Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tackling the Naxal problem

Congress General Secretary Divijay Singh has written the most insightful piece on the Naxal problem that I have come across so far. He is critical of home minister Chidambaram's approach and doesn't mince words saying as much.Which makes me wonder whether this is an attempt on the part of the party to rein in Chidambaram when he seems to have the overt support of the PM.

Singh's main points are:
  • The Naxals cannot truly claim to espouse the cause of the tribals. They have had no difficulty making peace with businessmen and politicians- for a price. Even the mining interests, which are said to disrupt tribal life, have continued unhindered in Naxal areas
  • Chidambaram is wrong in treating the Naxal problem entirely as a law and order problem- tribal issues need to be addressed
  • We need to learn from the AP model of tackling Naxalism: development plus police action
Singh is spot on. Chidambaram has created a massive problem where none existed by setting an artificial deadline for solving the Naxal problem: two or three years. Setting such a deadline spells trouble because it means use of massive force with all its consequences- such as the recent killing of 76 CRPR jawans.

Why do we need to solve the Naxal problem in two or three years? There is nothing to suggest that the problem is of alarming proportions or is disruptive in any way. If that were so, it would have been reflected in national or regional economic growth. It hasn't.

In the urban areas, the mafia coexists with the forces of law and order. An equilibrium is established in which the mafia flourishes without in any way impinging on economic activity or even orderly life. The Naxals are a form of mafia in the tribal areas. We have put up with insurgency in the North-East for over 50 years. Where is the urgency to end the Naxal problem? Patience and perseverance are required, not trigger-happy solutions.

Chidambaram may be right in refusing to talk to the Naxals. But why is the government not talking to the tribals? We need to enter into a dialogue with them as to how they can participate in decisions that afffect their lives, whether it is mining or timber, and what is required by way of development assistance.

The use of massive force is misguided and it is bound to be counter-productive. Sending the CRPF or the army will only bring recruits from the tribals to the Naxals. The answer to insurgency within the country (as distinct from insurgency in border areas) is sustained police action. That is the lesson from AP. It was AP' s success that drove the Naxal leaders into Chhattisgarh and other parts of the country.

Some of these states are new and the police force may be underdeveloped. We need to enhance their capabilities. In AP, police officials were given huge war chests for developing informers. Intelligence was used to target the Naxal leaders. This method produced dramatic results. The Indian state has developed its own recipe for dealing with internal terrorism: encounter killings.

It defies imagination as to how an outside force, such as the CRPF, can tackle the Naxals. You need local contacts, you need to know the local language and you need to understand the terrain.

Chidambaram's technocratic approach is seriously flawed. Development and police action are the best answer to the Naxal problem, not overwhelming use of force. Patience is required. We must be willing to put in ten years of low key effort. This won't make for sound bytes on TV but it will produce results.

Finally, thank God, the suggestion to use the army and the air force has been shot down. Had it been accepted, that would have ended all our hopes of winning over the tribals and brought the Naxal problem into the cities.


AbheekB said...

"There is nothing to suggest that the problem is of alarming proportions or is disruptive in any way. If that were so, it would have been reflected in national or regional economic growth. It hasn't."

Curious you say this. What about the opportunity cost of this problem? Could we not be growing faster (by even one percentage point) or have better human development indicators if this didn't exist?

Anonymous said...

I would agree on the point that efforts spanning over 10 years or more would produce the desired results and not immediately rushing for a solution with a deadline in mind.

@Abheek: By this logic, we could also take into account the problems of poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, corruption etc to get a hang of what could have been India's growth rate in absence of these problems.

Jatkesha said...

"Why do we need to solve the Naxal problem in two or three years? There is nothing to suggest that the problem is of alarming proportions or is disruptive in any way."

Two to three years is the time when the buildup to the next general elections begin and Mr. Chidambaram wants to portray himself as a prospective PM candidate. That is the reason why he wants to go all out.

blackadder said...

The reason why Mr. Chidambaram called Naxalism a law and order problem was in the context of police versus military action. The police are responsible for maintaining law and order, the army for fighting wars (unless there is a specific Act increasing the Army's mandate to policing duties - the AFSPA in the North East etc.). Sending the army into fight its own citizens is an admission that the country is at civil war.

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