Tackling Maoism - Hopes of A Political Consensus
Dr A Surya Prakash

Though, as always, valuable time of parliament was lost in disruptions and political bickering, the just concluded Budget Session had one significant outcome – the emergence of a consensus across the political divide on the need for firm measures to tackle the threat that Maoists are posing to democracy and the rule of law.

This wholly unexpected but welcome twist to the political drama that is normally played out in parliament came about following the brutal massacre of 76 policemen by Maoists in Dantewada. Since the ambush of the police party leading to heavy casualties was seen as an assault on the Indian State, political parties closed ranks and offered a united response so that the government could tackle the menace with grit and confidence.

Among those who changed the script and signaled the need for a united political front to fight the Maoists were the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India ( Marxist). Both the parties rose to the occasion by displaying extraordinary restraint and statesmanship. In a most unusual response to the security failure, the BJP declared that it did not want the Home Minister Mr.Chidambaram to resign, because in its view, if he quit, it would mean a victory for the Maoists. The BJP’s Spokesperson Mr.Rajiv Pratap Rudy said as Home Minister, Mr.Chidambaram was in charge of the nation’s security. Therefore, “he can’t whimper like an injured soldier on the backfoot”. Although the government had failed on all fronts, “this is not the time for a Senapati to step down”. The BJP promised to back the government to the hilt provided it adopted a “fight to the finish” approach vis-à-vis the Maoists. Mr.Raman Singh, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh also appealed to the Home Minister “not to quit at this juncture”.

The response of Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal was also statesmanlike. Just a week before Dantewada, Mr.Chidambaram had provoked the Chief Minister and the CPI(M) when he told media persons after a visit to Maoist- affected areas in West Bengal that “the buck stops with the chief minister”. Mr.Bhattacharjee had publicly expressed his displeasure at the Home Minister’s comments. But, after Dantewada, Mr.Bhattacharjee chose not to rub it in. “This is not the time to blame anyone or blame each other. It is the time to work together” he said.

Significantly, Mr.Bhattacharjee did not pin the blame on Mr.Chidambaram for Dantewada. He said the problem was such that it warranted “collective responsibility” and “unless we work together, it is difficult to tackle Maoist violence”. This is truly a complete turnaround in Indian politics, quite contrary to the usual drill of the opposition demanding the head of the Home Minister. Both the BJP and the CPI(M) have decided not to score petty political points but to speak responsibly, keeping overall national interest in mind. The response of these two national parties to the massacre in Dantewada offers a ray of hope for the survival of our Constitution and the democratic way of life.

Such display of unity within the political class is critical if the Indian State is to get the better of those who wish to overthrow the state through armed rebellion and to win the argument against intellectuals like Arundhati Roy who are trying to describe the Maoist violence as the consequence of the prevailing conflict between the dispossessed poor and the rich who run the establishment. She has even gone as far as to say that the government offensive against the Maoists is “genocidal”. This is what happens when some intellectuals become obsessed with the human rights of terrorists and persons who are trying to overthrow democratically elected governments through armed insurrection. While the Dantewada massacre is a challenge to the security forces, these arguments, which constitute support for insurrection, pose a challenge to the entire political class, because it mocks at the democratic process and rule and law. While there is merit in the argument that enough has not been done to bring about the amelioration of poor tribals in many states, there can be no justification of grievance redressal via methods which are inimical to the democratic process. The government and the political establishment need to send out a strong signal that the democratic way of life is non-negotiable and this is precisely what they have done during within parliament and outside.

The response of the opposition parties to the challenge posed by Maoists is in line with the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), which examined the entire gamut of issues pertaining to Naxalism in its reports on `Public Order’ and `Combating Terrorism’. It said democratic maturity needs time, patience, and genuine efforts to find rational answers to complex problems and willingness to reconcile conflicting views”. Therefore, it hoped the country’s political leadership “would come together to evolve a consensus on political conduct which would enable resolution of conflicts for overall maintenance of public order”. The commission’s report on `Combating Terrorism’ pointed out that the Maoists arsenal boasted of Self Loading Rifles (SLRs), AK series of rifles and INSAS rifles and that they could fabricate rockets and rocket launchers. The threat from Maoists had increased because they had developed expertise in fabricating and detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). It listed the following incidents to show the lethality of the Maoists attacks on security forces: 24 CRPF personnel killed in Maoist IED attack on mine-protected vehicle at Dantewada (September, 2005); In the same year, the police chief in Munger (Bihar) was killed in an IED attack and the police chief, Prakasham District (Andhra Pradesh) survived an IED attack; Later, two former chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh –Mr.Chandrababu Naidu and Mr.Janardhan Reddy narrowly escape IED attacks. The commission said all these incidents showed that IEDs had come to be used by Maoists in planned attacks on even persons given high security. It said Maoists caused nearly 100 landmine explosions every year with considerable loss of live to security personnel belonging both to the central and state forces.

After a detailed discussion of the terrorist acts indulged in by Maoists, the commission said all these incidents only reinforce “ the urgent need for considerable capacity-building among the police and other security forces (State and Central) in the areas of training, leadership planning of counter-terrorism operations as a part of a comprehensive policy, including reform and development”. Apart from this, the commission has made some valuable recommendations on the legal framework that we need to have in place to tackle terrorism. Since the Second ARC was appointed by the ruling UPA coalition, it is now up to the government to show that it gives due weightage to the opinion of the commission.

The country had the opportunity to achieve some level of political consensus on the monstrous issue of terrorism and internal security after 26/11, but after some initial restraint, the government got into a slanging match with the opposition on policies that it ought to adopt to prevent future terrorist strikes. The Dantewada massacre of such a large number of policemen has shaken the country and offered yet another opportunity for the government to adopt a consensual approach to deal with the problem of terrorism and armed insurrection. The UPA must grab this opportunity with both hands and work towards a national consensus on all issues that have the potential to harm the people and the democratic way of life. One hopes the government will respond this time without worrying about vote banks or standing on false prestige and adopt the policy of zero tolerance towards violence. Should the government display such grace, it will restore public faith in democratic politics and raise the hope for political consensus on major national issues.

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