Divided, government defers decision on using army against Maoists


New Delhi : A cabinet panel that met here Thursday to consider using the Indian Army to fight Maoist guerrillas could not arrive at a consensus because the government appeared divided over the issue amidst divergent views by the home and defence ministries, sources said.

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“No consensus was reached. The meeting was inconclusive,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Manmohan Singh.

The panel is likely to meet again next week to deliberate over the issue, the official said.

The sources said sharp differences between the home ministry, which mooted the idea, and the defence ministry on the issue of deploying the armed forces on anti-Maoist operations blocked the final decision on the issue.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram wants the army to fight against Maoists alongside the police and central paramilitary forces but Defence Minister A.K. Antony has objected to the idea, saying the armed forces should be used as the last resort, the sources said.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also attended the CCS meeting.

Chidambaram, after the recent spurt in Maoist violence, had said he had a “limited mandate” from the cabinet to fight Leftwing extremism.

The home minister, according to the sources, suggested that the army may be used to de-mine forested areas infested by Maoists, carry out surgical strikes and deploy more Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters for logistical and medical evacuation purposes.

The sources said the home ministry also suggested a unified area command to be headed by the chief minister of the concerned state with a serving Indian Army major general as his advisor.

However, the army is arguing that a major general is too senior an officer to report to the chief minister in a such a hierarchy.

The army is also opposed to the idea of conducting surgical operations against the Maoists because it wants deployment in a larger area and wants to conduct operations only if it is given more legal powers like bringing the Maoist-affected districts under the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

On the issue of using the army for de-mining the Maoist-infested areas, the army says it would have to carry out an area domination exercise before conducting such an operation.

The army, however, has already trained some 47,000 paramilitary troopers and state policemen and is also open to the idea of extending such a role.

The IAF has deployed four Mi-17 helicopters to assist the paramilitary forces in logistics but it says it cannot allot more choppers due to its prior commitments.