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Naxalite threat on army table

New Delhi, April 1: The army top brass will meet for a brainstorming session on the management of Naxalite militancy in central and southern India during a commanders' conference beginning on Monday.

Violent leftist militancy figures high on the agenda of the conference that will also discuss new training and disciplinary norms, a restructuring of formations along the western border, and steps to reduce casualties during operations.

Lieutenant General Ram Subramaniam, the chief of the Lucknow-headquartered Central Command, has been asked to make a presentation on 'internal security problems in central India'.

His counterpart from the Pune-based Southern Command, Lieutenant General Balraj Singh Takhar, is also likely to contribute to the assessment of security in the region as are the chiefs of staff of the two commands, Lt General Ashok Vasudeva and Lt General Ashok Kapur.

It is understood that the presentations will map the growth in influence of Naxalite outfits, chiefly the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and will assess its possibilities over the next five years.

The discussions are unlikely to dwell on operations but will seek to measure the threat. This is probably the first time that the army will be discussing the Naxalite issue at such a high level.

Naxalites are active in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, which are in the areas of responsibility of the Central and Southern Commands.

The commanders' conference will be inaugurated by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee. He had in January taken up cudgels on behalf of the security establishment after US ambassador David C. Mulford questioned Andhra Naxalites' impact on foreign investment.

During a visit to the state, Mulford had said: 'I was concerned about the political violence and Naxalite activity in the state. These issues concern investors looking at India.'

The following day, on the sidelines of the Asian Security Conference here, Mukherjee had said: 'The (Naxalite) violence is manageable and there is no cause to be panicky. The problem is being dealt with.'

Though the army has never overtly been in the picture in containing Naxalite violence, military intelligence assessments routinely touch on the issue even if the major areas of concern are Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

But the failure of talks in Andhra between the erstwhile Peoples' War Group and the state government, coupled with the linkages forged by the CPI (Maoist) with the rebel Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has been worrying the affected states as well as the security establishment.

So far, it is the Union home ministry that has been involved in interacting with Naxalite-hit states on law and order. Next week's army commanders' conference will bring the defence ministry firmly into the picture.

The conference is held twice every year. The latest is the first after General Joginder Jaswant Singh took over as the army chief.

The conference will also monitor the progress of the South Western Command, the new army formation along the western border that is to be headquartered in Jaipur.

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