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Tackling LWE

Tackling LWE
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has acknowledged that States affected by the Maoist menace, also known as Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in official circles, should take "ownership" in leading counter-insurgency operations with the necessary support of central armed police forces (CAPFs). This suggestion comes soon after the dastardly Maoist attack on a Central Reserve Police Force unit on April 24 in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, which claimed the lives of 25 security personnel. As argued in these columns, State governments have to lead the line in this battle against militants, and the Centre must confine itself to a supporting role. Just days after the attack, Singh on said that the Centre would review its strategy to tackle left-wing extremism. Leading counter-insurgency experts have raised some rather uncomfortable concerns about the events leading up to the massacre of 26 CRPF personnel from the 74th Battalion. "The 74 Battalion personnel also seem to have made serious tactical mistakes. It appears they were having lunch together and huddled in one place. This explains the heavy casualties suffered by them. Forces sent for counter-insurgency must have first-class leaders, first-class weapons and first-class training. The CRPF in Sukma appeared to be lacking in the required level of training and leadership. What is particularly galling is that it was in Sukma, on March 11 that 12 members of another CRPF road-opening party were killed in an IED explosion. Apparently, no lessons were learnt," wrote Prakash Singh, retired DG BSF and DGP of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, in a recent column for a leading Indian news daily.

Senior CRPF officers have in fact argued that the attack was reminiscent of the April 2010 attack when 74 men died in Dantewada district, besides issuing complaints of a chronic lack of equipment and gear. In his meeting with Chief Ministers from 10 LWE-affected States on Monday, the Home Minister also made a reference to the need to improve critical facilities for the jawans stationed in the Red Corridor and the need to follow standard operating procedure. "The residential camps of security forces should be well equipped with power and water facility and better connectivity. We need to ensure that security forces must adhere to the Standard Operating Procedure," he said. There was also a reference to stepping up the intelligence gathering capabilities to counter the LWE problem. One CM who was not present at the meeting was Mamata Banerjee. The Centre only needs to look at how her government diffused the Maoist menace in West Bengal. Mere assertions from the Home Minister that Maoists are anti-development, albeit correct, are not enough. Maoists have merely filled the vacuum left behind by the State. What Banerjee did was to reclaim the State's role in these regions once afflicted by crippling poverty, and positively engage with local communities at the heart of this battle.

When she first took office in 2011, the state was in the grips of Naxal violence. Reports indicate that from 2009 to 2011, the state suffered more than 500 deaths, which included both security personnel and civilians. A little more than a year later, the entire Naxal movement in the State was vanquished. The strategy was two-pronged. On the one hand, she engaged with those civilians who had earlier borne the brunt of both the Indian State and the insurgents and gained their confidence in ways that many politicians, especially the erstwhile Left Front government had failed to garner. This was a process that began during her time in the Opposition. When she took office, however, she was firm in exterminating the threat of LWE, while in the process gaining the trust of the civilians in the areas. At the forefront of this battle against these insurgents was the State police, who had gathered the important informants on the ground. She did leave the door open for rebels to return to the mainstream instead of using the brute force of the state. The West Bengal government incentivised many Naxals into surrender by providing viable jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, thus allowing them to become a part of the mainstream. Over 300 LWEs have surrendered till date, of which 205 have found jobs as Special Home Guards. Besides employment, those who had surrendered also received the necessary financial assistance for medical aid, housing and education for their children. Unlike most leaders, Banerjee understood that the erstwhile Maoist-affected areas of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts (popularly known as Junglemahal) suffered from severe neglect. The State had completely abandoned these areas, with negligent development and the people barely surviving without the most basic amenities. Her government initiated a whole host of welfare projects in the Maoist strongholds, prioritising the supply of potable water, electricity, and announcing that everybody in the area was entitled to 16 kg of rice, every month, besides setting up primary health care facilities. Former Maoists who had returned to the mainstream were providing intelligence to the State police, who conducted targeted raids. The State also recruited locals in desperate need of a job from the area to act as informants to supply information. In coordination with the local communities and CAPFs, the State police managed to neutralise the top Maoist leadership. Other senior leaders of the insurgent group took up Banerjee's offer to return to the mainstream with an effective surrender policy in place.

What her government understood was that it was impossible to dismantle the Maoists without understanding the socio-economic realities that had paved the way for their rise in the region. As a senior West Bengal government official told leading news daily: "Bring people out of poverty, encourage them into the mainstream, without judgment, without condemnation, without thrusting the national flag instead of the Lal Salaam – and it is possible to make it impossible for Maoism to thrive." The Centre could take note.
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