It is the sort of headline that routinely runs through news tickers. The sort which our gaze now too often does not even register. Except that the number of those killed was unusually high. Thirty security personnel,including an IPS officer,were killed by Naxalites in Chhattisgarh on Sunday. But if those fatality figures are unnerving,see this one: 249. Thats roughly how many security personnel have been killed by Naxalites in the first six and a half months of this year alone. For perspective,thats more than the corresponding number for the whole of last year. It is also about eight times higher than the personnel killed in Jammu and Kashmir this year. Even one victim,of course,is one too many,but the scale of the slaughter,captured in clinical figures that chill more than any single graphic account,indicates this: tackling Naxalite violence must be an urgent priority for the Centre.
The Centre seems to have heard some of this message. As per a new blueprint to tackle Naxalites,development-related activities will be promoted in Maoist areas. Of special concern are tribal laws,especially over forestry,which breed resentment. But all this will be ineffective as long as we refuse to accept that the Naxal problem is also a law and order one. When Naxalites kill road-layers,uproot electricity poles and render civil administration impossible,there can be no development. When they terrorise people and extort money and assistance,the issue is certainly not one of social alienation. Special assistance must take place concurrently with stronger security measures to wipe out Naxals from the areas in which they roam so freely.
If statistics of leftist extremism are cause for alarm,another set of numbers is cause for hope. Zero. Thats the number of security personnel killed in Andhra Pradesh due to Naxalite violence this year,a steady decline over the past four years. The decline in civilian deaths is more dramatic: while 132 civilians died in 2005,only five have been killed in 2009 so far. These numbers are the result of neither happenstance nor luck. Andhra Pradesh has a locally recruited,dedicated anti-Naxal force the Greyhounds unlike other states which often outsource the fight to Central paramilitaries,less familiar with local conditions. They also have a deep-rooted intelligence gathering set-up which has driven out Naxalites from their state. Some numbers speak for themselves. It is hoped that the Centre is willing to listen.