A series of hi-profile abductions by the Maoists in Odisha and Chhattisgarh in the last one-and-a-half months have once again brought into focus the growing menace of left-wing extremism in the country.
Fifty four-year-old Italian tourist Paolo Bosusco, who was abducted by the Maoist guerillas on March 14 along with a fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo while trekking in a tribal area of Odisha, was freed by the ultras after nearly a month in captivity.
The exact terms of Bosusco’s release were not disclosed but two days before he was freed on April 12, a fast track court in the Raigada district released the wife of Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, who had kept the two Italians hostage, demanding her release along with several other incarcerated members of the CPI (Maoist). The ultras had released Colangelo on March 25 while their negotiations with the state government were on.
The Italian tourists hostage crisis was yet to be over in the state when another squad of Maoists struck and abducted ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka from Koraput district on March 24. Keeping him in captivity for 33-days demanding release of their jailed cadres and sympathisers, the ultras released the legislator on April 26 only after he gave in writing that he would resign as an MLA.
Meanwhile, Maoist guerillas abducted Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon after gunning down his two bodyguards in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, a BJP-ruled state considered to be the toughest with the Naxals due to its Chief Minister Raman Singh.
Menon was on his way back to Sukma when his convoy was attacked by some 15-20 Maoists.
The fate of Menon continues to hang in the balance as the Maoists have demanded release of 17 incarcerated cadres and Chief Minister Raman Singh is yet to announce his decision.
Abduction is not a new tactic that Maoists have now adopted to achieve their nefarious goals. According to Ministry of Home Affairs, Maoists abducted 1,554 people and killed 328 of them for various reasons, including extortion and release of their jailed cadres between 2008 and November 2011.
Highest number of such incidents was reported from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The abduction of former Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna last year not only got the outfit’s jailed cadres released but also acted as a deterrent to the security forces from scaling up their combing operations in the area.
But, the recent pattern of high-profile abductions by the banned outfit’s cadres is a matter of serious concern. More alarming is a latest intelligence report suggesting that abduction of VIPs has become a top left-wing extremists’ strategy in their war against the State and more such incidents could be perpetrated by them.
In fact, the outfit in its Ninth Congress, held in 2007 at an undisclosed location in Bhimbandh forest that straddles the districts of Munger, Jamui and Lakhisarai in Bihar, had resolved to strive to use “every possible means” to free its members from the jails besides waging different forms of their so called “protracted people’s war” against the State.
It had even decided to create a ‘prisoner’s fund’ to help secure their release and form “secret party units” behind the prison walls to “transform the prisons into political universities” and “mobilise common prison inmates”.
A spate of crackdowns and arrests under “intensified and coordinated” anti-naxal operations, which is often termed as “Operation Green Hunt” by the Maoists, in last couple of years, have made Maoists suffer serious setbacks.
They lost many of their key cadres, including a top Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter on the intervening night of July 1 and 2, 2010, in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh.
Maoists have been consistently demanding that the government must withdraw the so called “Operation Green Hunt”, a term which has never been recognised by the government, launched against them because intensified police operations have put them under immense pressure.
Maoists, however, claim that police in the name of “Operation Green Hunt” is resorting to illegal means and harassing innocent tribals. “They lodge fake cases against them. There are hundreds of fake cases that have been foisted on these hapless people who don’t even know what they are all about. They are imprisoned in jails of Dantewada and Raipur without knowing the reason,” Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee spokesperson Gudsa Usendi alleged.
The ultras have lost many cadres, either arrested or gunned down in encounters, during intensified anti-naxal operations in all the major Naxal-affected states. “Maoists are demanding withdrawal of operations against them because it is not only intensified but coordinated too. Our operations have put them on the backfoot. It is not only bringing down the morale of their cadres but also costing their support base,” a senior central paramilitary force official, who is posted in Chhattisgarh, said requesting anonymity.
Anti-naxal operations may have been intensified and yielding some results, but the lack of actionable intelligence input continues to be a big problem for security forces. The reason is that locals still do not have much faith in the system. Although, many of them are sandwitched between police and Maoists, they do not come forward to give pin-point information about the extremists.
Jharkhand’s Director General of Police G S Rath believes that Naxal menace cannot be significantly contained unless a “holistic approach” is adopted and all the states affected by it “tap their resources and manpower jointly” to fight it out.
Maintaining that security forces are doing their best, he said that governance reforms were the need of the hour. “No welfare policy of the government is bad but the delivery mechanishm has to be improved, right from the level of panchayat sevak. We need to ensure that benefits of all the welfare schemes are reaching each of the beneficiaries.”
He also said that it is time for all the departments of the government to function in a concerted manner. “Forest department never cooperates. They do not engage locals in plantation work.
How much police and other security forces can do?” he wondered.
Lamenting that the extremists take advantage of the existing criminal justice system, Rath suggested that much stricter laws like the repealed POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act) are required to tackle the Maoist menace.
He also suggested that there should be fast track courts to hear the cases relating to extremism. “We arrest them, they are released. What message will go out if they are not convicted soon after their arrest?” he wondered.
The CPI (Maoist) has developed close links with foreign Maoist organisations of the like in the Philippines and Turkey. The outfit is now also a member of Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA).
The Maoist parties of South Asia are members of this conglomerate. “The forays of CPI(Maoist) into the sensitive North-Eastern States are fraught with serious strategic implications, since it has potential for trans-border strikes,” a Home Ministry official said.
On the basis of violence profile, Union Home Ministry has marked 83 left-wing extremism affected districts in 9 states of the country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing Chief Ministers meeting on internal security in New Delhi recently, had underlined that the year 2011 was a better year than 2010 in terms of the number of deaths caused by left-wing extremist groups.
“But we still have a long way to go, both in terms of including people in the affected areas in our growing economy and society, and providing them with adequate security,” he had said suggesting that states and the centre must work together to contain the menace.