Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is the truth?

Pronouncements have a way of sticking and becoming established truths. If no one questions them they become unchallengeable. Thereafter they’re simply reasserted to prove their own veracity. Is that true of the Naxalite threat India faces?

I ask not because I know the answer but because it seems to have created a significant but perplexing divide at the very top of our government. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have come to contradictory conclusions.

As far back as 4 November 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh described the Naxals as “an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East”. Last December (20th) he said it again. He told the country’s chief ministers: “Left wing extremism is possibly the single biggest security challenge to the Indian state”.

The Home Minister differs. In 2005, he said of Naxals, “These are our children gone astray”. Last month, he categorically and repeatedly refused to accept they constitute the “single biggest security challenge”. And he stuck to his line when told he was contradicting his own PM.

So who’s right? That depends not just on the facts but, I suspect, how you interpret them.

The Home Ministry’s latest annual report (2006-07) says Naxal violence in 2006 was reported from only 395 police stations out of a nationwide total of 12,476. That’s not only down from 460 the year before but represents just 3.1 per cent of the country’s police stations.

Other sources, by no means lacking in credibility, suggest a vastly different picture. The Institute of Conflict Management claims Naxal violence affects a total of 192 districts in 16 states. Ajit Doval, the former head of the Intelligence Bureau, has written that it affects nearly 40 per cent of India’s land mass and 35 per cent of its population.

Are these facts saying different things? Or could it be that the 395 police stations the Home Ministry is looking at are spread across 192 districts in the 16 states the Institute of Conflict Management is talking about? Is that how Mr. Doval concludes that Naxal violence affects 40 per cent of the country’s land mass and 35 per cent of its population?

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