Wednesday, May 28, 2008




National security through redefinition

Arun Shourie,

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

‘‘This has not happened in six months’ time. In 2001, it was 131 districts; in 2003, it had gone up to 143, and in 2004, this number had gone up to 157. I would say that the number has gone up, but it has not gone up only in six months time; it has gone up in three years’ time. That has to be borne in mind.’’ That was Shivraj Patil, the Home Minister, speaking in the Rajya Sabha in November 2004.

I had cited figures from official sources about the spread of Naxalite violence. Could it be any consolation that the sway of these violent groups had been spreading for a longer period than just six months? Quite the contrary: every year, year after year, the reach and lethality of Naxalites had continued to spread, showing that the rot in governance had continued to increase without let.

The situation continued to worsen. By October 2005, open sources were reporting that the number of districts affected by Naxalite violence and activity had risen to 165. The Rajya Sabha debated the matter again, in November 2005. Shivraj Patil improved on the reasoning. Though the figures I was citing are published by the Home Ministry itself, he said that such figures give a misleading impression. If one village in a district is affected, the whole district is counted as being affected, he said. Hence, the figures gave an impression of large stretches of the country being in the grip of extremist violence when that is not the case.

Why not disaggregate further, I had to inquire. After all, when the terrorists attack, they do not decimate the entire village. They kill just a handful from the village. They burn down just a few houses. Why not publish figures by household? And divide the number of households that have been attacked by the total number of households in the region, and thereby do even more to keep people’s morale up? Better still, why not disaggregate and count the number of individuals who have been killed, and divide that number by the total population of the region or the country? Wouldn’t we feel even safer?

But the Home Minister is the Home Minister. His reasoning has prevailed. Faced with more lethal attacks over a wider area, his Ministry has just stopped giving figures of the total number of districts that are affected by Naxalite operations and activity. It now gives figures only of districts “badly affected” by Naxalite violence. This comes to 76 districts. Isn’t that reassuring? National security through redefinition!

A truer index of the extent to which this virus is spreading is the fact that, after all, the Home Ministry had been using the same criteria for decades. On that basis, in the early 1990s, 16 districts were affected. In 2003, 56 districts were listed as affected. In October 2005, the number had risen, as I said, to 165. Since then, the situation has become much, much worse.

That Naxalites are actually carrying out violent attacks on police stations, that they are actually executing people is not the index of their sway. Violence comes at a much later stage of their operations; in almost every case, years later. In an interview with The Telegraph (July 15, 2005), a member of the Maoist Central Committee, “Comrade Dhruba”, is reported as saying that, apart from Bankura, Purulia and Midnapur districts, “our mass base in Murshidabad, Malda, Burdwan and Nadia is ready.” He adds, and this is what has a bearing on the Home Minister’s way of measuring, “After five years, we will launch our strikes.”

By the time violence is unleashed, the Naxalites have entrenched themselves firmly in the area. They commence with surveys — a 56-page survey that was recently recovered of “Perspective Areas” in a targeted state is so proficiently done that it would put some of our best institutions to shame: pattern of holdings; crops; problems of each crop; issues relating to wages and tenure; caste composition and tensions. Then front organisations are formed to instigate people on these issues. Experts instigate the demonstrations into violence. Reprisals fuel polarisation. Sympathisers and agents are steered into “voluntary organisations”, local bodies, cooperatives. Only after years of such capture and consolidation are dalams and the like formed. Violence is unleashed thereafter.

By that time, the situation has gone so far beyond the reach of the State apparatus that it can only do what the Home Minister is doing now.


The criterion, therefore, is not whether violence has actually been unleashed, nor whether the level of violence has become embarrassingly “bad”. That entire area must be taken to be affected by terrorist activity in which that group — say, Naxalites — is able to prevent officials of the State from carrying out their primary functions: of governance, of dispensing justice, of executing development works. The relevant questions to ask, therefore, are:

Do the people of the area look to the police for protection from the Naxalites, or are they now conducting themselves in such a way that the Naxalites would spare them?

Have the contractors of the area to pay Naxalites a cut for the works they execute - say, on construction involved in “development projects”?

Who is dispensing “justice” in the area? The regular courts, or the Naxalites’ mobile courts?

Are the government officials themselves not paying protection money to the Naxalites?

And remember, there are many types of insurgencies that are afoot in different parts of the country. The tests apply to the NSCN(IM) in Nagaland, to the score or so groups in Manipur, to the terrorists in Kashmir, as much as they apply to Naxalites.


Replying to the debate in November, 2005, the Home Minister had gone further in providing comfort. He had taken the House into confidence, and, going by the way he spoke, he had shared a deep secret of the State. The passage is worth reading in full. Shivraj Patil told the Rajya Sabha that, in fact, a comprehensive mechanism is already in place to tackle challenges to internal security. ‘‘This mechanism is already there’’, he said. ‘‘Probably, it is not known to the Hon. Members because it is an internal matter that we are doing.’’ He shared this State Secret, the information about this ‘‘mechanism’’: ‘‘We have a Special Security Secretary here. The responsibility given to the Special Security Secretary is to talk to the DIGs and other officers in the Naxalite-affected states every month or two months or whenever it is necessary, and decide as to what has to be done... Then there is a committee which is presided over by the Home Secretary, who talks to the Chief Secretaries of the states and DIGs of the states and they decide as to how the policy should be evolved to deal with the Naxalite activity or the terrorist activities in J&K or the North Eastern states. And, then, there are regional committees of the Home Minister and the Chief Ministers who meet periodically to decide about the policies. And, then, the Chief Ministers have been talking to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister every now and then, whenever they want. There is coordination. There is institution for coordination. You don’t think that we are not talking.’’

So there is a mechanism. There is committee upon committee. There are meetings after meetings. All concerned are talking. The result is before you — in the increasingly lethal depredations wreaked by Naxalites — by now in 14 states; they must have been visible in the trains in Mumbai.


In his statement on the Mumbai train blasts too, the Home Minister gave a long list of meetings that had been held in the wake of the blasts. The last time, there had been more. I had cited recommendations that had been made by the Task Forces on Border Management and Internal Security — two among four set up after the Kargil War. I had shown in detail how little had been done in regard to them.

The first reaction of the Congress Party and its props was, ‘‘Which reports? Where are the reports? Is he prepared to authenticate them?’’ As I had carried both the voluminous reports with me, I lifted them, and said I would authenticate them there and then. The attack shifted, ‘‘These are secret reports, how is he citing them?’’ Then, ‘‘But what did your Government do for three years?’’

Uncharacteristically, the Leader of the Opposition, Jaswant Singh got provoked enough to state, ‘‘As a matter of personal knowledge, I do wish to say that I had the distinction and honour of simultaneously holding the portfolio of Defence at that time and I can state to the House that about 95 per cent of the recommendations of the Subramaniam Committee report and the Task Force on the Armed Forces were implemented.’’

He had, as is usual with him, been careful in his choice of words. He had referred only to the recommendations of the main report of the Subramaniam Committee and the Task Force on the Armed Forces — not to the Task Forces on Border Management and on Internal Security, whose findings and recommendations I had been reading out. But that was enough. The Home Minister built on what Jaswant Singh had said: ‘‘Sir’’, Shivraj Patil said, ‘‘The points which were raised by Mr Shourie have been replied now by the Leader of the Opposition sitting over there. And, I can assure the House that the recommendations which have not been implemented are in the process of being implemented.’’ The Home Minister returned to this later in his response, and remarked, ‘‘I am very happy to point out that when this point was made by Mr. Arun Shourie, the Leader of the Opposition was here in the House and he did get up and say that nearly 95 per cent of the recommendations of the Group of Ministers have been acted upon, have been implemented and I had no difficulty in getting up and saying that even 5 per cent recommendations which remained unimplemented, would certainly be implemented by the Government because they are good recommendations and we have no difficulty in implementing them.’’

One hundred per cent of the recommendations having been implemented — for we must assume that, months having passed, even those remaining 5 per cent have been implemented — the results should not surprise us! On 21 February, 2006, the Minister of State for Home told Parliament that in 2004, 653 had been killed in Naxalite-related violence. In 2005, 892 were killed. Going by open source compilations, in 2006, up to 23 July, already 550 have been killed.

But, as I mentioned, that is not even a partial index of the state of affairs. Captured documents indicate that Naxalites have already put in place ‘‘Regional Bureaus’’ for two-thirds of the country: including one for Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and UP — and, a high authority on Left-wing violence tells me, the person who has been identified as heading this ‘‘Bureau’’ is one of the very best organisers among them. Further, barring the Northeast, J&K, Himachal and Rajasthan, ‘‘State Committees’’ are by now in place for every other state, ‘‘Special Area Committees’’ have been instituted for UP-Uttaranchal, Bihar-Jharkhand, and Bengal.

An ‘‘Urban Perspective Document’’ sets out detailed strategy for extending operations into and unsettling urban areas. Governance is weakening in many cities even now, it notes. And this weakening can only accelerate: urban population is expected to increase from 285 million to 540 million by 2020. A fertile field.

The point is that each such terrorist movement is proceeding systematically. Its programmes cover every aspect: land, caste-tensions, ‘‘courts’’, targets for raising finances, recruitment, training, capture and production of arms, calibrated unleashing of violence. And on our side?

The Home Minister’s ‘‘comprehensive mechanism’’. His ‘‘100% implementation’’. His redefinitions of the area that is affected.

And yet, the inattention to Left-wing violence is not the worst of the problems.

(To be concluded)

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