New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is considering a revision of its strategy to combat Maoists in the wake of the attack that led to the killing of 35 people in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada, the second such strike in 40 days.
Tough stance: Home minister Chidambaram says he would seek revision of the ‘limited’ mandate to bolster the offensive against the rebels. Arvind Yadav / Hindustan Times
However, differences within the Congress and the government seem to be holding up the review and the matter is likely to be taken up by the cabinet in its meeting later this week.
While home minister P. Chidambaram, who has been under attack over the government’s alleged failure in dealing with internal security threats, is pushing for a more aggressive strategy; a section of government and party leaders are opposed to it.
According to an official familiar with the developments, the government was considering various proposals, including seeking the state’s backing to declare the worst-hit regions as disturbed areas, which would allow the use of the army to aid civilian authorities. However, the official added: “It cannot be decided in a hurry. It has to be a collective decision from both the Centre and state governments involved.”
Chidambaram, in an interview with NDTV on Monday, said he would seek a “larger mandate” to bolster offensive against the rebels and even said that the chief ministers of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa have asked for air support to help quell the rebels.
The home minister said he tried to “convince” the Union government about the issue. “I took to the cabinet committee the case for a larger mandate. I was given a limited mandate. Now we will go back to the cabinet committee to revisit that mandate,” Chidambaram told the television channel.
Senior Congress leader and cabinet minister Vayalar Ravi said: “I fully agree with Chidambaram. There should be an aggressive stand.”
However, Chidambaram’s party colleague and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, who had earlier criticized the home minister’s style of functioning publicly, said in Mirzapur: “Those who talk about this do not know the terrain of the area (Dantewada).”
The Congress party has long opposed the use of the Armed Forces against the Maoists, saying the key cause of the rebellion was inadequate development and deprivation at grass-roots level. In the latest issue of its party journal, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has emphasized this point.
However, Chidambaram denied any differences. In an interaction with reporters, the minister also sought to apportion part of the blame on the state governments. “It is the state governments (which) have to take on the menace of Naxals. I will say state chief ministers have an unlimited mandate and can take whatever decisions they want.”
Chennai-based political analyst Cho Ramaswamy endorsed the minister’s proposal. “The argument that it is a developmental problem is a lame excuse for not taking strong action. It is a major law and order problem, and challenge to the sovereignty of the state... I would want to use the Armed Forces’ power against it.”
Another Congress general secretary, who did not want to be identified, admitted that the differences in the UPA would delay a final decision. “Our allies like the Trinamool Congress will not back a very aggressive stance against the Maoists.”
The uncertainty may be having an impact of those engaged in combating the rebels. “It is true that the morale of forces fighting Maoists is also down,” a senior home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
However, the West Bengal-ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has extended support to Chidambaram, saying that “those in charge should be allowed to take a call”.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party was critical of the government. Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, demanded that the Prime Minister make clear “why home minister P. Chidambaram and the country’s security apparatus was caught in a debate between hard and soft lines”.
Santosh K. Joy and PTI also contributed to this story.