Capitulating to the extremist threats and demands is becoming the done thing in India. The latest in the series is the offer of 27 terrorists in various jails in Odisha in return for two men—one Italian and one state MLA.
While the army and the police put their lives at stake to launch operations to arrest terrorists—be they Islamic or Maoist—the governments in the states and centre release the prisoners with relative ease. The situation is rather grim, because other than the tangible exchange of men, several intangible fallouts follow. The morale of the security forces takes a dive, the trust in the governments as the guardian of law and security of the citizens plunges and the temerity of those waging war against the governments get a boost. One incident sets precedence to the other and it becomes an endless loop. While releasing the 27 men, as promised, the state government should give the list of charges against each of them, the number of policemen killed in operations to catch them and the compensation given to the families of these policemen. This could give an idea of the total price we are paying for securing the lives of two men.
The number of policemen killed in the pursuit of the Maoists has not been tabulated. Each state has its own records. According to some information available from the Home Ministry, over 1500 people have been kidnapped by the Maoists in the past four years. These were mainly for ransom, with some prominent cases for swapping of prisoners. While two-thirds of these were in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, Odisha is the next. Here 137 kidnappings have taken place during the past two years. Ransom and ‘protection’ are the major sources of fund-raising for the Red terrorists. The number of innocent people killed by the Maoists in the last four years is over eight thousand.
With each success, the terrorists are getting more and more emboldened. As soon as the news of kidnapping of the Italians came, the Centre ordered the CRPF units not to go for combing operations and to scale down the anti-terror operations. The Odisha government agreed to drop charges against five Maoists in exchange for two officials last year.
It is a fact that neither the Centre nor the states have a well-defined policy on kidnapping and hostage-prisoner swap. While Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister in 1984 went ahead and hanged Maqbool Bhat when the Kashmiri terrorists held the 48-year-old Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre as hostage. He was killed by the terrorists. Since then there has hardly ever been any instance when the government stood its ground. When Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of India’s Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnapped in 1989 by the Kashmiri extremists, the Government of India yielded. Again at Kandahar in 1999, the Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh accompanied top Kashmiri terrorists to secure the release of a planeload of Indians.
The Maoists have used kidnapping successfully as a means not only for securing the release of its cadres but also to gain breathing time for recouping and re-grouping. In the present instance, the media reports say that there is some kind of intra-terror group rivalry. The simplest point is, have the governments tried to cash in this rivalry and used one against the other. How far have they used the inputs from the intelligence to locate the hostages? It is understandable that these are operation details that the government cannot share in public. But other than negotiating with the criminals, through a group of men of their choice, the political leadership does not seem to have taken any initiative.
While every human life is precious, it is equally important to convey that India is not a weak state, where anyone with a few bullets can take the nation to ransom. A well-thought out strategy needs to be put in place. Or else, the whole anti-terror campaign will become a joke.