Where are you, Mr Chidambaram? We can't afford your aloofness

Forget Digvijay Singh. The war against the Maoists is going horribly wrong


Prasanna Mohanty | February 26, 2011

Around this time last year, union home minister P Chidambaram was leading the charge against the dreaded Maoists, described as the “biggest threat” to the internal security of the country by no less than the prime minister himself on more than one occasion. After years of pussy-footing, the state, finally, seemed determined to stand up to the challenge and when Chidambaram talked about the possibility of eliminating the menace in a couple of years’ time, he was cheered on by a large section of the people who felt reassured at his commitment and drive. Then the inevitable happened.

In April, 76 CRPF jawans were massacred by the Maoists in the Dantewada jungles of Chhattisgarh. Three months later, another group of 26 CRPF jawans was butchered in a similar fashion in the Narayanpur jungles. This was inevitable because these CRPF contingents were untrained and unfamiliar with the territory, and yet careless enough to ignore the basics of the standard operating procedures (SOP). Chidambaram was very much in charge after the first incident. He rushed to Dantewada to honour the dead soldiers and revive the morale of those still fighting. But he was found missing from the battlefield after the Narayanpur massacre and continues to be so. Did you hear him speak or rush to Orissa when the Malkangiri collector was abducted by the Maoists and the state completely capitulated to secure his release?

Something had snapped after the Dantewada massacre. Chidambaram was abused and given public lessons on the “root cause” of the Maoist menace and the “right way” to fight it by his party men, who were ably led by a couch potato, Digvijay Singh. Why was he attracting the blame to himself and his party-led central government for something that was essentially the state’s problem? That was the “political” message from such worthies as Digvijay Singh to Chidambaram. Unfortunately, Chidambaram balked.

Chhattisgarh virtually abandoned its fight against the ultras after the two massacres. No major offensive has been launched in the state thereafter. Now, the Orissa government has publicly declared that “there will be no coercive action by the security forces as long as the Maoists do not indulge in unlawful activities”. One of the key demands of the Maoists, for releasing the collector, was to “stop Operation Greenhunt” in the state altogether. The state has obliged. It has also freed some top-notch Maoist leaders, including their central committee members, and has agreed to free nearly 700 of the cadre. What this mean is that two frontline states have laid down their arms in the fight against the “biggest threat” to the internal security of the country.

Add West Bengal, another frontline state, to the list. With the help of Chidambaram, the state managed to regain Lalgarh and the surrounding Junglemahal last year. The Maoists have been pushed back, but not eliminated. If it was his party men who stopped Chidambaram in his track in Chhattisgarh, it is his ally Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress who hounded him out of West Bengal because she wants to win the next assembly election with their help.

Digvijay Singh, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik may say or do what they will, but you were right, Mr Chidambaram, in taking on the Maoists directly. You correctly understood the import of the prime minister’s words and provided the right impetus to the drive against the menace. The Maoists remain the biggest challenge to internal security and having spread their tentacles close to a dozen states, federal intervention is indeed called for. It is beyond petty politics, internal squabbles or short-term electoral gains. The job at hands calls for a clear understanding of the motive and the goal of the ultras, which is to overthrow the state through an “armed struggle”, and a clear-headed strategy to counter it.  Evidently, this is not the case with many of the state governments.

Today two states have capitulated and another has been neutralised. It would be no surprise if other states too fall prey to the similar designs of the Maoists. And when that happens, the battle will truly be lost. We will be back to square one. It is time for you, Mr Chidambaram, therefore, to take charge of the situation now.



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