| Maharashtra’s Vilasrao Deshmukh dozes off at the Delhi meeting where Manmohan Singh (below) identified Maoists as the gravest threat to India’s internal security. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 13: Spring Thunder has struck Delhi, a day after its disruptive potential was acknowledged in Calcutta and 39 years after the clarion call rose in Naxalbari in Bengal.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today identified Maoist insurgency as the gravest threat to India’s internal security since Independence, delivering a speech peppered with catchphrases usually found in US presidential addresses.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country. There seems to be unanimity on the fact that we need to give the problem a very high priority,” Singh told a meeting of chief ministers of the six Naxalite-affected states.
The appraisal came less than 24 hours after Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee conceded in Calcutta that Maoist strikes are a cause for concern. On the campaign trail in Purulia, a Naxalite stronghold in Bengal, Bhattacharjee today vowed to crush the insurgency.
Bengal has not been officially declared a Naxalite-hit state. The six with the tag are Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
In Delhi, the Prime Minister said the Maoist movement had evolved into a major force that threatened “our democracy, our way of life”, expressions that have gained currency in the age of speeches tailored for television.
Singh also took aim at the ideological moorings of the insurgents, saying that many “lumpen elements” have infiltrated the movement.
“Charu Mazumdar had once talked about a Spring Thunder over India. Today, almost 40 years later, the Naxalite movement has lost much of its intellectual attraction, but it has gained in strength by spreading to over 160 districts all over the country. The ideological base of the movement has diminished and there are many lumpen elements now in the movement.”
He told the meeting that states affected by Maoist violence needed to do a better job of intelligence gathering and coordinating security operations, as well as beefing up and modernising their police forces.
At the same time, Singh lamented the country’s failure to deliver social justice and development to its poorest regions, a neglect he said had alienated people and helped feed the rebellion.
State governments, he said, had to focus on “good governance” and eliminate “leak” of development funds ' in other words stop stealing the money meant for the poor. “Our strategy, therefore, has to be to walk on two legs ' to have an effective police response while at the same time focusing on reducing the sense of deprivation and alienation.”
Naxalites are trying to establish “liberation zones” in core areas and “civil administration and police are periodically absent in some of these areas”, he added.
Maoist cadre were now better trained, and the movement increasingly militarised, with “superior army-style organisation”.
Later in the evening, Singh developed a mild fever and the weekly cabinet meeting was cancelled.