & Kashmir. As many as 550 incidents of Left-wing extremism were recorded in the affected states as compared to 466 terrorist attacks between January 1 and April 30, 2006.
In the same period, as many as 281 persons including security personnel were killed in Naxal attacks till April 30, 2006, while the fatal casualties in terrorist acts in J&K totalled 141. According to the Government while 516 civilians were killed in 2005 in 1,594 incidents of Naxalite violence, 219 civilians were killed in 550 incidents during the first four months of 2006. As many as 153 security personnel were killed in 2005 in Naxal-hit states and 62 till April 30, 2006. On the other hand, 223 Naxalites were killed in 2005 and 93 till April 30, 2006.
The Naxalites have grown from 156 districts in 13 states in September 2004 to 170 districts in 15 states by February 2005. In fact total paralysation of the administration and the country is the aim of the Naxalites and Maoists. They have warned, that Maoist guerrillas, numbering more than 20,000, could target industries and the Railways in a bid to bring mining activity in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand to a standstill.
Many experiments have been tried to bring concord, amity and harmony with a number of terrorist groups, including the repeal of strict laws like POTA and TADA, unilateral ceasefire by the Government of India in J&K and engaging in talks with Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh, as well as with a conglomerate of separatists organisation called Hurriat in J&K, ULFA in Assam and Naga groups in North-East, the Prime Minister's efforts to rope in ULFA for talks have been rebuffed, despite two rounds of talks with People'sConsultative Group. The Army was directed to abandon anti-ULFA operations mid-way to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue. It only helped ULFA, to group and reorganise, who have rejected all the government initiatives.
Populism, just before Assam elections, in 2006, ensured that the foreigners act and rules, were amended to make it compulsory for all illegal immigration cases, to be tried by tribunal. In the confusion, not a single deportation has taken place since July 12, 2005 when the Supreme Court struck down the controversial IMDT Act. Same story is repeated in Naga peace dialogue too.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Naxalite used the ceasefire period in 2004 to regroup and rework out their strategy. The result is there, for all to see: The Maoists, having regrouped, during the peace accord talk period, when a ceasefire was declared by the Andhra Pradesh. Maoists have carried out l,533 attacks in 2004 and 1,594 in 2005. Nearly a decade plus, long terrorism in Punjab was dealt with a crushing blow without an interlocutor, which are in plenty, on various fronts. If any interlocutor is to solve the problem, then pray what for the Prime Minister, Home minister and their bloated Ministries with officers, even looking after the cleanliness of bathrooms of their offices exist. Irrespective of what men may talk about peaceful resolution of any problem, the ultimate reason for the peace anywhere in the world is the use of force. King Frederick once said ?Don'tforget your great guns, which are the most respectable arguments of the rights of kings.?
Talking platitudes and clich?s, has become the normal norm of our rulers. If any terrorist incident happens, you can predict, almost in a word, their speech of condemnation and calling the whole episode a cowardly act. Rarely or few and far have been cases, where criminals have died by the hands of the law. They have been eliminated, by the hands of other men. Our politicians, when dealing with any problem, double speak. On one side, they will say that terrorism would be eliminated and on the other, they would talk of peace process. Charles De Gaulle rightly said, ?Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.?
Many people say that some problems can be solved by the experienced politicians, but there is another view which says that ?Experience to a politician is like experience to a prostitute?not much to recommend them. Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first? Politicians may think prostitution is a grim, degrading life. But prostitutes think the same of politics.?
Dilly dallying and double talk, have adverse and negative effect on those tackling the executioner, murderers, assassins and slaughterers, by whatever name they may be called or known. Security forces, are the ones fighting on the ground level. They bear the brunt of the guns, armaments and fire power of the terrorists or Naxalites. They get an impression that their lives are expendable, as the leaders send different signals on every day of the month. The treatment of the malady should not be delayed when force is inescapable and necessary, it must be applied boldly, decisively and completely. At the same it must be backed by strong legislative measures and protection for those on the forefront of the battle. As the laws stand now, and the standard of proof demanded, to convict a terrorist or a Naxalite or Maoist, is impossible to get. For instance, you need a proof, and a witness, not only as to who might not only have seen them committing a crime, but also be able to identify them and further be foolhardy and foolish enough, to depose against them in an open court. Apart from that he must be willing to go again and again to the court, as it is not uncommon for the lawyers to demand adjournments, till the witnesses get fed up. Again, he must be willing not to expect any magnanimity or charity from those against whom he might have deposed. He must also be stupid enough to expose himself to their wrath and be willing to manage without any protection, as there is no witness protection programme in our country.
Over 6,000 persons have been killed in different parts of India in Naxalite-related violence in just over a decade. Landmines, improvised explosive devices, targeted attacks on the police and civilian personnel are employed extensively.
Intelligence agencies have evidence of large-scale extortion by the Naxalite groups from targeted individuals and organisations. For instance, documents recovered from the Andhra Pradesh coastal region by the police in 2005 contained accounts of money extorted from a candidate of the Telugu Desam Party (Rs 5,00,000), beedi leaf contractors (Rs 60,000), from lorry owners (Rs 20,000) and from an administrative block officer 5,000). This is only a sample and a tip of the iceberg. Maoist seizing powers in Nepal has only emboldened and encouraged their ideological companions, that they can have a similar ambitions in India. Already the Indian terrorists have made no secret of this desire. The government needs to adopt a two pronged strategy of talking peace, but at the same time, keeping its powder and suppressing violence with a firm hand. It is the duty of the Government, more at the Centre and also at the state level to ensure that citizens are not harassed and they are well protected.
(The author is an IPS (Retd.), former Director, CBI, and can be contacted at [email protected])