The killing of eight people by the People’s War Group in the Latehar district of Jharkhand on November 20 has shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in the state. The attack, which occurred only days after Jharkhand celebrated its second anniversary, belied Babulal Marandi’s claim of having made significant progress in controlling the Naxalite menace. Since the formation of Jharkhand, about 150 policemen and members of paramilitary forces have lost their lives in Naxalite attacks. Does Marandi remember that he had promised to quell Naxalite violence while assuming office'
The November 20 landmine attack targetted a vehicle carrying Jharkhand policemen. In fact, both the PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre guerrillas are routinely using landmines to target police patrols engaged in anti-Naxalite operations. On May 7, this year, the MCC killed 15 policemen in Koderma district by blasting a powerful landmine.
It would be wrong to say that the Marandi regime has not acted against the Naxalites at all. The BJP-led coalition had chalked out an ambitious plan to combat the Naxalites and a large number of Jharkhand armed police and central reserve police force personnel were recruited for that purpose.
To make anti-Naxalite operations more effective, long range patrolling was introduced for the first time in which police personnel ventured into the forest areas to combat the PWG and the MCC. The state government also claims that the anti-Naxalite campaign has been successful in putting the extremists in a defensive position. In the last two years, 50 extremists have been killed.
But the death toll of CRPF and police personnel has been much higher. During the last two years, the Naxalites have, other than killing police personnel, looted more than 100 firearms from them. Despite the government having spent approximately Rs 250 crore in the anti-Naxalite campaign, the Naxalites retain their striking capacity. Predictably, the opposition parties in Jharkhand blame the Marandi regime for its failure in maintaining law and order and in containing Naxalite violence in the state.
A senior Congress leader and member of legislative assembly, Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, has dubbed the Marandi government as “totally inefficient”, while the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha thinks that the anti-people policies of the Marandi government are helping the Naxalites to spread their influence among the poorer sections of the rural population. The Naxalites are active in nearly 15 districts in Jharkhand.
Government sources however insist that the anti-Naxalite campaign is on the right track. They point to the surrender of 30 extremists recently in Bokaro. although the PWG and the MCC have contradicted this assertion.
Police officials in Ranchi say that they have been outwitted repeatedly because of the unavailability of sophisticated landmine detectors. The state government has therefore sought the help of the Union home ministry in procuring mine-detectors and sweepers.
According to independent political observers, the police today are much better equipped to deal with extremists. That the Naxalites often manage to get the upper-hand is because of their superior intelligence network. The PWG and the MCC have built a support base among the tribals and the Dalits, particularly in the forests and adjacent areas by helping the poor establish their right over forest produce and by fighting the moneylender-forest contractor-corrupt official nexus which exploited and oppressed them. Police officers, of course, counter this by saying that the people are terrorized by Naxalite gangs which force them into giving food and shelter.
There can be no doubt that the November 20 attack is a major setback to the anti-Naxalite campaign of the Marandi government. Clearly, Marandi has a difficult job in hand.