Maoist strike on train a shocker

The barbarity of the Naxal attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh on May 25 is difficult to match. But in significance, the attack by the Naxalites on the Dhanbad-Patna Inter-City Express near the Jamui railway station in Bihar on Thursday has a special place.

It will not do, as minister of state for home R.P.N. Singh has done, to simply say that the Maoists mounted the attack in order to steal guns from Railway Protection Force personnel deployed on the train. It is evident that the minister is not speaking on the basis of any specific intelligence. Indeed, no state government appears to have any meaningful actionable intelligence on the Naxalites. That is the reason they command the element of surprise time and again.

Singh’s observation, thus, amounts to being no more than pointless deduction merely because the attackers snatched two or three rifles from the security personnel. The question that the Union minister should be asking is why did the authorities have no inkling of an attack by an ar­med group of nearly 200 rebels who wr­eaked havoc on innocent passengers and RPF personnel for around two hours.

Railway property has been attacked before by the Maoists. Trains have been derailed. Wayside stations have been burnt. But an open attack of this nature, in which grenades and bullets were used not far from a district headquarters, is somewhat new. It is this which should be on the minds of the Union home ministry and all state governments that have to deal with the Maoist menace. The attack on the Congress convoy occurred deep inside a forest in a so-called “no-go zone”, but the one at Jamui was conspicuous for its brazenness as it took place in an inhabited location.

The Bihar government cannot shrug off responsibility. If normal policing, especially in the sensitive parts of a state (Jamui is one of the half-dozen Naxal-affected districts of Bihar), is of acceptable standard, attacks like this will be difficult.

But the problem is that the Bihar government has shown little appetite to take on the Naxals. Barring Andhra Pradesh, this has been more or less true of other states as well. In the end, law and order is a state subject and the Centre can only provide assistance, provided that Opposition parties do not obstruct inter-state coordination by the Centre in the name of protecting the country’s federal character.