The massacre by the Communist Party of India (Maoists) of nearly 30 innocent tribals taking refuge in a relief camp in Chhattisgarh brings to the fore the growing frustration among the ranks of the banned naxalite movement. It was not just another assault on the tribals who have fled their homes, but also a siege of a security base in the area. It is most inhuman for the Maoists, who claim to be fighting for the rights of marginalised tribals, to have killed infants, children, and women in this planned attack on the Erraboru base camp. About 120 houses in the camp were also razed to the ground and over two dozen tribals kidnapped before the security forces could repulse the midnight attack. And six of those kidnapped were later hacked to death. The target was supposed to be `Salva Judum' (march for peace) activists, but its architect Mahendra Karma has denied they are followers of the mission. It is obvious that the Maoists have begun to target innocent people while earlier they were directing their violence against the police and the administration with whom they are supposed to be at "war." There appears to be no immediate provocation for this dastardly attack, but it is clearly seen as an offensive by the Andhra Pradesh cadre designed to protect their Dandakaranya base and also to counter the `Public Perception Management' drive launched recently by the Union Home Ministry against the naxalites. It was also a demonstration of their capacity to hit anywhere in its stronghold.

It is most unfortunate that innocent people, and that too tribals, are getting caught in the crossfire between the security forces and the Maoists. Though Erraboru has been a base camp for the police and the CRPF, the people in the relief camps could not be protected. After making a serious issue of the naxalite violence and endeavouring to provide an integrated security-cum-offensive front in the naxalite areas, the Centre, especially the Home Ministry, has been trying to downplay the extent of the menace. Last year, the Ministry's annual report categorised 126 districts as naxalite "affected." The movement was supposed to have 9,300 cadres. But now, the Ministry insists that only 50 districts, 509 police station areas to be precise, are " naxalite infested." Obviously, the authorities want to give the impression that the naxalite problem is no longer insurmountable. And, the Maoists want to counter that claim by demonstrating their strike capabilities. Whatever the estimates, it cannot be denied that the innocent people, especially the tribals, are the ones who are put to hardship. The Maoists are supposed to be espousing the cause of the tribals. Ironically, because of the continued violence and killings, even the few development projects and facilities they would have got in the normal course, have now been denied to them. The Maoists need to give up the terrorist ways and come to the table for substantive talks, and not continue mindlessly on the path of violence.