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.