Stressing that the Left-wing extremism posed a bigger challenge than terrorism, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram called upon the States to share responsibility in combating the problem and said winning the minds and hearts of the villagers in these regions was key to winning the battle against Naxalism.
Inaugurating a national workshop on strategies for effective implementation of rural development schemes under the Integrated Action Plan(IAP) in 60 left-wing extremist(LWE) districts, Mr. Chidambaram said the battle was not about restoring peace and security or ushering in development. It was about winning the hearts and minds of the people.
So long as the villagers considered the naxalites their friends and the established government their enemy, the battle could not be won. “They have to be on our side.”
Admitting that most of them were still not on “our” side because of trust, governance and development deficits, he said it was crucial to address trust deficit before tackling governance and development issues.
Mr. Chidambaram not only vested the States with this responsibility, but also said the burden of governance must squarely remain with the State governments. The role of the Centre would be to help them with funds, technology, security forces and guidelines.
His suggestion for the Chief Ministers was to visit affected districts, hold meetings and spend a couple of nights there, besides increasing allocation for policing and developmental activities.
Referring to the demands made by the District Magistrates at the meeting, Mr. Chidambaram said demanding more money, security, banks, mobile towers and relaxation in Central sponsored schemes amounted to shifting the responsibility of the States to the Centre.
Regretting that the focus was on terrorism and not on left wing violence, Mr. Chidambaram said during the first eight months of 2011 the casualty in LWE violence was more than 10 times that than in the terrorist attacks. The number of civilians killed in terrorist activities was 26, while insurgency in north-east claimed 46 lives. The death toll in Jammu and Kashmir was 27, while LWE violence resulted in the death of as many as 297 people.
Even in respect of security forces, losses have been on the higher side. While there has been no loss of life among security force personnel so far in terrorist attacks, insurgency in north-east proved fatal for 27 of them. In J&K, 23 lost their lives, while 109 were killed in LWE violence.
Pointing out that the presence of security forces had been more than doubled from 31 battalions in 2008 to 71 battalions in 2011, Mr. Chidambaram said even if the Centre were to increase their deployment it would not quell LWE violence in the country.
Discounting the possibility of using paramilitary forces for static purposes, he said a special battalion was being raised imbued with engineering skills for ensuing development. Since that would take time, the State governments had to shoulder the responsibility and optimise the available resources.
Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh clarified that IAP would be continued during the 12th five Year Plan with the block as a unit and not the district as is the case currently.
He also underlined the requirement for CRPF in some districts as their presence had helped gram panchayats take up new projects.
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways C.P. Joshi promised to relax the rules as and when they were approved by the Ministry Home Affairs and suggested that the process of construction be split into various processes to involve the local people in the execution of the projects.