How humiliating it is for the Indian Government to negotiate with the Naxalites for the release of a captured jawan, after the killing by them of 22 CRPF personnel. It grants the terrorist group the legitimacy of being on ‘sovereign parity’ with the government. In a country the size of India with its many complexities, this may seem just a hiccup, but it reveals the deficiencies in the system that could, in a more serious situation, allow another adversary to take advantage. In fact, it is a reality that the naxalites are by no means local insurrectionists but tools of much larger forces. (The US, for instance, has an established policy of not negotiating with hostage takers.)
Like terrorists everywhere else, the strength of such gangs lies in the fact that they hide among innocent civilians. Any large scale assault by security forces could harm this ‘host’ community, which is why dealing with the problem requires a much more sophisticated and calibrated approach by specialised agencies. This specialisation can only be developed through persistent and deeply researched effort over a multi-disciplinary nationwide platform. The security establishment cannot afford to relax merely because such incidents have not taken place for a period of time. It must be recognised that the attacks are directed not so much at holding off the security forces, but at intimidating the local populace – by convincing them that the Naxals are the actual ‘government’. They may use grandiose terminology such as ‘liberated zones’, etc., but they are little better than the dacoits of yore.
Developing the expertise to deal with such threats has other implications as well. Many parts of the world are ruled by totalitarian ideologies similar to that of the naxalites. If these are to be countered on the international stage to leverage power in the ‘Great Game’, much of which in the present times is being played all around India, the approach will have to be essentially similar. The perceptions of power have to be projected just as strongly as the actual capacity. The fact that Pakistan has posed so many problems ever since Independence is because India did not consider itself a major global player. Its foreign policy was more that of a union leader heading a gaggle of ‘non-aligned’ and otherwise powerless nations. If India is to be taken seriously, it has to outmaneuver the flanking strategies being used by the likes of China through the appropriate response. This begins with dealing effectively with challenges to its sovereignty by forces within, no matter how insignificant they may seem.