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KILLING FIELDS

Maoists may be down, but not quite out. Their latest strike in Chhattisgarh proves this yet again. All available data indicate that the rebels’ influence and strength have steadily declined in most of the states where they once held sway in large areas. In Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal, the battles against the Maoists have proved generally successful. More important, internal dissensions, which had always plagued the rebel groups, have become sharper in recent years than in the past. The most authentic confirmation of this came from a resolution adopted at a recent central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Clearly, the Maoists can no longer attract as many recruits, even in their core areas, as before. All this does not mean, though, that the rebels have lost all their power to strike. They continue to kill personnel of the police and para-military forces not only in Chhattisgarh but also in Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Striking at symbols of the State remains one of the key elements of their theory and practice. It is another matter that their ideology of violence makes them aliens in a democratic system.

However, the State’s response to the Maoist challenge seems to be seriously flawed. It is difficult to explain otherwise the series of failures, particularly in Chhattisgarh. Only last year, the Maoists annihilated a large part of the state Congress leadership in a single ambush. Months before that, an entire company of the Central Reserve Police Force was wiped out in another attack. The killing of 16 officers and men of the state and Central police forces on Tuesday suggests that the administration has not learnt enough lessons from its previous mistakes. Obviously, not enough intelligence had been gathered about the Maoists’ presence in the areas around the site of the latest killings. Worse still, the Congress-led government at the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government in the state have blamed each other publicly after Tuesday’s tragedy. This is no way to co-ordinate the strategy to fight the Maoists. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had once described the Maoist rebellion as the greatest threat to India’s internal security. Nothing could be worse for national security than to reduce the battle against the rebels to matters of partisan politics. The challenge of the Red terror should actually unite all parties against it.