The abduction of the collector of Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, Alex Paul Menon, by Maoists is a clear sign that the Centre’s concerted campaign deep inside Maoist zones has hit the Reds where it hurts. The recent spate of abductions also carries a warning: if the Centre capitulates, it will send the wrong message — that the state is vulnerable — to the Maoists and, more importantly, to the local populace, who have hitherto proved an invaluable asset to the government forces.
Every time the Maoists are pushed on the back foot, they abduct a high-ranking civilian official in an attempt to turn the tables. If the state is seen to be capitulating repeatedly, the rebels reap multiple harvests — they delay security operations, secure the release of some of their jailed cadre, and gain a psychological advantage.
It is nobody’s case that the state must become ruthless overnight and declare that it will not negotiate with hostage takers. Neither do we live in that kind of world nor does the Indian state have the muscle or will to enforce such a policy. The only way for the state to fix this problem is to ensure that taking hostages does not pay.
For that, the Centre doesn’t have to look beyond the long-suffering state of Andhra Pradesh. The Maoists had a free run in AP till the elite Greyhounds force was raised. The unstated policy of the Greyhounds was to take no prisoners. Every time the Maoists inflicted a casualty on the state, the Greyhounds paid back in kind, many times over. It is mostly owing to this policy that AP is largely free of the Maoist menace, with the Reds looking to dominate neighbouring Odisha and Chhattisgarh. It is time the Centre took a leaf out of AP’s book and replicated it across states.