April 13, 2006
New Delhi

PM's speech at the Chief Minister's meet on Naxalism

"I am extremely happy to be with you all today during your deliberations on an issue which is of vital importance to all of us. I came here with the primary purpose of listening to your views and the strategies you are adopting to face the challenge of naxalism. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country. I have been carefully listening to all of you here and have also interacted separately with some of the Chief Ministers whose states are worst affected by this phenomenon. A wide range of views has been expressed but there seems to be unanimity on the fact that we need to give the problem a very high priority. I am also very happy that there is a broad convergence of views what needs to be done at the State level, what needs to be done to coordinate the activities of various States and what needs to be done by the Central Government to strengthen the hands of the State Governments. And you have heard my colleague, the Hon'ble Home Minister. He has promised that whatever is necessary to deal with this menace, will infact, be done. We will not be stingy when it comes to dealing with internal security of our country.

Charu Mazumdar had once talked of a 'Spring thunder over India'. Today, almost 40 years later, the Naxalite movement may have lost much of its intellectual attraction, but has gained in strength and has now spread to over 160 districts all over the country. The ideological base of the movement has diminished and there are many lumpen elements now in the movement. But, there seems to be also some support from deprived and alienated sections of the population. We need therefore to look closely at the causes of this deprivation and alienation. We must find practical, credible strategies to reconcile the imperatives of development and the imperatives of national security. The naxalite movement is generating some notions of empowerment to these classes through the use of violence and weapons. They are trying to establish "liberation zones" in core areas where they are dispensing or claiming to be dispensing basic state functions of administration, policing and justice. It is a cause for great concern that civil administration and police are periodically absent in some of these areas.

It is also important to note the qualitative change in the character of the movement which has now adopted new methods and tactics. They were earlier restricted to using local weapons, acted in small groups and indulged in isolated attacks. The naxal movement is now characterized by growing militarisation, superior army style organisation, better trained cadres, attacks on large targets through large scale frontal assaults, better coordination and possible external links. It is this change in character of the naxal movement that needs to be recognized and all responses on our side must be guided by this new reality. It is therefore heartening that most of us in this room recognize this aspect and are infact, willing to respond effectively.

One aspect of your response has to be the police response. The discussions have highlighted a large number of measures that need to be taken. I see a few measures as being those, which require your immediate and sustained attention.

Firstly, we need to strengthen the local police on all fronts. They are in the vanguard of the fight against naxal violence. Local police needs to be better trained and equipped to face an enemy who is evolving into a major force. We need to improve their weapons, buildings and vehicles. We need to invest heavily in their capabilities. There seems to be a persistent problem of shortage of manpower and vacancies. I urge all of you to ensure that all 'thanas' in naxal areas are fully manned and fortified. You need to ensure that the manning is done by capable, competent and motivated officers and staff. If necessary, we should have a package of incentives to attract the best police personnel to anti-naxal operations. We will also need to consider measures for protecting policemen from undue harassment for actions taken against naxalites. States may even consider investing in effective para-policemen, wherever it is considered necessary.

Secondly, we need focused attention at the state level in attending to this task. We may need specialized force on the pattern of Andhra Pradesh's Greyhounds. This investment is essential if we need to turn the tide in favour of the Government. These Special Task Forces should be under capable senior officers with assured tenures. States can consider taking capable officers on deputation from other States as per their requirements. Chief Ministers could set up a monitoring group at their level for monitoring the issue periodically.

Thirdly, police action has to be supported by effective intelligence gathering. We need to work to improve our intelligence on the naxalite movement - on their numbers, their weapons, their organisation and their movements and their plans. I request all Chief Ministers to invest in this activity.

Lastly, there is the issue of coordination among States. A lot of responses require coordination among states - in intelligence gathering, in information sharing, in police responses. States may consider undertaking joint operations and also setting up joint unified commands for badly affected core areas. Police action needs to be backed by a liberal surrender and rehabilitation policy. Most states have such a policy. I would like you to review these policies and modify them where necessary to make them more attractive.

We must, however, recognize that naxalism is not merely a law and order issue. In many areas, the phenomenon of naxalism is directly related to underdevelopment. It is not a coincidence that it is the tribal areas that are the main battleground of left wing extremism today. Large swathes of tribal territory have become the hunting ground of left wing extremists. Exploitation, artificially depressed wages, iniquitous socio political circumstances, inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, geographical isolation, lack of land reforms - all contribute significantly to the growth of the naxalite movement. All these factors have to be taken into consideration as we evolve solutions for facing the challenge of naxalism. I can assure you that when it comes to making resources available for these core development activities having such a vital bearing on the welfare of the poorest sections of our community, Government of India will not be stingy in allocating additional resources for these activities.

Such violent extremist movements have huge societal costs. Our investments for growth are unlikely to fructify; employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be affected. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops stay closed. We can easily ascribe all these inefficiencies to "extremism". "Extortions", which are a recurring phenomenon, not only inflate costs but also challenge the functioning of the Indian state. We must recognize that such extremism is a threat to our democracy, our way of life. Therefore in the end, we lose as a society, we lose as a democracy.

Therefore, I request all Hon'ble Chief Ministers to focus on what we term as good governance. The Hon'ble Home Minister has also laid emphasis on this aspect of the management and containment strategy. This would include effective implementation of development programmes, periodic monitoring and ensuring that there are no leakages. We are currently implementing a whole range of programmes which can have a bearing on rural poverty and unemployment. We have the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Backward Regions Grant Fund. These programmes demonstrate that funds are not a constraint. I would request all Chief Ministers to work on covering every poor family in naxal-affected areas under effective poverty alleviation schemes. Chief Ministers could consider, at the same time, in reducing the burden of debt on the rural poor tribals. They could reduce the unnecessary harassment of tribals by compounding and closing small forest offences. They could provide effective price and procurement support to produce in tribal areas. They could initiate another wave of rural reforms, which can ensure employment and land to the poorest in these areas. They could promote local participation in governance, as my colleague Mani Shankar pointed out, through effective implementation of the design of the Panchayati Raj vision of the late Shri Rajiv Gandhi.

Our strategy, therefore, has to be to "walk on two legs" to have an effective police response while at the same time focusing on reducing the sense of deprivation and alienation. The police response is necessary so that the obligation of the Indian state to uphold public order is fulfilled. However an effective police response does not mean that we need to brutalise the Indian state. Legitimate needs and aspirations, even if set out in procedurally or presentationally inappropriate terms, should be examined with due care and due sympathy. We are dealing after all, with our own people, even though they may have strayed into the path of violence. What we need is an intelligent, effective police response, done quietly and discreetly. We have heard many ideas today. I request the Hon'ble Home Minister to examine the suggestions made today so that we could adopt some of them. While you are at the front in the fight against naxalism, I assure you of all possible support from the Central Government.

When I was a student in England some 50 years ago, Lord Kaldor, one of my teachers used to say that the progress of a country depends critically on those whose ideals and motivations influence the critical decisions that guide a nation's destiny. You are those critical individuals who can provide the necessary leadership in this vital area affecting our internal security. If you give priority to this issue, I am confident that we will contain the spread of the naxalite movement and gradually isolate and eliminate it. I therefore urge you, Chief Ministers, to function as a cohesive team and work on a war-footing and pay the highest attention to the challenge of naxalism, the challenge of combining development and security."