Dealing with the Maoists

October 26, 2016 01:32 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST

The death of 28 members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in an operation by the security forces on the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border is a big blow to the outlawed group. The joint operation was led by anti-Naxalite units of the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police at Panasput village in Malkangiri district in Odisha. In September 2013, 13 Maoists were killed by the Odisha police in the same district, and the latest operation indicates the strength of the special forces deployed to counter insurgency in these States. The security forces had suffered significant losses when the Maoists killed 38 anti-Naxal Greyhound commandos in a boat attack in the Balimela reservoir in Malkangiri in June 2008. The military setbacks apart, the Maoists are today diminished politically as well. The desertion of one of their top tribal leaders, Sabyasachi Panda, in 2012 and the surrender of tribal cadres in Narayanpatna in Koraput district have set the Maoists on the back foot in southern Odisha. It is believed that the attacked cadres at Malkangiri district this week were at a “plenary” organised to examine ways of getting out of the current organisational and political morass. The Maoists have been unable to expand as a political force in the plains areas; and as a guerrilla force they have been limited to the remote and hilly tribal belt of central India. It is, however, not clear whether these setbacks will compel the Maoists to disavow their insurgent goals and instead join the political mainstream to pursue their avowed ambition of guarding the interests of the tribal poor.

Not too long ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had identified the Maoist movement as the biggest internal security threat. Buoyed by the unification of various Naxalite outfits into one party in 2004, they had consolidated themselves in some districts, taking advantage of the weak presence of the welfare and administrative agencies. But by subordinating political activism to militarism they have done little for tribal empowerment; instead, they settled for a war of attrition against the state. The state on its part has faltered, over a decade, in its dual strategy of containing the military threat of the Maoists and expanding its developmental footprint in these districts. After driving the Maoists away from undivided Andhra Pradesh into parts of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha, this strategy has been implemented unevenly and with mixed results. A state of civil war along with tribal repression, persists in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region. In other parts, the implementation of development and welfare programmes has been slow. Greater political will is needed to address these shortcomings.

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