Point counter point. P. Chidambaram versus Arun Jaitley versus Raman Singh. The war of words went on as the body count of Maoist insurgency victims went up: four more CRPF jawans were killed on Wednesday in Lalgarh, West Bengal, and there were other incidents of violence in Orissa.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who arrived in the capital sought appointments with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram and unwittingly, perhaps, jumped into the middle of the exchange of hot words between the Home Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jaitley.

Mr. Singh put an end to the debate on limited or unlimited mandate of the Centre or the States in dealing with the insurgency problem and in the process contradicted what Mr. Jaitley has been propounding on the Centre's primary responsibility on security issues that impinge on sovereignty.

“The State government remains in command of all Central forces sent to it on its request… They work under us… the planning of an operation is done by the Superintendent of Police or the Inspector-General under the direct control of the State government, which decides where and how these Central forces are to be deployed,” Mr. Singh asserted when a handful of journalists met him at the Chhattisgarh Sadan here.

Mr. Singh did not shirk responsibility for what had happened in Chhattisgarh, with two major successes notched by Maoists in quick succession taking a heavy toll of more than a hundred security personnel and civilians in April and May. He said he had received “adequate” support from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister and had good relations “with all.” And he was in “command” of deployment of forces.

And just a few hours later Mr. Jaitley took on Mr. Chidambaram questioning his new play of words on the Centre's “limited mandate” as against the State government's “unlimited mandate” to deal with the problem.

Mr. Jaitley did not buy this argument. The BJP leader pointed out the Home Minister had, in his interview to a television channel, clearly referred to the “limited mandate” given to him by the Cabinet Committee on Security although he sought more powers, adding he would go back to the Cabinet (for a larger mandate).

Political rhetoric and scoring of points apart, the hard facts of our federal system are that States have defended their sole jurisdiction over all problems that need the intervention of the police. Even though the fine print of the Constitution does seem to recognise the duty of the Union to give effect to social justice in tribal areas (Fifth Schedule of the Constitution) and the control of the Union on “deployment of any armed force of the Union … in any State in aid of civil power,” in practice this control remains limited.

As senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan put it, the key words were “in aid of civil power,” and no doubt in these instances civil power is represented by the State government. At the same time, his view was that “operational control” of the Army or the armed police sent to a State government must remain under the control of the Union. One cannot have a situation where the SP or the IG or a Collector can order the Army. “This is an area of cooperative federalism for the State government and the Centre to work out to indicate the area of stress…”

In 1992, when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao sent Central forces to Uttar Pradesh, the Kalyan Singh government refused to deploy them to secure the threatened Babri Masjid. The district administration used every trick to prevent the Central forces from coming to the trouble spot. It would seem only in areas declared to be “disturbed” does the Union and its forces, in practice, enjoy almost dangerously unfettered powers.

Mr. Singh said he wanted air support, indicating that by this he meant “not bombing of areas or air attacks of Naxal dominated areas” but “logistical air support” for evacuation of injured and supplies to the policemen out on patrol as well as surveillance.

The Chief Minister made the point he would not be surprised if the Maoists were getting some help from the LeT for, they had mastered the skill of using IEDs, which “cannot be done by ordinary adivasis.” He certainly felt there was need to “review the strategy” to deal with the problem.

“The guerillas have changed their tactics to mobile warfare,” and the Centre and the States have to work out a strategy to counter these new tactics. He suggested a coordinated action plan for a “template of districts most affected spread over several States.” He admitted that his State simply did not have a police force capable of fighting the Maoist guerrilla force. As for development, his State had “one-third the national average of infrastructure,” be it railway lines, roads, schools, hospitals, drinking water…

The Chief Minister may not be pointing fingers at the Centre, but his party, the BJP, surely is. When Naxal attacks were at their height in Andhra Pradesh, the BJP blamed the “soft on Naxals” approach of the Congress, and when Chhattisgarh is under attack, of course, the Centre and the Congress is to be blamed, not the State government or the BJP.

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