Dantewada: 76 dead and not counting.

In spite of all round support from parties, the Congress has tried to scuttle the emerging consensus on action against Maoists. What’s the game?

Eleven days is a long time to understand the difference between incident and incidence. Public angst at a death haul in a day that beats even a recent war with Pakistan on Kargil is understandable. What is not, is the paralysis of decisive action from Government and the absence of a clear direction in policy terms.

Should we be particularly angry because we lost seventy six good men on a single day. Would we be, and are we not, a lot less angry if we lost them on seventy six different days spread over the year? So is this about per capita decapitation? Or is it about an error of judgment, a procedural slip of intelligence in the course of a normal counter insurgency operation. Or, in fact, is it about the sorry state of governance, or tribal rights, or an operation called green hunt.

Whatever the case, it is patently obvious that we are using this incident for the wrong ends, but – and there is a silver lining – it is fortuitous that in the process we are revealing the abject lacunae in policy and politics, in strategy and tactics, in discourse and direction. Equally naïve, if not childish, is the idea that the Maoists war is about tribal rights or the injustice to their way of life. This is not about preserving the berry-picking or root-eating ways of the indigenous people. It is more about control of resources and therefore, of territory. Maoism is an end in itself.

But I have no difficulty admitting that the delay, or disinterest, in integrating these communities into the national mainstream has exacerbated the problem. What we like to call the red corridor is merely the geographical contiguity of depressed communities and depressing conditions that are the grazing grounds of radicals. Add to that the legacy of the communists, the assistance of a neighbouring country and the economies of gun running, and you have what you have. Then whether you call it insurgency, or terrorism or Marxism or Maoism is a mere quibble.

The arguments for and against salwa judum notwithstanding, it is clear to anyone that there is a principle of depreciating returns in a strategy where we use the people against the Maoists. This strategy, in the long run is dangerous because you end up creating an environment where weapons and violence starts seeping into daily life. You will see that when, and if, you recover from the scourge of Maoism, you would have laid a fertile bed for another resistance force to come up sooner or later if follow up actions are not in place, and they most often are not if we know our governments. The Congress should know this from the Bhindranwale experience. The strategist should know this from text books.

I offer no solution in its place except that law and order is the business of the state and that disaffection is not unusual in democracies, but a combination of efforts to build resistance and consider recompense for earlier lapses is a doable thing. So why does it not happen?

To understand that we will have to cleave the subject of the aspect that repeatedly dislodges rational debate viz. the reasons for the Maoists’ progress and inter alia, the argument of tribal rights, livelihood and development. There is so much commentary on this, that we need to either take our own view of it and hold our peace, or suffer the indignity of being lectured by punctilious professors who, having relatively recently visited the area, have come to a serendipitous conclusion on a subject that has its roots in the decades when most of them were gangly adolescents queuing up for ice-cream sodas.

Now that we are left with the other key dimension of the problem, let us discuss the politics of it. I am arguing that a consensus on fighting the Maoists is not in the interest of the Congress. The sequence of events after the recent Dantewada massacre will bear me out. The reported response of the Home Minister to the ghastly attack on CRPF jawans in Chhattisgarh by Naxalites left us agog. He was so careful with choosing words at a time when the state was watching itself inflicted with one of the highest ever casualties in relative peace time, that it makes us wonder if the blight of ‘fiddler’ Home Ministers is still upon us. The last Home Minister was shown the door because he was too concerned with changing suits on a day of similar massacres. This Home Minister is doing the same thing, but his choice of decorative apparel is words and their textures. [He is at pains to make clear that he did not use the word ‘war’. Look at the decorous decoding of the message that has been sent to him in casualties!]

The PM on the other hand is circumspect in the best traditions of procrastination and would like to consider all options. And yet, he is not sure that this deserves any change of policy since ‘we are too close to the event’. So let a few months pass, until the wounds heal and the breaking news syndrome peters out and then we have to do nothing. No paper to push, no policy to change – a bureaucrat’s response to a situation that demands leadership and forward vision.

Then the Home Minister plays the resignation card – curiously, after the opposition had already committed itself to unconditional support on the day of the incident. It looked like the Home Minister was looking for safe passage, but the BJP’s quick intervention seemed to have neutered his escapist ambition.

Then the entire opposition came together in support of the government and finally there seemed a glimmer of hope that a concerted, unified thrust will emerge towards a proactive policy modification or change. But this was clearly not something the Congress had wagered.

The jury is out on whether the BJP bought into the Congress gambit and was forced to support the government when it could have ripped its namby-pamby policy on the Naxalite issue. It is argued that it may not have been possible to do otherwise, poised as the chess pieces were at the time. But the speed with which the Government was endorsed by the BJP was eventually seen by some as decidedly supplicatory at the same time. We don’t remember the Congress party ‘solidly behind the government’ during the Kargil war when the NDA was in power. We remember Congress cadres making inflatable buses to ridicule the Lahore foray by Mr. Vajpayee. We also remember that it took a potent third party public advocacy campaign to bring them to heel.

The Congress stratagem of occupying all posts, even those from where invectives can be launched against their own government is a total-domination game where they ease out real opposition by positioning faux opposition, who are really their own front men or in alliance with them due to shared subliminal interests. The communists, for instance, have played that role as the B team of the Congress for many years.

So, just as the entire episode begins acquiring a consensual shape with media and civil society rallying for a combined effort to flush out the Maoists, the Congress calls in its game changers. Now a senior leader in the organizational hierarchy within the Congress launches a broadside against the Home Minister, who seems to have almost everybody else’s confidence, including the opposition’s. Anything, it seems, to scuttle a consensus that creates conditions requiring decisive action. What is the Congress afraid of ? Or is there a secret understanding to go only that far and no further on the Maoist issue. With whom, and in return for what, is the priceless question.

There is no need to question the BJP’s support to the UPA at this stage. This is an issue which has its origins in the wretchedly passive approach of successive governments since Independence – and which by default have been mostly Congress led – to the issue of development of marginal communities, particularly adivasis and tribals in fringe areas of the nation. There has also been no attempt to inculcate a sense of the nation within them. It may in fact be the time to demand a comprehensive strategy from the centre for leapfrogging development in consultation with the local communities in fast forward mode. Only that, coupled with decisive deterrent action, will make any dent – in the armour of the Maoists, or the hearts of the people in areas like Dantewada.


This post has also appeared in The Pioneer newspaper of 17th April 2010 under a different headline and sub-head.

5 Responses to “Dantewada: 76 dead and not counting.”
  1. Saikiran says:

    This is absolutely one sided write-up. My few cents of opinion :
    Naxals are not terrorists, as our Home Minister feels. One finds lot many qualified engineers, doctors, post-graduates in Naxal Movement. Why did they join the movement is the question that one should ask. They too could have added more glamour to our news rooms with their lectures.
    Responsible systems are not taking the accountability in our democracy. We need a check-point at every level and Naxals are doing just that in the Interior corridors of India, which was totally neglected by the elite newsroom classes.
    No doubt, it is a saddest day to read the news of Dantewada massacre. Tell me, have the CRPF Team gone for a picnic and killed by Naxals? What these News Room Elite Class would have said if CRPF Jawans kill Naxals?
    Instead of concentrating more on the development of rural areas, successive governments are trying to isolate Naxals and kill them in the name of Operation Green Hunt etc. In other words, our Governments are using our own fingers to blind our own selves. What they deliberately forget is as to what makes the Adivasis support Naxals than the Government?
    W/Regards – Saikiran

  2. Ramkumar says:

    I am impressed with the lucid expression of sanjay. Clarity and positioning of an issue is vital to seek any solutions in this complex indian political scenario. I have a few comments to offer.
    BJP must recognise that backwardness or development are relative terms with relation to a geographical region or peoples of that region. they are independent but interdependant.the treatments to these issues need a comprehensive understanding based on modern management techniques. To illustrate : the issue of telangana and its backwardness (?)…and smaller states may develop faster…
    sanjay, please note that telangana people may be backward (but there are more backward sub regions in other parts of AP) but most of telangana is not so backward as is being projected. its only a few districts like adilabad which are backward in telangana. ranga reddy district in telangana is one of the most developed districts of AP. then, whats the hue and cry about ? why is BJP committed to such a false claim ? arent srikakulam, bobbilli, vijianagaram districts of coastal AP or an anantapur in rayalseema more backward ? the backwardness of the coastal belt of AP reflects the backwardness of both people and the sub region. Economis, social and political issues need to be tackled with finnesse.

    Is seperation, a solution ? look at NE and imagine a composite state for all 5 states….dont you think tht the resources could be conserved and a comprehensive development is possible ?

    BJP in AP like every other local party is promoting caste politics. The reddys dominate the congress, and bjp. The kamma factor runs across all parties like bjp, tdp, the communists except the congress..what a shame. we expect BJP to be above caste considerations…please note, now there is a vacuum in AP for quality and principled politics. BJP is expected to fill the void..unfortunately the personality driven BJP in AP is killing the opportunity. Please protect the interests of AP and BJP in AP by reflecting the true feelings of people in sub regions.


  3. Shankara says:


    while we the Internet Hindus go about our business and take on the established media please be aware that these guys are not sitting idle. They are planning strategies to neutralize the new power in our hands. Since we are individuals its easy as well as difficult to target us. I think the need is for like minded people like us to form a more concrete plan and strategy. Random posting will not help and not further the cause with the speed we want it to.

  4. Nimmi Rastogi says:

    Incidents like Dantewada massacre confirm my worst fear that life is cheap in my land and we certainly don’t believe in prophylaxis. It was as if the whole thing was waiting to happen. The Government’s reaction to the genocide has predictably been dismal. FM’s famed composure in face of such colossal calamity is frustrating to say the least. At a time when the common man is seething with anger he is searching for euphemisms to blunt the effect of a debacle so heart rending and gut wrenching. Are FMs not allowed even occasional display of aggression…
    I understand the Naxal issue is ultra-complex and severe. It is the most serious of the internal issues India has ever faced with the least bit of preparedness. This is the culmination of years of neglect and oppression. Whether it is a law & order issue or a political, social moral and ethical problem, it is a problem of humongous proportion the monster of which has begun to cast it’s shadow on us in most diabolical form and it’s high time the gravity of situation is realized in it’s true sense to resort to radical measures in a well thought out and concerted manner. Recent statement by FM implies that at the moment he is content with setting up an inquiry to fix the blame apart from setting a time horizon of 2-3 years to deal with the problem and it seems that desperate measures such as use of AirForce and Army won’t be put to action to deal with the current situation.
    And just when I begin to hope that he knows what he is saying and doing, I hear there was yet another Maoist attack this evening on CRPF camps set up in Dantewada. Guess we are dealing with just the tip of an iceberg and that too only in theory, Salwa Judum and operation green hunt notwithstanding.

    The phrase ‘per capita decapitation’ was brilliantly used in your lucid writing, Sanjay .Yet it leaves readers like me anesthetized with despair arising out of this agonizing and alarming scenario.

    Nimmi Rastogi

  5. Apoorv Misra says:

    Well constructed argument.
    I prefer the original posts to the ones appearing in The Pioneer : as they often edit it a bit too much.
    Would suggest using a slightly simpler language so that it is ready for mass consumption.


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