Dialogue April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4
Tackling Terrorism: the Confusion at the top
A report, ‘Development Challenges in the Extremist Affected Areas’, of a high power expert committee, constituted by the Rural Development Division of the Planning Commission, Government of India, on “development issues to deal with causes of discontent, unrest and extremism” in May 2006, came out almost after two years. It has chapters on ‘extending Panchayati Raj to the Scheduled areas’, ‘investigating people’s discontent and support for extremists’, ‘the state’s response’ and ‘recommendations’. It discusses, in overall framework of bad governance, the conditions of Dalits, Adivasis and women; parades data on untouchability, crimes on SCs/STs, atrocities against Dalits, etc.
While the source of discontent and unrest in parts of the country is due to the state’s failure to govern and deliver, the same is not the cause of extremism. The declared aim of the extremist struggle is to capture power by throwing out popularly elected Governments through violent means. The ‘Programme’ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) talks of the ‘successful people’s war” and “guerrilla warfare”, but not about development and good governance. And again, poorer areas have not fallen to Maoism. Thus, the discontent, unrest and extremism do not have common cause and were, therefore, unduly bracketed. Mixing the issues of governance and extremism shows the confusion at the Government level. The panel is equally confused, as the report shows.
While going through the pages of the report, one gets the impression that the Maoist struggle is for the just cause and that they are popular among tribals, Dalits, etc; that the Maoists stand for development and good governance. Nothing can be farther than the truth. The Maoist record of action does not hide the fact that they, like other terrorist outfits in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir, are the greatest hurdles in the way of development and governance and, therefore, the greatest cause of suffering of the have-nots. The Maoists, like terrorists elsewhere, have the record of protecting corrupt officers and unscrupulous businessmen, and share plundered development funds. The loss due to destruction of public property and economic blockades caused by them runs in hundreds of crores.
The Communists/ultra-left devised bandhs in the turbulent days of late 1960s. Rather than being the effective protest mechanism for redressal of public grievance, it has started, ironically, hurting the civil society. The loss incurred during Maoist-sponsored bandhs every time runs into crores. This is apart from the personal suffering to lakhs of people, including daily wage earners. Bandh, imposed on helpless and unwilling civil society by the political parties and their goons, should be declared a criminal act without further delay.
Maoists, like many other terrorist outfits — ULFA, Meithei insurgents and many others — achieved Robin Hood image in the beginning. The people started liking them. However, it was nowhere a lasting phenomenon. The people soon became disillusioned. Afater all, Maoists have mostly killed the SCs/STs and half-starved poor people from other communities. They prevent tribals from making use of the forest products, which the latter traditionally did. Even the poor are included in the extortion net of the terrorists. Therefore, contrary to the impression gathered from the panel, the civil society, including the tribals and Dalits, do not support them, except when they are intimidated.
Maoist atrocities have given birth to civil society resistance groups – like Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and various Senas in Bihar — in many parts of the country. The document is not only silent about the Maoist atrocities and the emergence of resistance groups, but also advises dumping of Salwa Judum. The panel talks of the “principle of good governance” and finds it undesirable that “the tribals fight the tribals”. Does it mean that the tribals fighting the non-tribals is desirable? Should the members of Salwa Judum stop defending themselves from Maoist onslaught? It needs mention that not only this panel, but also some human rights groups and the Left parties have joined the campaign against Salwa Judum.
It is a well-known fact that the sympathisers/agents of terrorist outfits in public life, media, academia, etc, ask for ceasefire and peaceful talks with terrorist outfits (and this is an all-India phenomenon) as a ploy to allow them time and respite to regroup, recruit and mobilise resource by carrying on their extortion drives. A large number of terrorist outfits of the North-East are doing the same. The panel, paradoxically, wants the Government of India to commit the same error. It says:
“The Government’s Status Paper on the Naxal Problem appropriately mentions a holistic approach and lays emphasis on accelerated socio-economic development of the backward areas. However, clause 4(v) of the Status Paper states that “there will be no peace dialogue with the Naxal groups by the affected states unless the latter agree to give up violence and arms”. This is incomprehensible and is inconsistent with the Government’s stand vis-à-vis other militant groups in the country.”
“The government has been conducting peace talks with the Naga rebels of the NSCN (IM) faction for the last nearly 10 years, even though the rebels have not only not surrendered their weapons but continue to build up their arsenal. What is worse, the NSCN (IM) has taken advantage of the peaceful conditions to consolidate their hold and establish what could be called almost a parallel Government. In relation to ULFA also, the Government is prepared to have a dialogue without insisting on the insurgents surrendering their weapons. In Jammu & Kashmir, the Government has more than once conveyed its willingness to hold talks with any group which is prepared to come to the negotiating table. Why a different approach to the Maoists? The doors of negotiations should be kept open.”
The above-mentioned clauses of the Panel Report make it amply clear that the panel was fully aware of the pitfalls of the talk, the way it is continuing with the outfits like NSCN (IM) in the North-East, and yet recommends to the government to commit the same error in its talk with the Maoists and to abandon the right steps taken. The document is full of such ambiguities. Here it needs mention that this panel is not alone in asking for parity on lopsided argument. The panel, formed by the Planning Commission, asked for the parity between the NSCN (IM) and the Maoists; ironically, Deobandis claimed parity citing the case of Maoists. The declaration in an ‘All-India Anti-Terrorism Conference” organised by the Islamic Madarsa Association at Deoband slammed the Government for bias against Muslims while letting Maoists get away. It said: “The present situation of the country demands joint and constant efforts to denounce terrorism and (to denounce) the biased and discriminatory attitude of the Government against the Muslim community.”
Citing the case of Maoists, it further said: “The situation has worsened as every Indian Muslim, particularly those associated with madarsas are gripped by the fear of being framed by the police any time while Naxalites (are) attacking police stations, looting arms and ammunition (and) roaming freely with no effective and preventive steps being taken by the Government to check their acts of terrorism.”
It further said: “The partial attitude of the Government has put a big question mark on the secular character of the Government posing a great threat to the country. The conference strongly condemns and expresses its deep concern over the discriminatory attitude of the Government officials, and declares its continuous joint struggle for the domination of law, justice and secularism.”
Many people, knowingly or unknowingly, help terrorist outfits by putting forward some short of “Grievance Theory”. They, thereby, confuse the people and establish the credibility of terrorists. Neglect, backwardness, colonial exploitation, hegemony, etc, are often parroted as the factors responsible for insurgency in the North-East, which is a blatant lie.
The panel report gives the impression that there is genuine public grievance leading to the growth of Maoists. Ironically, the grievance theory was echoed even in the recent Ramlila Maidan anti-terrorist conference of the Muslim clerics and the seminar organised by the Jama Masjid United Forum. Here, it needs mention that the Constitution has provisions for the redressal of the grievances and, therefore, violation of the same should never be tolerated. A popularly elected Government cannot escape the responsibility towards the people by turning a blind eye on the indiscriminate violence, destruction of public property and anarchy unleashed by the Maoists in ever growing areas in the country, as our radical academia (including radical economists) and journalists do.
The panel report wrongly links Maoism to poverty and development; its recommendation not to treat it as law and order problem, advice to give it weightage as political formation, needs to be rejected. Of course, the Government must fight the war on both ‘law and order’ and intellectual fronts simultaneously. It must improve its record of governance and delivery to establish credibility in public eyes.
The report parades colonial and Communist myths; presents facts in casteist and racist parameter rather than in that of haves and have-nots in broad civil society framework. Many points of the report remind us of the resolutions of the 9th Congress of the CPI (Maoist) held at Bheembandh. Much of the report is the compilation of what radical academia (including radical economics) and journalists continue to write. The panel wanted that the landless occupying Government land must be deemed patta-holders. In a country with about 30 crore people below poverty line, such recommendations are utterly impractical and may lead to uncontrollable anarchy. It is a bad report and has the potential of perpetuating the Government’s confusion and inaction.
The Government has failed to control extremism due to wrong perception about the problem, confusion, inconsistency, poor handling, lack of proper policy and planning. Many affected States suffer from inaction; they work at cross-purposes. It is on record that responsible politicians, even Chief Ministers, have helped the terrorists.
As for the proposal to set up a Central agency to deal with terrorism, I think there is no time to lose; we must act and act swiftly. This proposal should be immediately implemented. More stringent laws should be framed. Every myth about the terrorists/secessionists should be countered. We should be aware of the myth-makers who create false hope about our neighbours, and who help Indian terrorist outfits. One such myth is about ‘democracy’ in our neighbourhood. The fact is that democratically elected leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh (including Sheikh Hasina, about whom much myth-making has been done) have had collusion with the fundamentalists; it were they who had handed over India -specific problems to the Army.
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