IT is not a cliché but a stark reality that we are a soft state. Isn’t it painful that a nation that resisted global pressures to emerge as a credible nuclear power and is perceived to be one of the emerging world powers has, time and again, failed to handle hostage situations. The slide started with the Prime Minister VP Singh releasing five JKLF terrorists to secure the release of his Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter, Rubaiya Sayeed, who was abducted by separatists. Or was it a stage-managed stunt? That shameful capitulation without a fight gave tremendous momentum to Kashmir militancy that continues unabated to date. It was followed by the NDA Government’s heart-breaking surrender before a Pakistan-based terror gang by handing over three dreaded terrorists lodged in Indian jails to the hijackers of IC-184. The Government dithered for a week but ultimately gave in. The surrender gave a fresh impetus to jehadi terrorism. In the years to come, terror groups trained and mentored by the released terrorists unleashed some of the deadliest attacks on India, including the attack on Parliament.
This time round, it is the State Government of Odisha that has dealt a deadly blow to nation’s fight against left-wing insurgency by its inept handling of the hostage crisis created by kidnapping of Mulkagiri Collector RV Krishna and Junior Engineer Pabitra Majhi by Naxals. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his administration are completely off the mark if they think their ploy of engaging with Maoist-appointed interlocutors had succeeded in securing the release of the hostages. The insurgents were under great pressure from the Tribal community to release the Collector who is hugely popular because of his deep concern for the deprived sections of the society. Leaders of the insurgency must have been pleasantly surprised by the Government’s speedy capitulation. The Chief Minister who got re-elected in the last Assembly elections because of his perceived good governance lost the plot. He readily conceded Naxal’s 14 demands, including the release of Maoists arrested for waging war against the State and suspension of Operation Green Hunt that had gained momentum and put the insurgents on the back foot. The Government lost no time in accepting Naxal’s totally untenable additional demands made after the Junior Engineer was released. The apolitical Chief Minister and his hand-picked officials failed to appreciate that killing the hostage was not an option with the abductors as it would have cost them huge loss of Tribal support. There was a lot of space for hard bargaining to secure the release of the Collector but Patnaik was in a great hurry and had no heart for a fight. More painful is his decision to suspend operations against the terror outfit.
The Odisha Chief Minister utterly failed to take a clue from his counterparts in Bihar and Chattisgarh who had dared the Naxals to kill abducted policemen rather than give in. They gained time by prolonging the negotiations, located the abductors and with a swift and overwhelming response secured the release of hostages. Even if the tactical ploy to drag on the negotiations had failed in this case, the nation could absorb the loss of an officer with a family and a bright future to secure the safety of the nation. The bitter memory of 277 policemen killed by Maoists last year stands ridiculed by the visionless BJD Government that lacks courage and the conviction to fight the insurgents. Untenable claims of intellectual sympathisers of Maoists and their over ground cadres masquerading as human rights activists notwithstanding, the fact remains that Naxals are not fighting for the right of deprived sections of the society; they never were. They are fighting a protracted bloody war against the state and the civil society and have publicly stated that their aim was to capture power by force. The Operation Green Hunt was making good progress and had cornered Maoists. The Odisha Government’s capitulation has given them the opening they were looking for.
It is a huge setback to the fight against the insurgency that posed the greatest threat to national security, as per Prime Minister’s own admission. What did the UPA Government do to prevent a visionless Chief Minister from weakening nation’s war against insurgency? The Home Minister, we are told, spoke to the Chief Minister advising him against capitulation but was told that the Centre need not poke its nose into the State’s affairs. Do we have a Central Government that knows its top priority in the times we live is national security? If Patnaik didn’t hear the Home Minister, why didn’t the Prime Minister take up the issue with him? What prevented Dr Manmohan Singh to caution the State government of the dire consequences of suspending operations against insurgents? May be, he was too busy protecting the looters of public funds by arguing that there was zero loss to the exchequer in 2G scam.
Fortunately, the country has a bi-partisan consensus on the anti-hijacking policy. Learning lessons from Kandhar and other similar lapses, the anti-hijacking law was amended to include provisions like no negotiations, treating hijacking as an act of war and shooting down hostile plane in the light of evidence that it could be used as a missile. Unfortunately, what we lack is not legislation but the will and the courage to take a firm stand in the face of adverse popular opinion. It is in this context that one is reminded of the firm and bold stand Smt Indira Gandhi took in 1984 when Ravindra Mhatre, a diplomat posted as our mission in Birmingham, was kidnapped by UK-based JKLF cadres. The abductors demanded one million pounds in cash and the release of Maqbool Bhutt, co-founder of JKLF, who had been sentenced to death for killing our uniformed personnel. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi resisted all pressures to negotiate the release of the Indian diplomat. “No talks, No deal” was her firm stand that dared terrorists to do their worst. A few days later, the diplomat’s body was found near a farm. Exactly five days later, Maqbool Bhutt was executed after President Zail Singh was told to reject his mercy petition post haste. The action sent a strong message to the terror outfit. Its cadres were in disarray and most of their leaders were put behind the bars. Its UK-based cadres too panicked and fled. Smt Gandhi, for all her faults, had the courage to stick to the principle that the nation could absorb the loss of a precious life but couldn’t countenance the threat posed by terror gangs. Is Sonia Gandhi listening?