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How Many Deaths Before Too Many Die

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SHOMA CHAUDHURY

WE CAN PHYSICALLY EXTERMINATE THE MAOISTS, BUT WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THE BIG, REBUKING QUESTIONS THEY HAVE UNLEASHED AROUND US?

A FEW WEEKS after he was released from two years in jail, Binayak Sen, the gentle and now famous doctor from Chhattisgarh, was asked what he thought of the Maoist crisis and the government’s response to it. It’s like watching two locomotives hurtling towards each other, he replied. Bent upon colliding even when all the warning signals are clearly flashing. And you can do nothing to stop it.


Hapless victim Sudharani Baske, 70-year-old widow, arrested as a dreaded Maoist

On April 6, not the first but the loudest of many tragic collisions came to pass. The Maoists ambushed a heavily armed CRPF battalion in the jungles of Dantewada, and blew up an armoured vehicle. Within hours, 76 jawans were dead. The sheer, staggering loss of life – the spiraling pain that would ripple through small anonymous homesteads in UP and Haryana and Delhi – took your breath away. Here again, were the poorest of the poor, being sent out to execute the most draconian face of the State. These 76 dead were just a punctuation: more jawans would be sent out, more jawans would be killed. The poor being set to kill the poor. If ever there was reason to rethink strategy, surely, here it was.

But if you watched television studio debates that night or read many of the newspapers the next morning, something more terrifying – and tragic – than the physical image of hurtling locomotives would have become evident: you’d have seen the pistons driving these locomotives to self destruct. Livid, one-sided conversations: ill-informed, deaf, uncurious. And, most damagingly, simple-minded.

HOW CAN A PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY BROKER PEACE WITH AN ARMED GROUP WHOSE RESOLVE IS TO OVERTHROW IT AND SEIZE STATE POWER?

Exterminate the terrorists! Wipe them out! The entire nation is united: launch an all-out war. Bring on the airforce. Didn’t we pull it off in Punjab? Haven’t the Sri Lankans pulled it off with the LTTE? Why are you “intellectual sympathisers” talking of root causes and development and urging other approaches? Are you on the side of the savages? Are you condoning Maoist violence? Why are you raising questions about police atrocities and State neglect? How can you equate our violence with their violence? How can you lump the good guys with the bad guys?

On the other side, less loud but equally intractable are voices hurling blanket abuse at the State. Ignoring the slow fruits of 60 years of democracy; ignoring the genuine moral challenges the Maoists present; ignoring the inevitable corruptions of armed rebellion; willing to overlook the dangerous imperfections of one political position to vanquish the other.

Part of the reason why the Maoist debate rouses such anger is that its fundamental cliché is that it is a complex issue. Yet none of the public positions trotted out by its most voluble stakeholders really tell the whole truth. Anger then is inevitable: it arises out of each side finding itself willfully and inadequately described.

This is why, drowned by the fierce volume of media debates, those who hold a third position feel an added helplessness – the helplessness of being strapped bang centre in the path of rushing trains. Yet if there is anything that can make the collision screech to a halt, it is this position: this saving in-betweeness. Which makes it imperative to outline what the third position is.

THE MAOISTS ASK, WHY SHOULD THEY LAY DOWN ARMS WHEN THE ONLY REASON TRIBAL WELFARE HAS BECOME AN ISSUE IS DUE TO THE POWER OF THE GUN?

And turn up its volume.

THE SIGHT of the 76 dead jawans might have some Indians baying for blood: more war, more jawans. For other Indians though, on April 6, as coffins were loaded on to trucks in the eerie silence of night, and wrapped in the national flag for their moment of pomp the next morning, the image crystallised some of the deepest and most troubling questions that underpin the Maoist crisis. What sort of a society are we creating? What sort of a society have we become? How will this cycle of violence end? The Maoists might have a lot to answer for, but where will we find the answers to the imperfections in ourselves? We can exterminate them physically, but what are we going to do with the big, rebuking questions they have unleashed around us?

This is not the self-flagellation of bleeding-heart liberals that the war hawks make it out to be. In fact, ironically, it is underscored by the same concern as the death mongers: how can one neutralise Maoist influence in India? Only it seeks deeper answers than merely killing them; it seeks more sustainable strategies. Strategies more introspective and selftransformative.

It is true the State could exterminate the Maoists. As Home Minister P Chidambaram said a few hours after the bloodbath in Dantewada, “We might lose more people, many more may die, but the State will ultimately prevail. It might take two or three years, but we have to give them a firm response. If they have declared war on the State, we will launch an all-out offensive against them.” Set aside the disturbing assumptions in that statement. Ask merely the common question at hand: but will this “wipe them out”? The curious thing is, according to insiders, the Maoist politburo itself feels that Operation Green Hunt might eliminate one-third of their cadres. But will this really “wipe them out”? The State has crushed the Naxal movement thrice before – in Bengal, in Bihar, in Andhra Pradesh. Each time thousands of Indian citizens have been killed; each time the Maoists have resurrected themselves. This is the fourth big wave. Are we finally going to accept their challenge and address “root causes”, or are we going to content ourselves with killing tens of thousands of our poor every decade?

Part of the mounting ironies around Operation Green Hunt is that, contrary to the broad brush with which the Home Ministry and others in the Establishment have taken to tarring civil society, many activists and concerned citizens stretching deep into the far left are extremely disturbed by the growing militarisation of the Maoist movement. “I am completely unequivocal about this,” says Binayak – a man the State had jailed as being a ‘big Naxal leader’ – “violence cannot be the answer. This growing militarisation cannot be the way forward.” Others too, both underground and overground who might otherwise share Maoist views on social transformation, are murmuring disapprovingly about “Left adventurism”. As a former member of the People’s War Group and close aide of their towering leader Kondapalli Seetharamaiah says, “I have lived in the jungles. I have been in jail. I have been tortured by the police. And I have seen the idealism and zeal with which the Maoists work in the jungles. But I no longer believe violence can be the path.”


War seed Karam Kanni, whose husband was killed by the Salwa Judum in Jan 2009

Yet the big, thorny conundrums persist. Home Minister P Chidambaram might repeatedly be calling for talks with the Maoists saying he is not asking them to lay down arms but merely asking them to “abjure violence” – almost flamboyantly urging them to give him just 72 hours to turn the discourse around. But it a measure of the deep scorn and distrust on both sides that even a hint of talks arouses two viscerally cynical reactions: the State says it’s merely a ploy on the part of the Maoists to gain time and regroup; the Maoists says it’s merely a ploy on the part of the State to bring them over ground and smash their hideouts. The shadow of the failed talks and its bloody aftermath in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 looms large.

‘WE’RE AT THE START OF A LONG EARTHQUAKE. THE RIGHT TO INSURRECTION ARISES WHEN CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES FAIL,’ SAYS KG KANNABIRAN

At a deeper level, the possibility of talks with the Maoists breaks down prima facie on two genuinely sticky points: How can a State committed to parliamentary democracy (no matter how flawed) broker peace with an armed group whose stated resolve is to overthrow it and seize State power by 2050? Are events in Nepal a possible roadmap for the way forward? Will the Maoists privilege their ideals of social justice over their ambition to seize State power through protracted war? Will they somehow function as a pressure lobby within the framework of Indian democracy, slowly changing the political system from within? As the late and highly respected human rights activist K Balagopal said, this might contravene the very basis of their ideology, but are the Maoists right to hostage current generations of tribals to some promise of a future utopia that may never come?

On the other hand, equally, the Maoists might ask, why should we lay down arms and join Indian democracy? Has the Indian State ever demonstrated that it speaks to peaceful people’s movements? The only reason tribal welfare has even entered contemporary national discourse – even as mere lip service – is because of the power of the gun. Many civil society and people’s movements leaders have been urging Chidambaram to side-step the Maoists and talk to them on the same issues of social justice that the Maoists are raising. They challenge that if they are allowed to work in those areas, they will be able to reduce Maoist influence. But he steadfastly refuses. He is bent on “area domination” through force. It seems only nuisance value can trigger offers for talks, not ethical consciousness.

(In fact, one of the most disturbing trends triggered by Operation Green Hunt is the way civil rights activists are increasingly being outlawed by the State: mocked, arrested, sidelined, pigeon-holed – merely for seeking answers beyond easy binaries. So it is that Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh – his ashram demolished by the State in Dantewada and a diktat put out that no one should rent their home out to him; and a Home Ministry dossier on him grows by the day. So it is that in Bengal, just a few days ago, activist Kirti Roy was arrested for organising a people’s tribunal on police torture. The police had filed a case against him for attempting to impersonate the judiciary.)

This taunting question about the nature of the Indian State then is one we might well ask of ourselves. If the tribals lay down arms, will the State keep its promises, or will it ride like a storm over them, seizing their lands and stealing their resources as it has done elsewhere? And why does the Indian State have such a dismal record of speaking to people’s movements espousing just demands? The Bhopal Gas victims have never taken to arms. For 25 years they have walked the 800 miles to Delhi again and again, camping in Jantar Mantar and asking for justice: have they got it? Far from it. Instead, Dow Chemical was invited to set up shop in Nayachar in West Bengal. Worse, the Indian government is in the process of signing a nuclear agreement that will excuse foreign investors from paying damages in the event of a leak. And protestors are no longer allowed to camp overnight in Jantar Mantar – Indian democracy’s designated site for people’s protest.

AFTER ALL, 76 JAWANS DYING OVER 76 DAYS IS NOT AS BAD AS 76 JAWANS DYING IN ONE DAY. A COUPLE OF DEATHS A DAY CAN’T EMBARRASS THE STATE

Unfortunately, the epic list of questions doesn’t stop here. Were the people of Nandigram and Singur made stakeholders in the projects that would displace them from their emerald land? Why was the draconian Land Acquisition Act and malafide SEZ Act not thought through in equitable ways, on the sheer basis of the State’s benevolent intention? Why was the State ramming its projects through? Why did it take violent people’s resistance for these Acts to go back to the drawing board? Why are workers in Delhi being uprooted from colonies they have lived in for 30 years and being pitchforked into far-flung wastelands where there are no schools, no health centres, no toilets, no roads, no public transport merely to beautify the city for 12 days of Commonwealth Games? Why do the people of Sohanbadra in UP have to walk miles through arsenic sludge and breathe fly ash from thermal plants? Why is it that almost every industrial project in India turns into a human rights violation – either in terms of land or labour or environmental violation or human health?

The truth is, as long as the poor suffer silently, Indian democracy chugs along, doing little. If people protest peacefully, no one cares: not the media, not the government. If they organise themselves in outrage, they are berated for being disruptive and crushed. If they have grown too powerful to be crushed, the State offers talks. As eminent lawyer KG Kannabiran, who was part of the Committee of Citizens that brokered the (failed) peace talks between Maoists and the YSR Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh and is today a faintly dejected man, says, “We are experiencing the beginning of a long and terrible earthquake. Why doesn’t the Indian State follow the Constitution? Why doesn’t it act on its own Planning Commission Report on Naxal-affected areas which advocates a development-centric approach? Forget the Maoists. Even Locke and Laski said the right to insurrection arises when constitutional guarantees fail.”

The massacre of April 6 then places us at a potent crossroad. We could choose the path of escalated violence that will lead to a bloody civil war in the heart of the country. Or we could step back and choose the long march to social transformations that will leach away the attraction the oppressed have for the Maoists. On the first path, pain and futility stretches vast on either side. Increasing Maoist violence on one side: more police stations attacked, more jawans dead, more informers executed. Amplifying mistakes of the State on the other. Set aside 60 years of neglect, just three years of the Salwa Judum had notched up a terrifying roster of violence: 640 villages forcibly evacuated, lakhs of tribals forced to flee or live in camps, tribals set against tribal, homes burned, chickens and grain stolen, women raped, young boys dead. The Judum might now officially be declared a misadventure but it increased tribal disenchantment with the Indian State and pushed thousands more into Maoist arms.


Camp fire The Silda camp in Bengal, two months after it was razed by the Maoists

Now Operation Green Hunt is doing exactly the same: for every “genuine” Maoist ideologue arrested or killed, hundreds of ordinary people – minors, old folk, just adults scratching out a survival – are being arrested or killed. It enrages many in political and media circles when this is said, but the truth is, quite apart from “root causes” – the structural violence in Indian society that stretches back through time – every cluster of deaths, every crisis in the contemporary Maoist saga has an irretrievably muddied chain of cause and effect.

As GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor and an activist ‘black-marked’ by the intelligence apparatus, says, “Ultimately nobody wins a war. You can only win in an ideological and social domain.” So which route will India choose now? The knee-jerk, short-term logic of violence and counter-violence? Or the statesman’s game?

IT IS UNTRUE THAT THERE IS POLITICAL UNANIMITY ON THE MILITARY APPROACH TO THE MAOIST CRISIS. THE CONGRESS PARTY IS RICHLY DIVIDED ON THIS

At one level, ‘the flags of our fathers’ draped around the dead jawans remind us of the soaring ideals on which India was founded, the articles of faith that keep us together as a nation. Few – positioned anywhere on the political spectrum – can deny that the Indian Constitution is a shining document and a real existential and political counter-challenge to the Maoists. Every deformity in the Indian polity today is a corruption of the Constitution. But as organising principles for society go, there can be very few documents in the world that are more sophisticated and far-seeing. And more capable of reconciling India’s inherently mammoth contradictions. Yet, at another level, ‘the flags of our fathers’ recalls the Clint Eastwood film that exposed the empty gestures and faux patriotism of war-torn America in the 1940s. Like the flag hoisted merely for a photo-op in the film, beneath the saber-rattling talk of “our jawans” and calls for retaliation, there lurks a terrible cynicism.

Like those they have been sent out to battle with, these jawans are the weakest links in the Indian chain. They are merely another face of the poverty they have been sent out to vanquish. In the same breath that they speak of the terror of the Maoist attack on them, they speak of the inhuman conditions they live in, the lack of training, the lack of basic living facilities.

Besides, what is the SOP the jawans are being berated for not following? SOPs – “standard operating procedures” – dictate that jawans should walk single file or ride on motorbikes in Maoist territory. That way, if a mine goes off, only a couple of jawans will die: not enough to embarrass the State, not enough to make the evening news. After all, 76 jawans dying over 76 days is not as insupportable as 76 jawans dying in one day. It’s not human life and sorrow and “the deaths of innocent men” that’s got us in a twist then: it’s an imagined slap on the imagined face of the nation. And to avenge that slap, we are willing to trot out more cannon fodder: more ill-equipped jawans, more terrified boys. Caught between poverty and duty.

Also, the uncomfortable truth is, the Maoists may have a lot to answer for, but tragic as it is, the massacre of April 6 is not the most damaging of them. Sections of the media might call them “terrorists” and “savages” for the attack in Dantewada, but if terrorism is defined as anonymous hits on civilians, the Maoists’ night-time massacre of sleeping villagers in Jamui in Bihar last year counts as a much worse blot. The April 6 attack was an episode between combatants – an inevitable by-product of a poorly addressed conflagration. And the worst part is it could well happen again.

For this reason alone, contrary to the almost colonial outrage about “savages” burning the airwaves, for many patriotic Indians, the death of these 76 jawans could be read as a catalyst for turning up the volume on the third position on the Maoist debate. (It might soothe those baying for escalated State action to remember that top cop KPS Gill – the hero of Punjab – and Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau chief, both feel that, in its current form, Operation Green Hunt is something of a strategic misadventure.)

OF THE many half-truths on the back of which the Maoist crisis is currently escalating, the biggest lie is that there is political unanimity on Operation Green Hunt. For the moment, Home Minister P Chidambaram may be the loudest voice from the UPA government and he may (ironically) enjoy the fervid support of the BJP and CPMin treating the Maoists as merely a “law and order problem” and declaring an “all-out offensive” on them, but Chief Ministers Shibu Soren and Nitish Kumar, and Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee are not the only politicians uncomfortable with this stance. The Congress party itself is richly and positively divided on this. And though their silence so far is baffling, the heartening fact is that many of its most powerful leaders hold the third position. Or variants of it. As one particularly powerful Congress insider says, “There has to be a middle way between the zero strategy of the Home Ministry in UPA 1 and the George Bush-like utterances of the Home Ministry in UPA 2. It’s getting more ludicrous by the day.”

‘IF THE TATAS AND AMBANIS CAN OWN VAST TRACTS THAT THE STATE DEEMS AS SACRED, HOW CAN COMMUNITY PROPERTY BE USURPED BY IT?’ ASKS AIYAR

What is this third position then? The first and primary relief of the third position is that it is not a monolithic one: it is no soundproof room blocking out all argument that challenges its notions. It recognises that India is a complex country to run. It recognises that Home Minister Chidambaram is partially right in saying a State cannot let 234 districts slip out of its hands and some targeted use of force is called for to re-dominate those areas. But in the same breath it recognises that military action alone is suicidal. “Compassionate governance” cannot be a verbal frill attached to a machine gun. It has to be the primary soldier, the captain of the guard. In the third position, courage lies in rethinking fundamental directions of our society. It lies in acknowledging that Maoists are not merely demonic outsiders but a complex grid of Indians driven in equal parts by ideology, desperation and new political awakening.

As veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar says, “It is ridiculous to attack everyone just because they have a view on the Maoist issue as anything more than just a ‘menace’. While there’s no alternative to a State defending itself to a challenge by insurgents, we have to ask ourselves why this insurgency is confined to 5th Schedule Areas (ie, tribal) areas. And as long as our ideas of development is restricted to gains for people like Vedanta and POSCO and Tata and Essar and the Mittals, and we allow them to exploit tribal resources, the tribals are bound to see this development not as desired but disruptive. The point is, we have to define the difference between ‘participatory development’ and ‘aggressive development’.”

For those who find the prospect daunting, Aiyar has an inspiring list of simple measures, constitutional provisions and visionary legislations that can begin to effect change. Read the 73rd Amendment along with Article 243G and 243ZD of the Constitution, he urges. Let all states governments implement PESA – (Provisions of the Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas] 1996) – on the ground. Invoke the provisions of the Forest Act to give full ownership of forest produce to tribals. And watch the miracles start to flow.

For middle-class audiences, PESA is probably the least known piece of legislation, yet it is sheer genius in its simplicity. It prescribes that no proposal of a Panchayat, no disbursal of funds, and no use of common property resources can be sanctioned without the permission of the Gram Sabha. Unlike the Panchayat which has elected members, the Gram Sabha includes every adult member of a village community. This consultative process is the most elemental step of a democracy and it effectively ensures that tribals can take full control of their lives, finances and functionaries – cutting out the corruptions of an alien bureaucracy.

Aiyar is not alone in these views. Congress veteran Digvijay Singh has written pieces in the media on the same lines. Rural Minister CP Joshi, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi (and whose ministry report on ‘State Agrarian Relations’ spoke of Operation Green Hunt as the “biggest land grab in the history of India”), also has similar views. “There is a failure of governance, a real crisis of credibility among the lower level functionaries. The whole judicial system, for instance, relies on the patwari and thanedar. If they tamper with an FIR or land paper, how can the system work? We have to think of alternative forms of governance. We have 32 states – let there be 10,000 forms of local government in them. We have to take the traditions of each community and work within that to implement democratic ideals.” At a press conference in Chhattisgarh, asked about the Maoist crisis, Rahul Gandhi himself said, “When governance fails to reach people, such movements are bound to gain strength.”

These ideas however cannot be postponed to some future utopia – a time when 234 districts have been recovered from Maoist control. “It is misleading to suggest all these areas have slipped out of government control,” says Aiyar. “Even in Naxal-affected areas, only some thanas are under their control. The rest are all under State control. We should immediately implement full-fledged Panchayati Raj and PESA in these thanas. We can win this only if we construct a real and shining alternative to the Maoist-led government.”

For that to happen, at the very least, in a sort of first sign of good intention, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to retrieve the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj from the ciphers who now control it and give it to someone at par with the incumbent Home Minister. In fact, in the sort of neat ironies life sometimes offers, Home Secretary Gopal Pillai, who is seen as an able lieutenant to Chidambaram’s security-driven hard line, is married to Sudha Pillai, one of the country’s top civil servants on Panchayati Raj. Since, so far, governance has been promised at the heel of security – with disastrous consequences, for a while, perhaps, the wife should be foregrounded over the husband.

There are other urgent areas of redressal. As Aiyar says, “If the Tatas and Ambanis can own vast tracts of land and the government deems private property as sacred, how is it that we think of community property as something that the government can take over? The tribals have owned these forests since time immemorial. This tradition was only disrupted when the British entered the forests of Dandakaranya. Can’t democratic India restore the the rights over this forest back to its own people? Finally, if middle-class Indians can have shares in corporate projects, why can’t tribals be made stakeholders in projects that ursurp their land?”

So before the memory of the 76 jawans fades, here’s the question again: what route is India going to take now? When you ask the Home Minister – or chief ministers of Naxalaffected States – to seize the high moral ground and send out a message to their police and paramilitary forces that no excesses will be tolerated, they snap back – why are you pointing fingers at the State? What about the 55 CPM cadres the Maoists have killed in Bengal this year? What about the 11 jawans they have killed in Koraput? The trap of binary conversations.

It is futile to remind them that they are our elected representatives and democracy demands we hold them more accountable than the Maoists; futile to remind them that we expect the State to have a greater morality than the outlaws they are combating. Futile to assert that our constitutional concern about the nature of the Indian State does not equate to support for the Maoists. Violence can only legitimise itself by painting broad pictures of Good and Evil, by painting itself the Avenger. This is why, for defenders of Operation Green Hunt, condemnation of Maoist violence must ride on silence about the State’s.

In a telling detail, however, the widow of beheaded policeman, Francis Induwar understood that death does not come in different colours. Barely weeks after her husband’s gory murder at the hands of Maoists, she was pleading with the government not for revenge but a non-military approach to resolve the Maoist crisis. A cardinal rule of leadership that leaders often forget is the powerful symbolism of taking the unilaterally ethical stand. Not contingent on the good behaviour of others. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”

Maybe the death of these jawans will bring that message home to those men and women who wield most power in this country.

WRITER’S EMAIL:shoma@tehelka.com

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War against Naxal a failure: Indian Home Secretary

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THE DAWN

India: Bloody Naxal insurgency turns nasty ·Bharat (aka India) has been waging a fruitless war against the Naxals and the Maoists who control about 40% of the landmass of Bharat. The Security forces faced a huge defeat when 75 were killed in a Naxal counter attack. Now the Bharati Home Minister, Pillai has admitted that the disastrous operation has been a failure.

NEW DELHI: The government today ruled out use of air power in the fight against Naxalites and admitted obviously some element of failure in the operations led to the killing of 75 security personnel in Chhattisgarh today.

In a brief statement, the Home Secretary said that there were some element of failure in the operation.

“Preliminary reports indicate that the CPI(Maoists) had planted pressure bombs in surrounding areas where the security forces might take cover. As a result of this bulk of the casualties have taken place,” he said.

Pillai said all the 82 personnel who had participated in the operation have been accounted for and none has been captured by the Maoists. Times of India.

Tamils, Naxalites, Maoists, and the people of the Northeast soon started their struggle to throw the reins of New Delhi’s rule away and have their own independent countries under their own control. The Brahmin rulers in New Delhi, however, emerged with firm control on these rebellious states. Any voice of dissent was crushed with the help of a powerful and well-disciplined British-trained army. Indians also exploited some weak points of these rebellious populations. Tamils, for example, were misguided and lead to path that brought a lot of death and destruction of Tamils themselves. Indians started training and equipping Tamil youth under the name of LTTE and started an insurgency in Sri Lanka with a demand for an independent Tamil country. Indians got double advantage of that strategy. The civil war in Sri Lanka diverted the attention and focus of Tamils who originally wanted to get Tamil Nadu state out of Indian Union.
The government had launched an offensive called “Operation Green Hunt” against the Maoist militia in the hinterland of several states in east and central India where they have dug in and even control large tracts of territory inhabited by poor tribals that is beyond the pale of the administration.
“Something has gone very wrong,” a sombre Chidambaram told reporters outside his North Block office.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in Chhattisgarh, called for an “all-out offensive” against the Maoists and said the government should embark on a “fight to finish” against the extremists. BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the party will support the government in its anti-Maoist battle.
The government on Tuesday reacted with shock and outrage at the brutal killing of 75 paramilitary troopers by Maoists in the dense forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh with Home Minister P Chidambaram admitting that “something has gone very wrong”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke with Chidambaram and called for an immediate meeting of the National Security Council to take stock of what he once called the country’s “biggest internal security challenge”. Hindustan Times
The Dantewada killings may leave the Centre with no option but to hit back at the Maoists to try and regain the advantage in a battle that is as much political and about morale as it is about waging hard combat in hostile jungles ruled by the red ultras. Times of India

Elaborating on goverment stategy to take on the Naxals, the home secretary said, “I don’t think we need to use air power at the moment (in the anti-naxal operation). We can manage with what we have. Our strategy is unfolding and we should be able to manage without air power,” Home Secretary Gopal K Pillai told reporters here.

However, he made it clear that the air power will be used only for evacuation and for mobility of troops.

Pillai called the Maoists “murderers” and said the government’s resolve was strengthened and it would continue to tackle the Maoist menace as planned.

The home secretary said the CRPF personnel returning to its base camp after two days of operations when the early hours of this morning it came under fire from hill features just about four kilometres from its base camp.

“As of now 74 CRPF personnel, including a Deputy Commandant and an Assistant Commandant and a Head Constable of state police force have died. Seven injured have been brought to Jagdalpur,” he said.

He said those who have gone from the base camp – to rescue the attacked team, also came under fire.

“One of the helicopter which has been dispatched to bring in the injured personnel also came under fire from the Maoists,” he added. Times of India.

This massive failure has implications for the Indian Union alread wracked with insurrection in the West (Kashmir) and East (Assam). In fact almost every state has an insurgency raging-all under the radar of the international media-all hidden by India Inc’s Panglossian gloss, under the smoke and mirrors of “Incredible India” . The thin veneer of “Shining India” cannot hide the shallow structure underneath.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

April 8, 2010 at 5:20 am

Indian Maoists kill 75 in police massacre

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By Iftikhar Gilani

* Central Reserve Police Force patrol attacked at dawn in Chhattisgarh

NEW DELHI: Maoist rebels ambushed and killed 75 paramilitary personnel in the jungles of Dantewada district of central Indian province of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday.

Sources in the Home Ministry said a patrol from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked at dawn and when reinforcements rushed to the scene, they were surrounded by hundreds of heavily-armed Maoists, locally known as Naxals.

The attack has sent shock waves in the Indian security establishment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Home Minister P Chidambaram to make an assessment of the situation.

The National Security Council met under the chairmanship of the prime minister and is understood to have discussed the deadliest Maoist strike yet.

While Prime Minister Singh called it a “horrific” incident, Chidambaram said it showed the brutality and savagery of the Maoists.

The home minister admitted something must have gone “drastically wrong” in the joint operation, as the personnel seemed to have “walked into a trap”.

Home Ministry sources said it was likely that the CRPF contingent, which is a well-trained force, was tricked into an ambush.

“There was no intelligence input. But the troops were made to believe that they were going in for a raid in a non-descript area which was a Naxal training camp,” the sources said, adding the forces would need to improvise as lessons have been learnt.

The Red Terror

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By Rohit Kumar

India’s operation ‘Green Hunt’ against the Communist Party Of India—Maoists- has become a red terror that threatens to engulf the entire north eastern part of India all the way to Nepal. There are disquieting signs that it could spread to other states that have grossly unequal growth, unimaginable poverty and minorities with grievances against Hindu fanaticism and oppression. Gujerat is one such state—there are others.

The Naxals ( Maoist insurgents) have used IED’s with deadly effect against CRPF personnel of India forcing them to leave their vehicles and move on foot– once dismounted they become prey to cleverly disguised anti personnel IED’s. Seeing their companions maimed and blown to bits the others are terrified to even move one foot forward. This is what the Naxals want because then they can attack stationary, exposed and largely paralyzed targets.

Right now gun battles are raging in Jagarkunda and Sukma districts of Chittisgarh. A deadly ambush has decimated an 80 strong CRPF contingent with more than 73 killed. There is no respite in sight because the Maoists are fighting with skill, determination and courage. India’s central and state police are no match for the Maoists.

State governments, CRPF—Central Reserve Police Forces and state police have avoided a confrontation with the Maoists preferring to accept bribes and have covert contacts. This is how the Maoists were able to terrorize the locals and force them to cooperate. The populations in these areas have serious grievances because of corrupt politicians and police forces. They have j0ined hands with the Maoists and give them cover and information.

India’s propensity to use force has led to disasters –as in the case of a ill starred intervention in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that led to a humiliating withdrawal. Brutalized Indian forces have been operating in the disputed Kashmir area alienating the largely Muslim population. Hindu extremism and terrorism is also linked to the underworld and the predominantly Hindu armed forces and police.

Indian media has been reporting raids to pick up innocent Muslims particularly students. There are reports of inhuman torture inflicted on those arrested without due process. This has the inevitable effect of alienating people. The involvement of intelligence agencies further complicates the situation.

Right now world attention is focused on Chittisgarh but this is just the tip of the iceberg—the red tide that can sweep across wide swathes of India nullifying its economic gains and status.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

April 6, 2010 at 10:36 am

The Naxal Muddle – of Intellectual Haze, Governmental Clarity and Operational Realities

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Raj Shukla – IDSA

Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai spelt out the government’s strategy with respect to naxal violence at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, in Delhi, on March 5, 2010. By some unpropitious coincidence, on the same day, at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Arundhati Roy led the intellectual charge against the symbol of governmental resolve to meet the violent dynamic head on – Operation Green Hunt. Not very often in such philosophical contests does the Government of India emerge with greater credibility. But on Friday it did. Pillai’s talk was more than distinguished – it carried the hallmark of a virtuoso performance. He delivered his message and answered questions with a clarity, self assurance and composure that is becoming rare in government. Roy’s intellectualism on the other hand, though persuasive in parts, appeared hazy on the central issue – the dynamic of violence, forcing her to take refuge in homilies, sarcasm and name calling; her body language revealed her acute discomfort. There are obvious lessons here – when the ministerial team (the minister and his secretary) is individually competent and the ministry has done some honest work and thought the knotty issues through, the clarity will show. You will not then need to duck television cameras or evade questions. The demonstrated logic flies in the face of the general governmental inclination to view the media as a flippant device which will always distort and sensationalise and hence is either best avoided or responded to with such clever by half evasiveness that it only invites greater media wrath. Not once did the Home Secretary decline comment on a question, not once did he pass the buck. More than anything, it was a sophisticated exercise in using the media to send a substantive message about the government’s approach to the naxal problem – one of reasonableness, realism, clarity and resolve. If you are substantive, you will trump any attempts at sensationalism; if you are wavy and dodgy, sensationalism will carry the day. In the instant case, there was no need for the media to twist and distort to make the TRPs zoom; the Secretary’s substantiveness itself made for good TRPs.

Home Secretary Pillai indicated the government’s intent to regain those areas where administrative voids have led to ceding of control to the Naxals. He emphasized that the core objective of the CPI ( Maoists) was the armed overthrow of the state; hence, while the government was prepared to talk to everybody and address all possible grievances in every conceivable manner, the violent dynamic had to be addressed head on. Talks were possible if the Maoists gave a commitment to abjure violence – this was the only precondition. Arundhati Roy’s argument of course is that the Maoists have been forced into violence in the first instance by the insensitive ways of the State; its subsequent heavy handedness has only made matters worse – the state should therefore abjure violence (abandon Operation Green Hunt) and talk without preconditions. She fights shy, however, of categorically condemning acts of violence by Naxals, most recently the murder of a rape victim. But the State’s battle for peace is not so much with Arundhati Roy and Kabir Suman but with Kishenji. The exchange of FAX and mobile numbers between the Home Minister and Kishenji in an ongoing, unconsummated courtship is symptomatic of the stalemate – posturing even as both sides sharpen their swords. If one were to attempt to steer clear of the polemical impasse, what is the way forward? One, of course, is to regain administrative control of lost areas by securing them and delivering development, and to keep persisting despite the inevitable setbacks. Two, is to nurse our police forces back to health, through a slew of measures which have been discussed ad nauseam. Three, is to address the grievances that threaten to explode in a socio-economic cataclysm – mining rights, forest rights, developmental neglect, rehabilitation of the displaced, uncompleted land reforms, agricultural indebtedness, urban slums and other sources of societal inequality. Four, we could even try and cash in on the latest offer by Kishenji and utilise the services of Arundhati Roy, Mahashweta Devi and Kabir Suman as ‘independent observers’ in an attempted mediation of the dispute.

All this will take a while. But what about the violence that ensues in the meantime – the 1000 odd Indians who die each year – which will not stop unless the battle is taken to the hard core Naxal cadres (hard core cadres are estimated in the range of 12,000 with about 40,000 overground workers/sympathizers). And here, the Ministry of Home Affairs has a lot of soul searching to do. Offensive operations of this kind cannot be carried out by State police forces which simply do not have the requisite capacities, despite their claims to the contrary. The measures outlined by the Home Secretary, if pursued with requisite zeal, will only help the state police forces transit from sub-policing to bare policing, with viable counterinsurgency capacities still a huge, huge way off. The Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh took decades to hone their skills. Chhattisgarh, the state which in recent times has been first off the block in fashioning a resolve to take Naxal violence head on, is still in no position to restore state authority in many of its southern districts leave alone the formidable Abhujmad (the operational nerve centre of Naxal operations). It is plainly ridiculous to expect a district superintendent of police to attend to law and order and policing duties as also undertake counterinsurgency operations at the same time. Offensive operations can only be undertaken by a dedicated counterinsurgency force which in our case is the CRPF.

But here a different set of problems come in the way. The first is command and control – the nature of counterinsurgency operations is such that they cannot be conducted by persuasion and consensus. The lines of authority have to be clearly delineated with accountability fixed. The amorphous arrangement that presently obtains does not augur well for meaningful operations. We are also told that the federal nature of our polity does not allow operations across state boundaries to be undertaken – till when will we continue to shield ourselves behind such bizarre technicalities? When you pursue Naxals across State boundaries you are surely not entering foreign territory? In any case, just because we cannot find the legal/administrative rationale to facilitate such movement, should 1000-odd people continue to die each year? The State police must be tasked to secure infrastructure while the counterinsurgency force should be firmly mandated to neutralize the hard core cadres across state boundaries. It is only when the latter’s numbers dwindle will the spectre of violence begin to recede and talks become meaningful – that is the harsh reality.

The Home Secretary also spoke of political interference as the principal obstacle to police reform. Well yes, but there is an equal malaise that afflicts the police force – that of stifling bureaucratic control which needs to be addressed in equal measure. Ask any police officer in the affected states and he will tell you as to how the building of credible capacities is hamstrung by the very State Home Secretaries in whom the Home Secretary reposes so much faith. Closer home, he would surely know that DGPs are reduced to craven pleaders before Joint Secretaries in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Unless the police forces are freed from the clutches of such meaningless bureaucratic control they will not be able to rise to the challenge. (The CAG Report of 2005, for example, documents how an empowered committee headed by the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand siphoned off Rs. 15.7 crore to buy SUVs for VIPs instead of vehicles for patrolling. Such examples abound.) The police needs to be resurrected as a professional and independent force accountable only to its own leadership while submitting to unambiguous political control. While still on the issue of police reforms, Home Secretary Pillai pointed an accusatory finger at the States for less than adequate movement on critical issues. Fair criticism, but then why does the Centre not lead by example – speedily implement reforms, to begin with in Delhi itself where it has a relatively free run. Pillai lamented as to how transfers of police officers in Uttar Pradesh were rubber stamped by a supine police establishment board. Here again the Centre cannot escape blame – when you overlook officers like Kiran Bedi, you send a strong message about the kind of police leadership you wish to nurture. 26/11 and Vinita Kamte’s stirring account in her book, To The Last Bullet, expose the grim consequences of encouraging a pliant leadership and destroying its combat ethos, but alas we continue to do so.

The conceptual clarity that the Home Minister and the Home Secretary bring to their work will not translate into meaningful change on the ground unless these warps are addressed. And it is precisely police weaknesses as a consequence of these warps that the Naxals capitalize on to engineer violence and invite reprisals for the likes of Arundhati Roy to step in with their intellectual salvos. A sophisticated police force with a strong leadership unencumbered by needless layers of control is what we need if the Chidambaram overhaul is to manifest into meaningful results. Or else, it will simply be business as usual. The Naxals of course will never be able to overthrow the Indian State by 2050 (their purported goal as stated by the Home Secretary) or before (as claimed by Kishenji). They don’t need to – they already have a separate state with the Dandakarnaya (a 92,000 kilometre expanse of jungle that spans the states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh) as its hub from where they will continue to bring their convoluted brand of governance to bear. There is of course the other school led by the indomitable M.J. Akbar, which asserts that India will survive the Maoist insurgency by ending poverty and in no other way. May be, but the bigger truth is that in a country of India’s size, diversity and conflicting aspirations, no matter what you do ( even if you were to conquer poverty once and for all), violent disaffections of some sort will afflict us. While attempting to address them, apart from other tools, you will need a sophisticated police force. The Naxal challenge is a wake up call to rejig our internal security instruments and restore their organizational ethos, autonomy and operational credibility. With regard to its violent hue, we need to act with dispatch. While there may be numerous constraints of democracy that come in the way, the 1000-odd Indians who continue to die annually is a political price that may soon become difficult to bear. Even by the measure of cold political logic, we need to act fast.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 11, 2010 at 5:25 am