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Lay down arms or face war, P Chidambaram tells Maoists

Posted by Admin on October 8, 2009

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Signalling a tough mood in government in the wake of Red ultras beheading Jharkhand cop Francis Induwar, home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday delivered an ultimatum to Maoists that they would face the might of the security forces unless they gave up armed struggle.

Speaking in Mumbai, the minister did not mince words as he said, "As long as the CPI (Maoists) believes in armed liberation struggle, we have no option but to ask our security forces to engage them…we will arrest them, we will apprehend them." Keen to indicate its resolve, the Cabinet Committee on Security on Thursday is likely to clear an air force request to be allowed to return fire during anti-naxal operations.

The public revulsion over the killing of Francis Induwar and the reactions of the officer’s bereaved family have given the government an opportunity to argue that Maoists were cold-blooded killers and not "people’s warriors" looking to settle scores with an oppressive state. Wanting to ride a mood that favours action against the Red ultras, the government is preparing the ground for an all-out operation.

Chidambaram said the IAF will take counter-measures necessary to protect their choppers and pilots. In last month’s major anti-naxal operation in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada, a chopper that had been deployed to airlift injured and dead personnel had come under fire. Though no damage was reported, it highlighted the risk being run by chopper crews in densely forested areas which are Red zones.

The change in government’s approach which has seen it launch a hard-hitting campaign showing how ordinary, poor persons were often victims of Naxal violence rather than the "class enemy" the extremists spoke of, is quite a shift from when UPA-1 took office. At the time, the government was more prepared to go by the "grassroots" viewpoint that disenchantment with the state was leading to Maoist violence.

The experience of waiting for Andhra Pradesh naxals to come to the negotiating table proved counter-productive. Not only did they recoup, they were successful in relaying mines and coordinating with groups in other states. Now, the view that the development argument will not get off the ground unless Red zones are "liberated" is finding greater resonance even as officials agree that government needed to address the needs of people urgently.

Chidambaram took note of the need to push development in areas inhabited by tribals and small farmers who have often been ruthlessly exploited by local officials, traders and contractors. "Developmental issues, issues of neglect, deprivation, corruption and government structure can be discussed. We can bring the very development they claim to be fighting for," he said. While he did not categorise the anti-Naxal campaign as "war" saying the government would not wage war on its own people, he clearly said the theory of armed struggle was unacceptable.

Officials also point out that stepped up operations against Naxals, expected to get underway after assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana, could hardly be delayed any further. Not only had Naxals consolidated their hold in their base areas, they were now clearly marking a presence in states like Uttrakhand and looking to form cells in cities where they looked to infiltrate labour conflicts. After the Dantewada operation, it was even likely that the ultras could strike in areas outside their zones to boost morale and keep central forces on the backfoot.

Security agencies — paramilitary forces and state police — are now fully geared up to fight Maoists. A plan to deploy nearly 70,000 paramilitary personnel — drawn from CRPF, ITBP, BSF, SSB and CoBRA — has been chalked out for the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

"Although the operations against the ultras continue in these states, it will be stepped up once polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh are over. Nearly 25,000 of the central forces will be spared by the end of the month, giving us more manpower for operations," said a senior home ministry official.

The plan is to confront ultras simultaneously in all states through joint operations with a focus on two tri-junctions like Bihar-West Bengal-Orissa and Chhattisgarh-Orissa-Andhra Pradesh so that the Maoists do not slip over from one state to other.

The intended operations will be different from earlier ones as the security forces will look to stay on in areas cleared of Naxals till the civil administration fully takes over. As forces have been doing in Lalgarh (West Bengal) since June, they will fight the ultras and remain in naxal-affected zones until local police takes charge.

Even for the poll duties — guarding polling stations, poll materials and poll personnel — in Maharashtra, the Centre has deployed those 4,000 personnel in three affected districts — Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur — who are well trained in anti-naxal operations.

"They have been asked not only to do area domination before the polls but also to conduct operations on the basis of local intelligence before and after the election on October 13. Huge deployment will give them space to engage the forces in operations even during the polls, if needed," said the official.

As many as 18,000 of the total 25,000 paramilitary personnel on poll duties are being deployed in Maharashtra alone with 4,000 being placed in three naxal-affected districts there.


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