"Neither losing nor winning the war against Naxals"

Home Secretary G K Pillai speaks to Sweta Ranjan


Sweta Ranjan | July 28, 2010

Intensifying Naxal violence has Gopal Krishna Pillai, the top-most bureaucrat in charge of law and order, on the hot seat. Every other major cause of unrest in the country – and there have been many – adds to his onerous job.
In this interview with Sweta Ranjan, Pillai, the home secretary, talks about the centre’s strategy against Naxals, the Hindu right wing’s potential to cause violence, the need to give greater autonomy to CBI, and other issues.

There are reports that Hindu right wing groups are carrying out subversive activities in the country. Are organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) under your lens?
Right wing elements, which are Hindu right wing elements and are carrying out any form of illegal activities, are under our lens. A number of cases have been registered in some of the states, some by the CBI, and we have seen a pattern in these whereby some extremist elements among the Hindus are stated to have targeted Muslim shrines.

Who do you think are responsible for these terror activities – organisations or individuals?
At the moment we have not been able to pin down any organisation that is doing this. It’s a set of individuals in three-four states who have been carrying out this. Whether there is some connection between these groups is still a matter of investigation.

Do you link them somewhere to the RSS or VHP?
Some of them have said they are members of these organisations, but we have no evidence to definitively establish the linkage.

Who do you blame the June 12 rail track blast near Perani station in Tamil Nadu on?
I don’t think I can blame it on anybody. The needle of suspicion has pointed towards the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) because it’s an area where they may have some influence. Some posters of the LTTE protesting the visit of the president of Sri Lanka (were found), but the matter is still under investigation; so I won’t like to comment further.

Since the investigators have not ruled out the possibility of the involvement of Naxals in the blast, do we have reason to believe that Naxals are present in Tamil Nadu too?
Naxals have been there. They have been in Karnataka; we have seen Naxals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu also. So it’s nothing new. But overt (Naxal) activities have been very low in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu police have kept Naxal activity completely under check. At this moment, in this case, the needle of suspicion is towards the LTTE.

A National Investigation Agency (NIA) team visited the US in June to interrogate David Coleman Headley. What kind of interrogation was that and are you satisfied with the American assistance in this regard?
I have not been briefed by the team, but all available indications show that we had complete and unimpeded access to David Headley. The team could ask any question they wanted to and Headley answered all the questions posed to him.

Was he helpful?
Yes, he was helpful.

Were you able to get helpful information?
Yes; there has been some information that is currently under analysis by the NIA.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sought greater clarity in its role and authority; there is already a draft CBI legislation that is proposed to replace the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. How do you view the move?
All investigative agencies should have much greater autonomy and more powers to investigate. Currently, until and unless there is permission from the state, they can’t take up a case. That’s the law that stands today. Suppose it’s a case that happens in a state, then there are inter-state ramifications. For example, some of these Hindu right wing fundamentalists’ cases are in Madhya Pradesh; they have been investigated by the Madhya Pradesh government, which has not been able to find any clues. Some of the cases have been closed. We are saying hand them over to the CBI which has been investigating similar cases. We want to see if there is a linkage between the two. We have to write to the government of Madhya Pradesh and they have to agree to do it. So, what the CBI is asking for is that in such cases you should amend the law in such a way that you don’t need the state government’s permission.

So, you are in favour of the draft CBI legislation?
I am in favour of greater autonomy and greater powers for the CBI, definitely.

Do you think that the war against Naxals has been a failure?
I don’t think so. We have been having greater successes. We arrested a member of Maoists’ state committee in Andhra Pradesh; we have arrested a member of Naxals’ central military commission in Bihar and eight Naxals have been killed in West Midnapore. I don’t think we are losing war against Naxals at all. If you ask me whether we are winning the war, I don’t think we are winning the war yet. But I have no doubt whatsoever that as we mobilise our forces and build up a coordinated approach of the centre and the states, we will win the war against the Naxals.

By just arresting a few of their men, are we on the path to winning the war?
There are two phases of the operation. One is to regain territory in the area where there is a lack of administration, which we have brought out in places like Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh) and Lalgarh (West Bengal). We have been able to reopen a police station where it was closed down. You can see the success taking place in Lalgarh. So, administration is starting to function in these areas.
We are also seeing that in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh, where we have retaken about 1,500 square kilometres. Buses that never plied for seven years have started plying; markets that were closed for   seven years have reopened. A girls’ hostel that was to be constructed in 2002 got completed and we hope a bridge will be completed shortly.

How do we stop the ferocious Naxal attacks, such as the one on April 6 that claimed the lives of 76 CRPF men?
You can’t stop it if people are desperate. Once we get better control of the things, you will find intelligence flowing in.

You mean to say such attacks are part of the game?
In the initial phases, yes.

Do you think you will be able to fight Naxals without army or airpower?
Yes, without the army I think we can fight. Physical presence of the army we don’t require. We take the assistance of the army in so far as training is concerned, we take their advice also. From the air force, we are basically using the helicopters. Not for offensive operations but for movement of forces, evacuation and for logistics supplies in remote areas. We have got some air force helicopters, some of our own helicopters and some we will hire from other agencies, depending upon our requirement.

But you did seek the help of the army and the air force.
Yes, we had sought (the help) initially. See, the more forces you have, the better it would be. And the army is definitely far better trained and has far better expertise than CRPF, which is basically a law and order force. But the cabinet committee on security had considered this very exhaustively and the final decision was that we should manage without the army. We have managed with the augmentation of state police forces, modernisation and better training, and further induction of paramilitary forces.

Why was the suggestion to use the army turned down?
First of all, we made the suggestion primarily because of the shortage. We have four lakh vacancies of policemen and we are building up the paramilitary forces. We are raising 50 battalions which will take five-six years. So, the home ministry thought if we had more (troops), we could finish it quickly. But the (cabinet) committee felt that the use of the army at this stage would not be correct. And they felt that we should proceed on the lines which we have already done.

I understand that we are currently recruiting only about 1,50,000 policemen and policewomen whereas, according to the UN standards, we have a shortfall of about 8,00,000.
The constraining factor is the capacity to train. We don’t have enough training institutions in the country; we can’t train more than 1,50,000. I can recruit 8,00,000 people today. I will put 1,50,000 in the training institution, but what will I do with the rest? In Bihar, they recruit constables, but they don’t have training institutions to train them. Training institutions’ capacity is very limited in our country.

With our current capacity, it will take us more than five years to have enough trained police personnel to take on the Naxals effectively.
Naxals can be fought in two ways – first, through the security forces and second, by taking away their grassroots support, that is, by a series of development as well as policy measures. There are a number of issues – health, schooling, tribal land rights, minor forest produce, etc. On many of these issues government has to act. It is just not (our) department but many departments have to put their efforts together and this is what the new policy is – putting everything together.

Does it mean that the government needs to change its strategy to fight the Naxals?
Strategy is increasing focus while we are also doing the paramilitary and police augmentation. We also need to augment development administration in these areas. For example, there are vacancies of 3,50,000 teachers in Bihar. There is shortage of one lakh development personnel in Jharkhand. If we don’t have doctors, nurses and teachers, how do we provide the services? We are changing the strategy by also making sure that if the security cover is provided the administration must move. If the administration is not moving or they don’t have enough people, it’s a vacuum again. In many parts,  like Dantewada, you go there and you would find nothing. You have a police station but it has not more than two people.

Are you also talking to other ministries to bring developmental changes in the Naxal-affected areas?
I had meetings with the secretaries of tribal affairs, health, panchayati raj and rural development. We are telling them the issues. It is not just the home ministry’s function. It will take many ministries to fight Naxal menace. The whole government has to fight the Naxals. I need all the other ministries’ cooperation because there is need for housing, health, education. Everybody has to fight in a coordinated manner.

Naxals have repeatedly spurned the offer for talks. How do you plan to bring them to the negotiating table?
We have made an offer to them to abjure violence and come for peace talks without any conditions. We are waiting for a response from them. My personal assessment is that they will not come for peace talks unless they are under tremendous pressure. They are not yet comfortable with the offer of peace talks. They are making money and killing people. This year they have killed around 400 innocent civilians, half of whom are tribals. That is their way of terrorising the local population. The whole focus of the government is to put them under pressure.n




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