Blackmail has become a paying industry, not only for abductors and criminals, but also for terrorists and other groups like Maoists. They are emboldened by the fact that both in the past and now they have succeeded in making the government bend on its knees through kidnapping tactics. In fact, by this approach they have discovered that killing security forces personnel does not produce the same effect as kidnapping can do.
In the latest strike of abducting Italian foreigners and an Orissa MLA, Maoists have struck gold, literally. Instead of admitting to any abject submission, the Orissa government claimed that it was willing to release two dozen Maoists on humanitarian grounds. However, it is unfair only to single out the Government of Orissa only. This is almost a universal policy adopted by the Government of India, which started in Kashmir, when the daughter of the then Union Home Minister was abducted on December 8, 1989 in Srinagar. She was released five days later, after prolonged negotiations. This event was a turning point in the history of Kashmir, as the terrorists realized that they could get any demands conceded. During the negotiations, the government agreed dismally to submit to all the demands of the kidnappers and released five terrorists in exchange
The result was that terrorists almost took over Srinagar and the Kashmir valley. I can testify to it as I was the Inspector General of Police, CRPF in Srinagar at that time. It gave an aura of invincibility to Kashmir terrorists, as it has given to Maoists, on the strength of their guns and force. Since then, an abduction spree started in the Kashmir valley.
In fact, there is hardly any difference left between ordinary criminals and such groups. The Maharashtra Home Minister himself has admitted that corporates have been funding Naxals. He has added that action cannot be taken against them as there is no evidence. According to one report, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) puts the extortion racket of Maoists at Rs 1,400 crore annually. Anything is good enough to extort money by Naxalites, whether it is for the Tendu leaves sale, or taking a cut from road contractors who have to pay them, as the Naxalites either threaten to stall the construction of roads or set their machinery on fire. Apart from the above, businessmen, transporters and other high-income categories are targeted, including mobile service operators. The official figures, of both the MHA and State governments, are products of guesswork.
Hence, such variations are expected, as Naxalites do not pay income tax, nor the persons paying to them report the figures to anybody. But it is undeniable that the amount such outfits manage to extract from the regions under their domination is substantial and sufficient to keep their activities going on.
The biggest sufferer in all this is the police, who have borne and will continue to bear the brunt of extremist violence in the country.
This bleak step is only a further step down the hill in the stupendous task of eradicating terrorism from the State of Orrisa, for instance. This may buy a temporary solution to the problem of getting the abducted MLA out of the clutches of Naxalites, but it is not going to be any solution at all.
Succumbing to Maoist blackmail will embolden, and has emboldened, others to adopt this model to have their demands conceded by the government. As a country we seem to be headed for bigger trouble ahead, thanks to our national policy of appeasement, especially in front of the power of the gun and threats. Police records show Orissa as third after Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in incidents of abduction by Maoists. In the past four years, Maoists have abducted nearly 140 people and killed 15 of them. But the trend of kidnapping high-profile people and forcing the government to release their cadres from jail began in February 2011 when they abducted the then Malkangiri Collector at gunpoint. The step enabled them to succeed in getting half-a-dozen of their people released from police custody.
They had done this in 1987 in Andhra Pradesh by kidnapping 11 government officials, including seven IAS officers, and released them after the government freed some hardcore cadres. Unfortunately, we have no national policy in dealing with any problems, including Maoism, except to capitulate even if it means giving in even to the most atrocious demands and compromise so that the problem, which the Prime Minister has called the most serious security problem faced by the country, is solved temporarily.
There is no long-term and short-term plan to deal with Maoism, except meaningless bold statements of the powers-that-be, but never followed up by any action. Even the Union Home Minister has admitted that India, which is facing serious terror and Naxal threats, has an ill-equipped police machinery, especially at its lower ranks. “Police system is outdated. Police are ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-paid,” he has said. The minister has further said the police constable “who works for 12 to 14 hours a day throughout the year is the most abused” part of the machinery. “Everyone believes that he (constable) can be bullied or cajoled or bribed... he is the most reviled public servant... Self-esteem of the average policeman is very low.”
Forget about the training and weaponry, which is the least priority of any State government; all the labour done by the police to catch Naxals is undone at the altar of convenience. In 26/11 terror attacks, ten armed men played havoc and caused mayhem in Mumbai. ISI and disruptive forces like Maoists and other terrorists can strike in India at will.
At best some ministers resign, but soon come back in the saddles of power, maybe in better positions, in months, and not in years. At the same time, security around politicians is increased after every attack and kidnapping.
I can only say about myself: that if were to be taken as hostage, I would neither expect nor plead to the government to accept the terrorists’ demands. I would rather be sacrificed in the national interest. This approach should be followed and given lead by political leaders, government officials and other celebrities. If this was done, terrorists would know that there is no gain in taking any hostage. On the contrary, it will rouse the common man against them. It is rather overdue to show such elements their place. But there is a big interrogation mark: Will our politicians be willing to give the lead in any aspect?
(The writer is a former Director, CBI) (ADNI)