The merchants of death, masquerading as messiahs of the poor, are on the prowl again. The killing of 23 jawans in an ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district comes as yet another grim reminder of the lethal capability of Maoists to strike at will, despite steady erosion of their support base and disillusionment among the cadre. A more distressing aspect of the attack was that the security personnel were lured into a trap, virtually making them sitting ducks, as naxalites used light machine guns and improvised explosive devices during a prolonged encounter that made it impossible for even rescue choppers to evacuate the injured security personnel. The daring operation exposed the chinks in the security apparatus and a shocking failure to follow a well-established security protocol in a region notorious for such strikes in the past. As a result, a 2,000-personnel strong contingent of security forces, comprising CRPF’s specialised jungle warfare unit Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and units of District Reserve Guard (DRG) of Chhattisgarh Police, found themselves surrounded from all sides by heavily armed Maoists. Though there has been an overall decline in the Maoist attacks across the country in the recent times, Chhattisgarh continues to be the epicentre of left-wing extremism, with the miserable living conditions of the poor in the tribal-dominated, mineral-rich region providing the perfect ground for Maoists to pursue their goal of capturing political power through the barrel of a gun. The poor are often caught in the crossfire.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had aptly described Maoist violence as the single biggest threat to India’s internal security and had proposed a special budget, in 2006, for providing combat assistance in areas dominated by Maoists. However, his proposal did not make much headway as there were not many takers for it even within his own party. The experience shows that accelerated development alone is the effective antidote for naxalite violence. The States which successfully blended a comprehensive development agenda with effective intelligence gathering, modernisation of police force and coordinated anti-Maoist operations have managed to check the spread of left-wing extremism. Unlike in the 1970s when naxalite ideology had a romantic pull and commanded considerable following among urban intellectual circles for its pro-poor formulations, the movement today is largely lumpenised and consists of criminalised gangs that thrive on extortions, looting and hit-and-run tactics. A majority of the victims of Maoist violence are Dalits, tribals and backward classes. Development with a human face and equitable distribution of benefits alone can prevent rural distress from being exploited by Maoists. Over the years, the naxalite-infested States have forged better coordination among themselves in terms of intelligence gathering and specific field operations to marginalise the outlawed outfit.
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