In February 2011, it was R Vineel Krishna, the collector of Malkangiri district in Odisha, who was kidnapped by Maoists; in April 2012, Alex Paul Menon, the collector of Sukuma district in Chattisgarh, was kidnapped by Naxals. The increasing frequency of these incidents is alarming for the reason that a collector of a district, the highest visible face of the government is being kidnapped with impunity. A fact that the most glamorous and high-profile symbol of the executive wing of the government is targeted is a deliberate message being sent to governments; that they are under siege and this is an open declaration of war. It has shaken the roots of the executive.
Kidnapping a collector of a district is the ultimate affront and challenge to a government. The kidnappers know that with such a move they are waving a red flag to the powers that are and perhaps that is their intention. This has led to a clamour to initiate a Hostage Policy; one that will legislate ‘what and how to react under such circumstances’. Moral indignation is being screeched at its loudest. This hostage policy will have the first lesson that states should not give in to such bullying at all costs to prevent recurrence of such episodes.
While this may serve some purpose of a placebo for all of us frightened headless chicken, and may address the problem at a superficial level, governments must look deep into their raison d’etre and address these issues. These movements have been around too long and the fact that they have not died out points to a real need for such movements. It cannot be only fear of reprisals that leads people to support these movements; these movements fill the vacuum that is created in the absence of governmental machinery.
The actual need for such movements is because of the lack of presence of the government in these areas… a government of the kind that people can turn to for succour. People consider governments as ‘Mai Baap’, and it is in this role that governments have failed the people. It is the duty of Mai Baap to fulfil all demands of their children. When even basic needs are not delivered is when dissident sets in. And people, out of frustration, turn to these organisations to fulfil their basic needs.
Questioning ways adopted and benefits derived by these groups is a myopic look at the affair. Reasons behind these movements will have to be analysed and addressed. Like, inequity in ownership of land is one root cause. Do governments have the will to do away with it? Introducing patch-up development schemes are meaningless unless this basic premise is addressed. Extremist outfits actually thrive on such situations. We must think of rooting out the very cause that drives people into their fold. Governments must provide to the people the relief they have been waiting for. By this, they will be undermining the base from where the extremist organisations operate.
The hostage policy should compulsorily encapsulate alleviating provisions in it; such as granting land, earmarking ample resources for implementing development schemes in these areas that really make a difference to individual lives; having a sustained and open dialogue with the extremist outfits and making a genuine attempt to understand their perspective. The hostage policy should not be limited to standing operation procedures, but be a holistic philosophy to comprehensively address the core issues to an extent that there will be a paradigm shift in the scenario of an extremely polarised society to one where resources are distributed evenly.
There is urgency in taking proactive measures to prevent repetition of such incidents. When officers get targeted, the morale of the executive takes a beating. Law and order will become an issue and extremist outfits will take over. It is time to work out a sustained policy that will aim for long-term actions actively involving the people, particularly where Naxalites and Maoists have a stronghold.
The writer works for Postnoon.