Riding high on the recent arrest of senior Maoist leader Kopad Ghandy, the Manmohan Singh government is considering a major escalation of its war against Maoist insurgents across the country.

In an interaction with reporters accompanying the Prime Minister to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, official sources said the Home Ministry’s proposal for the use of special forces, including air power, was being considered by the appropriate committees and no decision had been taken as yet. While a strong case had been made out for the greater use of force against the naxalites, the government was evaluating the downsides of such a strategy. “The question is whether we can calibrate the government’s use of violence,” the sources said.

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs… [But] if we end up killing many more tribals in the process, there will be problems.”

By way of illustration, the sources drew attention to the recent report by General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the United States forces in Afghanistan, which linked mounting civilian casualties in the war against the Taliban to the use of air power by the U.S. and its allies.

The sources criticised what they said was the media’s unwillingness to focus on the violence perpetrated by the Maoists. “Despite the fact that naxalites have been carrying out the worst atrocities, there is very little public outcry. When Kopad Ghandy is arrested, we see intellectuals are protecting him. But when tribals are killed by the Maoists, the intellectuals and NGOs [are silent.]”

Asked about the need for dialogue with the Maoists, the sources said this had been experimented with between 2004 and 2006. “Today, there are no offers from their side and I am not sure any purpose will be served either.”

The sources defended the Chhattisgarh government’s controversial Salwa Judum strategy of arming tribals to attack Maoist insurgents and their suspected sympathizers, a strategy that has led to the displacement of thousands of tribals and been questioned by the Supreme Court. “I think the Salwa Judum was a genuine people’s movement and the naxalites were frightened by it. But thanks to NGOs and other extraneous elements, it was undermined and completely destroyed.”

The Prime Minister will halt in Frankfurt for the night before proceeding to Pittsburgh on Thursday.