The Hindu, June 6th
NEW DELHI: Amid indications that the Army and the Air Force are chary of getting involved, the government will soon take a call on the proposal to give the armed forces a role in tackling the Naxalite problem.
According to highly placed sources, the Home Ministry has prepared a document, outlining various options in the face of the escalating Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh and other parts of the country. The document was sent to the Defence Ministry for its views and it is still being reviewed there.
Last week, Defence Minister A.K. Antony held a meeting with the three Services chiefs on the security situation in the country, including the problem of naxal violence, and sought their views on the possibility of enlarging the role of the armed forces, especially the Army and the Air Force, in counter-insurgency operations.
The Army now provides training to the State and Central police forces, while the Air Force gives logistic support of transporting personnel and supplies.
While a final call will be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Defence Minister is on record saying that the “eventual decision” of the government will be implemented.
But the sources told TheHindu that the Army and the Air Force are hesitant to take on a greater role on the grounds that this could result in collateral damage.
The emergent view within the brass is that the Army should be asked to step in only as a last resort in tackling internal law and order situations.
In addition, the view is that the presence of soldiers in civilian areas could lead to a greater sense of alienation among the local population.
With Maoists already gaining the sympathy of the tribal people, the apprehension is that the move to put military boots on the ground could widen the gap between the government and sections of the people in areas where even basic facilities are severely lacking.
Another factor is that any counter-insurgency action by the armed forces could attract greater attention by non-government organisations and other activists, along with the apprehension that the damage to the social fabric could be more serious.
The Defence Ministry still holds the view that the task of taking on the naxalites belongs to the State police, which are best equipped in the form of terrain and local conditions.
The Home Ministry has augmented the capability of the State police, both in the form of specialised training to fight the naxalites and also sent battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force.
However, the massacre of CRPF personnel in Dantewada and the recent train derailment and collision that resulted in the loss of civilian lives has led to a clamour for an increased role for the armed forces.