You could accuse journalists of just about everything. But coining a name for a military offensive wouldn’t be one of them. So, what does the top brass at the Union Home Ministry mean by accusing the Indian media of conjuring a name for the proposed anti-Naxal offensive? More importantly, forget names for a moment, does the Government really mean business when it speaks of ridding the country of the ‘Naxal menace’ once and for all?
Going by the progress so far of Operation Green Hunt—as it’s being referred to—the answer to the above question would be ‘no’. Now picture the theatre of conflict: a few weeks after Maoists storm a police station in West Bengal’s troubled West Midnapore district, killing two police personnel, they strike a police camp on 8 November, this time shooting dead four personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles. Instead of sending reinforcements, the West Bengal government dismantled the camp. “All I can say is that the policemen in that camp had to be shifted because their morale was very low,” says Anil Kumar, Inspector-General of West Bengal Armed Police, “We need fresh reinforcements from other police camps.”
On the same day, however, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was issuing hollow threats from the safety of Midnapore Circuit House. Claiming that his government was soon going to launch an “all-out police operation” to free the state of Maoists, he went on to say that there was no question of initiating a dialogue with the rebels. “They will have to abjure violence and lay down arms first,” he insisted, “Only after that can we open any dialogue with them.”
No arms were laid down, nor was there a burst of action. Some observers say that the haze around the operation suits the Government. Says a senior Home Ministry official, “New Delhi has been extending olive branches to Maoists while state governments have kept up the ante. The Centre wants to show the world that all options of negotiations with Naxalites were exhausted before okaying the anti-Naxal offensive.”
But looking at the scene in West Midnapore, one wonders whether the Centre and state governments are ready for any offensive at all. Experts say they are not. “The Central government is leaving everything to the state governments,” says former top cop Ved Marwah. “The fact is that state governments are not at all equipped to counter the Naxal onslaught,” he says. Ajay Sahni, who heads the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, agrees. “The Government should have first made an effort to build up enough capacity before launching an all-out offensive,” he offers, “Such operations need a lot of strategic planning.”
On ground zero, what the experts are saying looks ominously true. Intelligence sources point towards the growing influence of Maoists in West Bengal. They say that their armed cadres are not too far from Midnapore town now. According to Intelligence Bureau inputs, Maoists have been able to establish about a dozen training camps in the state. That’s much too much to handle. In Chhattisgarh, only 800 of the 5,000 policemen who received training in jungle warfare are actually deputed for the task they’re trained for; the rest have been put on VIP security, demand for which has risen in line with both fears and egos.
Orissa, meanwhile, is lamenting that it is not getting enough paramilitary forces to fight Maoists. “We have been repeatedly asking for more forces because Maoists have shifted to southern Orissa from Chhattisgarh,” says a senior police officer in the state, “But nothing has happened so far.” But top officials of the Central Reserve Police Forces deputed in Orissa refute these claims. “There is already enough of our men there, apart from one commando battalion of Cobra forces,” says a senior CRPF officer, “but there are no guidelines. Our men are sitting idle.”
In Jharkhand, which is going to polls over the next few days, the atmosphere is far from secure. Maoists seem able to attack chosen targets with impunity. While they have a unified command in at least Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the same cannot be said about the police and paramilitary forces even at this crucial juncture. Then, there are issues of sagging morale too. After the recent beheading of police officer Francis Induwar, many of the state’s policemen posted in Naxal-affected areas have taken fright. “Darr toh lagta hi hai, wahan area mein akele rehte hain… (Fear we do feel, of course, since we have to fend for ourselves in the area),” says Ashok Pathak, vice-president of the Jharkhand Police Association. And what does the Centre say about the Red shadow looming large over the state’s electorate? It has simply asked people in Jharkhand to ‘ignore calls’ by Naxalites to boycott the Assembly polls.
Apart from the strategic front, even the political leadership is divided on the issue of whether the Government should go ahead with the offensive. While assorted civil rights groups have become active in Naxal-affected areas, chronicling and criticising every move of the State, even the ruling party’s leaders seem unconvinced about the merits of mounting what could be seen as a war on Maoists. While Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has in the recent past pinned blame for the Red upsurge on ‘lack of governance’, senior Congress leader and former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi has shot off a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi saying that the sudden offensive might prove counter-productive. Even the Left Front is split over the issue, with the Communist Party of India (CPI) opposing the planned offensive that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) is pushing for. The irony of this situation is best summed up by a Congress leader. “Only two parties,” he tartly remarked, “have been advocating an anti-Naxal offensive so far: the CPM and BJP.”
It couldn’t get more confusing.