Does India need its army to tackle the Maoists?
I have been noticing a debate in newspapers and television channels about the need to call in the army to tackle the Maoists and wonder whether it is indeed time to turn towards them before the movement spirals out of control.
Last week, hundreds of Maoists, who are expanding their influence in India, chased away police from a tribal area based around the town of Lalgarh about 170 km (100 miles) from Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state.
By attacking Lalgarh and then keeping the police at bay for four days, the Maoists demonstrated their growing influence over poor villagers and their capability to strike close to a big city like Kolkata.
(For Analysis on how Maoist insurgency can hurt industry in India, click here )
Thousands of villagers caught in the crossfire have left their homes in panic and have been put up in makeshift government camps. They are clearly shaken by the siege and the subsequent police campaign to sanitise Lalgarh.
Indian states have time and again asked the central government that it might need the army to fight the Maoist movement, which is rapidly spreading in the country.
But for the moment, India is banking on the police to tackle the Maoists and equipping its forces with modern weapons and training to fight the Maoists in their own den.
Experts say it is clear that the strategy of the rebels with their 22,000 plus combatants is to encircle bigger towns and cities and could hit industry.
Maybe Indian authorities should also rework their strategy as the police with their limited prowess have always been soft targets in rural areas and have failed to gain confidence of poor villagers.
Will India look to deploy the army at some stage?
(Reuters photo of a paramilitary soldier keeping watch from a tree in Jhitka near Lalgarh June 21, 2009)