Chhattisgarh Maoist ambush: Indian media calls for tough action

Man injured in the attack on Congress party officials in Chhattisgarh state, India (26 May 2013)
Image caption PM Manmohan Singh said the government would take firm action against the perpetrators

Indian media are calling for a tough response to the Maoist attack in the central state of Chhattisgarh in which 28 people were killed over the weekend.

On Sunday, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi said she was "devastated" by Saturday's attack on party officials.

PM Manmohan Singh said India would "never bow down" before the rebels.

Suspected rebels had ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders and killed the state party chief Nandkumar Patel, his son, and local leader Mahendra Karma.

Maoist rebels, also known as "Naxalites", have been operating in central and eastern India for the past four decades. They demand land and jobs for the poor, and ultimately want to establish a "communist society" by overthrowing India's "semi-colonial, semi-feudal" form of rule.

In an editorial titled Act tough on red terror, the Hindustan Times says the attack "must be condemned in the strongest possible terms".

"Doubts about the Maoists being engaged in anything short of a civil war should now be laid to rest. This is no longer just a battle between the Maoists and the police and paramilitary forces.

"It is an all-out war against the Republic of India. By attacking the political class in this manner the Maoists have made it clear that they will give no quarter and that the war will not stop until they are decimated," the paper says.

The Times of India says the massacre of Congress leaders and workers in Chhattisgarh is "a tragedy wrapped in complacency".

"Saturday's strike is a grim reminder that while Maoist onslaughts in states such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have decidedly been blunted, Chhattisgarh continues to test the capacity of the centre and the [state's] BJP government to coordinate their counter-insurgency offensive," the paper says.

"The relative calm in a few other states in the Red Zone appeared to have lulled the security forces into a strange complacency," it adds.

The Indian Express describes the ambush as "one of the most daring and vicious attacks".

"This [the attack] should dispel any romantic illusions about the Naxal cause. The fight is not for the greater welfare of the tribals on whose behalf they claim to be staging this revolutionary intervention, but for the destruction of the democratic state.

The paper says the state must "establish its presence in the dense wilds of Bastar and Dantewada, which have been virtually left to the Maoists.

Writing in the Firstpost, security analyst Praveen Swami says India must make a fundamental choice: "to decide if our democracy is worth killing for".

"Large elements of India's elite don't have the stomach for a long and dirty war - which is what all insurgencies involve. For years, there's been a complicity with the killing - on the Left because of misplaced guilt over India's hideous failures to ensure equity for citizens; on the right, because of the misguided belief that geographical distance allows for apathy.

"It's been facilitated by the fact that police officers' lives are cheap, because the local Dalam [Maoist unit] commander can be bribed to let mines and factories run, and because Maoists aren't - yet - setting off bombs in our cities."

The Hindu, however, strikes a note of caution saying the killings should not be allowed to worsen the situation in Chhattisgarh.

"Saturday's attack is likely to end up being used by sections of the political establishment to push for larger, more lethal operations by the paramilitary forces and the police...

"Violence must always be turned into an opportunity to push for peace, and never as an excuse to use the armed might of the state on hapless villagers living in fear of both the Maoists and the security personnel," it adds.

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