Soon after an inspector of the West Bengal police was released by Maoists on Friday, the home secretary of the state, Ardhendu Sen, declared India to be a soft state. It has been known for a while that when it comes to coping with terrorists, our governments take the path of least resistance. But even by those standards, this marks a new low.
On Tuesday, Maoists kidnapped the officer in charge of the Sankrail police station near Lalgarh in West Bengal. A day later, his wife met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. As if on cue, the state government released 22 persons arrested on suspicion of being Maoists. That was not all: The state government also ordered a suspension of operations in that part of Lalgarh where the inspector was being held captive.
There are two problems at hand. First, what to do with Maoists. Second, the inability of the Union government to put in place a “no prisoner swap” policy when it comes to dealing with terrorists. (In the present case, though, it was the decision of the West Bengal government to release the prisoners.)
In both instances, our governments find it difficult to cope with public pressures in pursuing tough policies. On the one hand, there are groups of “intellectuals” who argue constantly (almost on a 24-hour basis) that there should be no armed action against terrorists (Maoists are a part of this group). On the other hand, family members of abducted officials and even innocent persons who are used as hostages by terrorists exert unconscionable pressure on the authorities to secure their release.
This, as has been argued before in these columns, is a self-defeating policy. Today, Maulana Masood Azhar (the terrorist given up during the Kandahar fiasco) and his group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, have carried out a large number of bomb explosions in Indian cities, probably killing more than the entire number of persons secured from the terrorists’ clutches. Given our inability to prevent more such attacks, it is safe to say that more people will die in future. If we say no to terrorists now, these groups will realize that it does not pay to kidnap persons and press for prisoner swaps. True, it will be bloody in the short run, but that way this menace will have been reduced considerably.
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