Dialogue needed


Deaths of at least 15 security personnel in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in Gadhchiroli area of Maharashtra last week is a grim reminder of the Indian state’s continued failure to tackle naxalism in different parts of the country. It is all the more tragic that precious lives have been lost for no fault of theirs and it also points to the failure of policy makers in tackling with the situations arising out of the anger among the tribal population not only in Gadhchiroli but also other states in the neighbourhood. Close on the heels of this incident, a legislator and some security men lost their lives in a similar attack in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh before the elections less than a month ago. It is also unfortunate that this attack has taken place despite heavy deployment of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) numbering about 30 companies, 13 companies of the State Reserve Police Force besides 5500 men of the local police in Gadhchiroli and its neighbouring district Chandrapur. The attack shows not only the audacity of the perpetrators but also the unpreparedness of the security forces in this belt besides its neighbourhood. A Quick Response Team was going down the road to Dadpur in Kurkheda where Maoists had set fire to three dozen vehicles of a road construction company earlier in the day when the explosion blasted the team to smithereens. The ease with which the Maoists were able to torch so many vehicles is alarming, and the manner in which the response team drove into an ambush is a shocking example of poor planning. The naxals set the bait and the security forces blindly took it and fell into the trap. In the process, Standard Operating Procedures, including letting a road-opening team lead the way, seem to have been ignored. The authorities still remain in a state of denial and continue to have the perception that presence of Maoists in this area was minimal. If this was the perception of the authorities, then how come this incident has taken place in a gap of few weeks. Apart from what has happened in this area of Gadhchiroli, one thing is clear that the Maoists in the belt have the capability and will to strike whenever and wherever they want. This should act as an eye-opener for the authorities which are in denial mode. It is incumbent on the state government and the centre to open channels of dialogue process with the angry Tribals, who are protesting against the taking over of their forests by the corporate houses for mining and road building. The tribals are opposed to this model of development in their areas, which has been their home and hearth for centuries. Moreover, it is no coincidence either that the perpetrators chose the Maharashtra Foundation Day, after the polling in the district, to send this violent message. That the naxals should be able to control the narrative, remain on top of the intelligence, stay nimble and several steps ahead of the security planners should be a matter of deep concern. It is some comfort that the polling percentages in both Gadchiroli and neighbouring Chandrapur have risen marginally, compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, from 70.04% to 71.98% and from 63.29% to 64.65%, respectively. But the path of the voter to the polling booth in the naxal-dominated districts is still paved with disincentives. And, the security forces deployed in the region have not been able to instil in them a greater level of confidence. On top of everything else, most of the police personnel who perished in this latest attack seem to have been local residents. Even in the prevailing circumstances of a hostile external environment, India cannot afford to take the challenges of internal security lightly. Somehow, the internal dialogue process is the only way forward to ensure peace in the region and new development models should be left to them to decide and choose.