Operation Green Hunt and its challenges

As the Central and state governments initiate a major campaign — Operation Green Hunt — against the Naxalite movement, two challenges stand out.

First, the Naxalites and their sympathisers will launch a psychological counter-offensive to weaken the political commitment to the campaign by trying to delegitimise it in the public mind. Security forces will be accused of human rights violations, and a dubious moral equivalence drawn between the damage chemotherapy causes and the cancer it treats. Celebrity activists will find a new cause to express their outrage in prize-worthy eloquence. Even genuine human-rights activists will become the Naxalites' unwitting instruments — to the extent that criticism of the government's conduct will be projected as an implicit vindication of the Maoist agenda.

It did not help that in its first term, the UPA government's response to the Naxalite movement involved a mixture of denial, accommodation and neglect. As the Naxalites expanded their area of operations into what has come to be known as the "Red Corridor", the Central government had no real response. The absence of political resolve and policy stewardship from New Delhi left the already weak states to fend for themselves. Their unsurprising choice of ineffective, often ham-fisted methods or counter-productive ones — like the raising of armed militias like Salwa Judum — means that Operation Green Hunt starts with a badly overdrawn public goodwill account.

To get out of this hole, the government must release accurate and factual information to the public with unprecedented timeliness. In this age of inexpensive technology and connectivity, there is no excuse for the home ministry to be unable to release reports, photographs and video footage from the field. Paying for advertisements in the national media will only take it so far—-unless the UPA government implements a sophisticated public communication strategy, it will find its political will sapped by the Naxalite propaganda machine.

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