Naxalites – ‘Finish them off’

21 07 2008
By Swapan Dasgupta
The nation should be grateful that wisdom has finally dawned on the UPA Government. Last Thursday, at the conclusion of a two-day conference involving the Centre and the States, the Prime Minister proclaimed Naxalism to be “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”.

It took the Government two years to acknowledge what should have been evident from the very day the “inner voice” made way for the gentle Sardar. In these two years, the Government allowed an “infantile disorder” — Lenin’s evocative description — to escalate into a full-fledged insurgency.

Today, the “red corridor” isn’t some crazy pipedream of dogmatists who quibble over the virtues of Lin Biao and the Shining Path, it is a near reality. The Maoists have cast their terror net over an area that covers some 20 per cent of India’s forests and districts where 17 per cent of the population of the live.

To consider the magnitude of the Naxalite problem you have to keep in mind a contrasting statistic: ethnic and religious insurgencies in the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir affect only three per cent of the population.

Ironically, it was the magnitude of the menace that made the Government look the other way initially. After the UPA Government was installed, its so-called national security pundits, better versed in political surveillance and collecting tittle-tattle from mobile phones than countering terror, evolved a fantastic theory.

Since the Naxalites were in a position to influence the outcome in nearly 50 parliamentary constituencies, it would be expedient, they suggested, for the Congress to cut a covert deal with them. After all, it was asserted, the nature of the ramshackle coalition made it necessary to be prepared for an election at all times.

The lessons of history were not learnt. It was the Bhindranwale and LTTE strategy all over again!

Consequently, the Andhra Pradesh Government despatched the Greyhounds to the barracks, declared a cease-fire and began a bout of negotiations that both the Government and the extremists knew was pointless. There was unending talk of addressing the ubiquitous “socio-economic” roots of terror, and bleeding hearts decreed that the antidote to the perversions of Charu Mazumdar was the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Tribal Bill.

For the Maoists, it was carnival time. They used the respite to set their own house in order and prepare for a long haul. First, even as the Centre abandoned the “unified command” strategy proposed by the erstwhile NDA Government, the Naxalites abandoned their ideological hair-splitting and came together under the banner of the Communist Party (Maoist). The name reflected the new party’s deep links with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which controls nearly three-fourths of the Himalayan kingdom.

Second, the interregnum was used by the Naxalites to develop deep pockets and re-arm. It is estimated by the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management that the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh collected Rs 50 to 60 crore by extortion in the six months of the cease-fire.

Even after the battle was resumed in Andhra Pradesh, the Centre rubbed its hands gleefully as the Naxalite problem was exported to Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — states with NDA Governments. Some six months ago when Chhatisgarh approached the Home Minister with a detailed plan of airborne operations against the Naxalites in the jungles, it was told the suggestion was preposterous. “Talk to them, they are our own boys,” the state government was gratuitously informed.

In Jharkhand, the Centre chose to look the other way as Naxalites systematically siphoned off large amounts of development assistance from petrified local officials. In Chhattisgarh, a systematic campaign of calumny was heaped against the Sarwa Judum movement, which used democratic mobilisation against the Naxalites.

Most damaging, the Indian Government played footsie with the Maoists in Nepal because some mandarins were not amused by King Gyanendra. Today, a Maoist Nepal on our doorstep looks imminent. A springboard for the Indian Revolution has been created. The revolution in Nepal, Comrade Prachanda has, after all, always maintained, depends on the India revolution for survival.

No wonder the Naxalites are sufficiently emboldened to mount audacious attacks against symbols of state authority like prisons, treasuries and armouries. Today, there is a People’s Liberation Army in place that has launched a civil war. It is estimated that this underground force has an annual budget that amounts to Rs 200 crore — the ill-gotten returns from extortion and banditry.

It has taken the Government two years to realise that the Naxalites are no longer content with welfare sops and lectures on land reforms. Promoting development and fighting poverty was never on the agenda of the Maoists.

Their target was and remains political power. The assault is not on high landlordism or venal usury. It is an assault on the sovereignty of the Indian state. The Maoists want the tricolour and the Constitution replaced by the Red Flag and “people’s power”.

It is important to realise that this menace cannot be eradicated with an Indira Gramin Yojana or the well-meaning prescriptions of the headless National Advisory Council. South Asia has a rich experience of countering terror.

In the 1970s, Siddhartha Shankar Ray brought West Bengal back from the brink and Presidents J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa exorcised the JVP menace from Sri Lanka. Neither in West Bengal nor in Sri Lanka was squeamishness allowed to get in the way of pacification.

Military-style operations were launched against the extremists, their top leadership was neutralised and terror was met with the full weight of state authority. Bullets were met with cannon fire — and it worked without damaging democracy.

These strategies may not meet with approval in the seminar rooms and human rights conclaves. That should be least of our concerns. What matters is political will to win the civil war.

In any case, Manmohan Singh need not be worried. He should take heart from what the CPI(M) Chief Minister Buddhadeva Bhattacharya told an election rally in Naxalite-infested Purulia district: “The thick forest cover of the Jharkhand border is saving the Naxalites. Otherwise, our police force would have finished them off.”

In the war against Naxalism, it is the last three words of Bhattacharya that are relevant.