New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) Two Italians kidnapped in Odisha, then a legislator and now a collector in Chhattisgarh. The high profile abductions have again focused attention on the government strategy to counter Maoists and even officials are asking whether there is any clarity of thought in the twin approach of development and military action.
While security experts and activists wonder if the government is losing its way, the talk gaining momentum in government circles is whether development in tandem with security operations has paid dividends.
According to sources in the home ministry, some officials feel that building schools, health centres and road connectivity in Maoist strongholds is irrational until security forces first dominate the areas.
Left-wing extremists in Odisha had kidnapped two Italians in March, released one after 11 days and the second almost a month later. Another Maoist group abducted Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator March 24 but his fate continues to be uncertain.
And last week Saturday, Alex Paul Menon, the 32-year-old collector of Chhattisgarh's Sukma district was taken into captivity from the Manjhipara area, affected by leftist insurgency, described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the 'biggest' threat to internal security.
Menon was travelling with a thin security cover of only two personal security officers, who were shot dead by the rebels.
This, security experts believe, underlines the fact that rebels continue to rule the red corridor - the nearly 80 Maoist-affected districts on the borders of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Some experts feel the only way to stop abductions is to provide heavy security cover for officers and also ensure that the areas where development takes place is dominated by a heavy security presence. Rights activists see an inherent contradiction in this.
Both believe the government might be confused. But that's the only point of convergence in their views.
'In a situation, where you have no capacity (to dominate), how can you have a developmental strategy?' asked Ajai Sahni, an author and expert on counter-terrorism.
But Justice (retd) Rajinder Sachar, an activist with the People's Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights (PUCLDR), disagreed 'totally'.
'It has to be a combined strategy. Security doesn't mean you go for the kill. You have to win the hearts of the people. Secure their rights. Make them feel safe. And that can happen only when you improve their living conditions. It cannot be only security.'
The 89-year-old activist said the government had failed to address the root cause of the problem on which 'Maoist insurgency thrives'. 'That is poverty, violation of rights.'
Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, argued that the government's double pronged strategy had failed 'totally'.
'You see the government is not doing enough. Instead it is making itself vulnerable and Maoists are taking advantage,' he said.
The abductions of the two Italians, it is argued by some, had been successful and forced the government to concede Maoist demands for the release of some of their arrested leaders.
'You can kill unknown Maoists everyday - that doesn't matter too much for them. But you cannot replace leaders so fast... They use abduction as a two edged weapon...Weaken the government and get their leaders back,' Sahni said.
Ajit Doval, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, agreed that the Maoists had 'made the government surrender'.
'They think it is a weak government and they get encouraged every time you concede their demands. You have to take tough action,' he said.
He added that the government needed to tell state police forces 'be tough, we will protect you legally'.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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