India Insight

India needs a tough hostage policy

The abductions of two Italians and two government officials by Maoist guerrillas in just over a month must have left Indian authorities with a sense of déjà vu as they search for ways to end the cycle of negotiations and eventual accession to demands made by the rebels.

For the Maoists, who say they are fighting for people left out of India’s economic boom, the tactic of taking hostages instead of engaging soldiers brings huge dividends — obtaining freedom for jailed comrades and suspension of military ‘combing’ operations in areas controlled by them.

The method is not new, with government records showing hundreds of kidnappings since 2008 by Maoists, who have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India including many resource-rich regions. Authorities stumble along on a case-by-case basis because there is no set procedure on how to handle such situations.

But the recent pattern of high-profile abductions which have grabbed national headlines have worried the central government enough to consider drafting a long overdue policy on dealing with hostage situations.

Countries like the U.S., with its “no negotiation” policy and Israel’s deadly responses to militant attacks have all been contrasted to India’s handling of hostage crises, which most agree is not tough enough to stop or discourage future cases.

“Sitting here watching the Taj burn down”

Reuters Editor, South Asia, Phil Smith is reporting from outside the landmark Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, where Western hostages are being held.

“The scene at the famous gate of India is chaos, with dozens of army, police and fire trucks struggling to control a situation which began in the late evening on Wednesday. Searchlights illuminate the front of the Taj hotel, as up to five gunmen hold hundreds of hotel guests hostage. There have been several explosions from inside the hotel and earlier, grenades were thrown from windows and exploded in the street.

“At around 3 a.m., a large explosion set fire to the top part of the building, and fires are still burning on the upper floors.