Crisis exposes characters of men. One of the surest ways of discovering the commitment of political leaders to end the Maoist problem is to simply focus on their reactions following a major incident and examine them in the light of their past actions. The month of March provided opportunities to bring Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik under the scanner and both emerged pretty scathed.
On March 27, a Maoist attack in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district claimed the lives of 12 CRPF personnel and left 28 others injured. Speaking on the same day in the state Assembly, Patil said, “If need arises”, the state would set up “a special force” for the forested regions of Gadchiroli district. A day later, he went on to promise the “best available anti-landmine technology in the world” for the forces. On the same day, Patil told that industrial and corporate houses are funding the Maoist movement. In separate media interviews, he also appeared to be blaming the Intelligence Bureau (IB) for not having provided any input that could have prevented the attack on the CRPF personnel. In short, Patil blamed everything else, barring his utter lack of ability, to be in charge of the anti-Maoist operations in a district, of which he is the guardian minister.
According to the Union home ministry, Maharashtra was the fourth worst Maoist-affected state in the country in 2011. Fifty-four civilian and security force deaths that occurred last year might appear to be petty compared to the over-200 deaths reported each in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. But the fact that all these fatalities had occurred in a single district—Gadchiroli—must make any analyst sit back and take notice. Not just deaths, but number of Maoist Jan Adalats increased in 2011. In addition, IB reports indicated that Maoists have opened up new fronts and are threatening the urban centres of Maharashtra, a development which had led Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to take Patil to task only a month ago.
Interestingly, Patil’s bravado finds a complete resonance in the Odisha chief minister. Patnaik also manages the home ministry. In 2011, 53 fatalities were reported in the state in 192 extremism-related incidents. Reeling under the three-week long (till the writing of this column) abduction of two Italians, one of whom had been released after over a week of captivity, and one of his own party MLAs, Patnaik passed the blame on to New Delhi for not extending any assistance to end the crisis. His political oneupmanship, however, was punctured by Chidambaram who said that the Odisha government had not made any specific request to the Centre.
In the few months leading to the recent crisis, Patnaik was at the forefront of creating a myth of augmentation of police capacity that supposedly had led to the establishment of control over Maoist activity. Few arrests were flagged to demonstrate that the Maoists are on the run and Odisha is inching towards a victory over the extremists. However, not just the twin abductions, but the recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) laid bare the falsehood that marks the state’s counter- Left-wing extremism strategy.
The CAG report is a clear chastisement of the Odisha home department where sophisticated arms and ammunition were lying unused either in the State Provincial Store or at district armouries at a time when the state police were having to do with no arms or simply muskets, revolvers or bayonets. Patnaik, however, remains unfazed, even while preparing to free jailed Maoists to secure the release of the abducted persons. He, somewhat derisorily, claims that his state police department is competent enough to take on the extremists and that the CAG report is erroneous and misleading.
Both Maharashtra and Odisha are symptomatic of a chronic complacency syndrome that afflicts India’s resolve to fight Left-wing extremism. New Delhi hides under the excuse that law and order is a state subject under the Constitution, which limits its role to be only an enabler and mere supplier of Central forces to the states. Similarly, the states do not miss an opportunity to blame the Centre for what is essentially their own lack of resolve and political will. The biggest beneficiary of this state of affairs are the Maoists. And breaking free from the logjam, without radical measures, isn’t going to be easy.
This article appeared at Express Buzz.