Three days after Maoists ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders in Bastar district, killing 27 people including top leaders of the party in the State, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh spoke to Raipur Correspondent Suvojit Bagchi on what he sees as the shortcomings of the anti-Maoist policies and strategies designed by the Central government. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader underlined the need for better coordination between the States and the Centre and more focussed and intense handling of the situation.
What are the steps your government is planning to ensure that such incidents do not recur?
First, we have to find out the details about these people — who were they, which States did they come from, who carried out this act? Secondly, we have to take precautions…we need 100 per cent implementation of a standard operating procedure (SOP). Elections are nearing and the activities of political parties will increase. So we have to station forces at critical locations and ensure road-domination exercises. I have ordered these things. Two new battalions [of the CRPF] are coming, policing will get better.
You mean politicians will also come under some sort of SOP?
We’ve to do it for all. So that everyone is safe in the area.
You’ve enough forces in the State to do that?
Yes. Some forces are also coming after training, some CRPF and State forces are joining as well.
You spoke about security lapses…
If everything was in place, such a big incident would not have happened. Now what went wrong and where, we will look into that in a judicial inquiry, so that we can clear everything in front of everyone and the guilty are punished.
We talk of judicial inquiries, but the conviction rate is very low.
Lack of evidence. In any tribal area, where any incident takes place, there is an atmosphere of fear. People get picked up but they cannot talk against them [Maoists]. They know they’ll have to stay in Bastar. So while people get identified, it’s a problem to make them talk in court.
One issue of discontent among the tribals is arrests. They are picked up randomly and remain for four, five, six years in jail as undertrials. The judicial process is slow and families suffer, they get frustrated. Maoists campaign that innocents are kept in jail for no reason…
The Chief Secretary and a former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh have come together and a three-member team is reviewing this. They are identifying cases of those who have been in jail for years. We have wrapped up all the cases related to small violations under the Forest Act and Excise cases. We are reviewing naxal-related cases.
Still a huge number of tribals are languishing in jail…
Yes. The number is huge…
Another contentious issue is this: when the forces go inside, they don’t know who is a Maoist and who isn’t — and they sometimes resort to huge human rights violations. And it is going to increase, as more forces will go inside now…
Now so many people have died, and there was no human rights violation? Nobody is thinking that father and son have been killed together, drivers and police personnel have been killed. What happens when people are killed in village courts and are chopped to pieces? A small violation by the police goes a long way, but what about the Maoists…? Will this continue in a democracy, will they not be criticised by society? Human rights violations should not be one-sided.
Are you happy with the level of Central assistance?
Central support, as in paramilitary support… that is fine. I told the Prime Minister I would like to go beyond this. We need an Integrated Action Plan to increase inter-State coordination and the Government of India should encourage that.
You mean to say there are shortcomings in the integrated plan?
There are shortcomings. All the resources like planning, intelligence, etc., should integrate [to fight Naxalism]. There should be one centre from where all information regarding Naxalism should be disseminated to the States. There should be some long-term strategy, which will be decided together. So far, there is no success in this coordination.
Naxalism should be treated [by the Central government] as a national problem. The way they [the Central government] engaged themselves, with all the force and strength, in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, they should do that in Chhattisgarh.
Politically speaking, is the BJP on the backfoot after the incident?
Over the last three years we worked hard and moved forward. This one incident has slightly… (trailing off). The incident surely will scatter us for a while, but we will fight with all our ability and strength.
But the Congress is aggressive. How are you going to deal with that?
Some talk about President’s Rule! If for such an incident President’s Rule is imposed, then will any Indian State survive? One should not try to take political advantage of the situation.