Prisoner swap with leftwing rebels by Indian gov't raises controversy

NEW DELHI, Oct. 23 -- One day after the government of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal swapped prisoners with extreme left-wing Naxalities for an abducted police official, words are doing the rounds in the national capital that this couldbe looked upon as a softening of stand towards the rebels by the government.
    The guerrillas Thursday released police official Attindranath Dutta amid high drama in the forests of the state's Naxal-infested Lalgarh region in exchange for 14 elderly tribal women prisoners, suspected to be rebel supporters, who were released on conditional bail by a court.
    Security experts and political analysts have claimed that this "soft stance" on part of the Indian authorities indicate that the country is somewhat giving in to the demands of the left-wing rebels despite putting up a brave face by refusing to enter into talks with them unless they shun violence.
    "On the one hand, the authorities are saying that no talks till the rebels abjure violence. But, on the other hand, they are agreeing to their demand of prisoner swap for an abducted police official. This seems that the authorities are bowing to the Naxalities," security expert Ravi Dawa said.
    In fact, what started as a peasant movement to acquire justice for landless people and protect them from being exploited by landlords in 1967, Naxalism is now a major internal security threat. They control about 165 of India's 602 districts.
    The states most affected by the Naxal menace include Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
    Even India has reiterated the serious threat the country faced from left-wing extremism though it asserted that however difficult it might be, it had the capabilities to tackle all kinds of situations.
    "India is going through a difficult phase of internal security, but we will overcome the challenges," Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Friday, refusing to talk or negotiate with the Naxalities until they shun violence and give up arms.
    "It is estimated that the Naxalites have 9,000 to 10,000 armed fighters, 6,500 firearms and about 40,000 full-time cadres. They are spreading their net like anything across the country. At this time, bowing to their demands of prisoner swap only bolsters their morale and cause," said political analyst Professor Ajay Singh.
    Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently admitted that the country's security forces are failing to curb a growing Naxal insurgency.
    "So much so the threat is that India has allowed its Air Force and the paramilitary forces to flush out the rebels from the Naxal-infested states. But, this act of exchanging prisoners for a police official shows the soft stance on part of the Indian authorities," said political analyst professor S.K. Gupta.
    "The act also showed a new way to the rebels who may now resort to abduction and swap tactics. Today, they abducted a police official, tomorrow they may repeat the same with a cabinet minister. The situation is grim and the swap act only added fuel to the fire," he added.
    According to estimates, over 6,000 people have been killed during the 20-year left-wing insurgency.
    "In some areas they have virtually replaced the local government and are able to mount spectacular attacks on government installations. It's time that India takes up the menace once and all. Either they should be eliminated or they should be invited to talks to sort out the problem. But, this has to end," Gupta said.