Wednesday, May 21, 2008

After drought, naxals hit Bundelkhand

LUCKNOW: The drought-ridden earth in Bundelkhand may not bear much. But there is one weed which has suddenly started thriving into a rich harvest in this region — the Naxalite menace. The UP Police and Central intelligence agencies have noted with alarm the sudden spread of Naxalite groups into new areas, mainly Bundelkhand and even parts of western UP.

Top officials of the Union home ministry expressed concern over the new trend at a high-level meeting of UP and Central officials here recently. The Naxalite groups have masked their operations as agitations for “jal, jangal aur zameen” (rights over water, forests and land), sources told DNA.

“Earlier, all our anti-Naxalite operations were focussed at the Nepal and Bihar borders. Now the activity has shifted to the Madhya Pradesh border,” said a top UP Police official insisting on anonymity. The new trouble spots are Banda, Karvi and Chitrakoot in the heart of the Bundelkhand region of southern UP, adjoining the MP border.

“The main reason for the spread of Naxalism in this area is deprivation, official neglect and poverty,” the official said. Bundelkhand has been experiencing a severe drought for the fifth consecutive year now due to deficient rains. Government inertia in providing relief and rehabilitation has only aggravated the situation.

Besides, sources say, the Naxalites have stepped up activity in UP feeling emboldened by the victory of Maoists in neighbouring Nepal. “We have not declared Bundelkhand as a Naxalite-infested area yet. But we are keeping a strict eye on the recent developments there, which are indeed disturbing,” said UP home secretary Mahesh Gupta.
UP has a history of Naxalite activity since the 80s. But this has been limited to the Mirzapur, Chaundauli and Ghazipur districts of poverty-ridden eastern UP bordering Bihar. The 500-km porous border that UP shares with Nepal has been the main point for infiltration by Maoist activists. As many as 670 villages spread over six districts of eastern UP had been identified as Naxalite-infested.

But the scenario has changed drastically now. Intelligence sources reveal that besides Bundelkhand, Naxalite activity is spreading to the western end of UP too. The new district units being formed by Naxalites have been named POR (Political Organisation Report).

Intelligence agencies have information that such units have already been set up in 17 districts — Agra, Kannauj, Etawah, Mainpuri, Etah, Bijnore, Budaun, Rampur, Saharanpur, Moradabad, Bulandshahr, Baghpat and Muzzaffarnagar in western UP, and in Jhansi, Lalitpur, Banda, and Jalaun in Bundelkhand.

“We are working on a two-pronged strategy to control this menace,” said UP DGP Vikram Singh. “One is to strongly suppress and combat any militant activity with use of force and gunpower. At the same time, we are also trying to address genuine grievances of deprivation, etc. with welfare schemes and official support to prevent Naxalites from striking roots.”

If the spread of the Naxalite threat in UP is any indication, the strategy does not seem to be working for now.

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