There are certain things that simply go away if one looks the other way. The menace of Naxal terror is not one of them. Only a few days after the Dantewada jailbreak in Jharkhand last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh uncharacteristically described Naxal terror as a “virus that needs to be choked and crippled”. He was right to have sounded alarmed and that is because as we enter a new year, the situation could grow more alarming. Four Maoist extremism-affected states — Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh — have finally decided to share information and coordinate with each other. The fact that they didn’t earlier has a story of its own to tell, but as the saying goes, better late than never.
There is much catching up to do. Apart from the Naxals’ use of guerrilla warfare tactics against the State and its people, this war is asymmetrical on multiple fronts. For one, unlike the security personnel in Naxal-affected states, the Maoists are generally equipped with not only superior weaponry, but also with a superior communications and information network. For another, the state governments and the Centre have, for far too long, played ‘passing the pillow’ when it comes to taking on the Naxals in any meaningful way. The Centre wants the states to ensure that there are dedicated — and motivated — forces, on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s anti-Naxal unit, the Greyhounds. The states, on their part, want a Central Task Force.
One would have thought that the Indian State would have learnt by now how to deal with such ideological terrorism. A draft report of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the United Nations Security Council has found India to be seriously deficient in its anti-terror capabilities. Governmental authorities still lack an up and running database — necessary for various states to confirm the presence of new suspects, movement of Naxal forces and other vital ever-changing information. The agreement between the four states will finally allow police to move freely into each other’s territories — an advantage that the Maoists have had a headstart with for years. The year 2007 saw the highest number of casualties of security forces in encounters with Maoists in years. Mr Singh stated that Naxals present “the single biggest security challenge to the Indian State’. He is right. The question is whether the torpor that affects the Indian State and the ad-hoc nature in which it fights the Maoists will finally be replaced by something that has force as well as direction.