Thirteen states meet to counter rising Maoist menace

NEW DELHI - Rattled by a wave of Maoist attacks that have left hundreds dead, officials from 13 Indian states will meet on Friday to try to stem a rebellion that is menacing huge swathes of the country's centre, east and south.


The rebels have gradually expanded their influence to around 165 of the country's 602 administrative districts in recent years forming a "red corridor" stretching from the southern tip of India all along its eastern half and up to Nepal, experts say.
"The government is beginning to panic now, they are beginning to realise that this problem is much larger than they had pretended," said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
On Friday India's home secretary and the chief secretaries and police chiefs from 13 affected states will try to change that. One item on the agenda will be a draft plan to use the army to clear landmines which have been planted under many of the forest roads of southern Chhattisgarh, officials say.
But Sahni said it would be a mistake to drag the army into the conflict. Instead what is required is a massive expansion in the police presence, with properly manned and equipped police stations rolled out in Maoist-dominated areas, he said.
Ironically, Maoist-affected states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar have some of the lowest ratios of police to population in the country. Money that has been allocated for police modernisation and expansion has either not been spent or has been misused, critics say.
While the government dithers, violence is rising, and the Maoists are getting stronger, richer and better armed.
This year they stole 19 tonnes of explosives from a state mining operation in Chhattisgarh, and killed more than 50 people when they set off a landmine under a truck in February.
Ajit Doval, a former director of India's Intelligence Bureau, said left-wing extremism was now a bigger threat to the country than Islamic militancy in Kashmir or separatist militancy in the northeast.
"Unless some master strategic response is formulated and executed, the nation may find most of its rural hinterland overrun by an avalanche," he wrote in the Hindustan Times this week.

Von: 31 March, By Simon Denyer, 2006

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