Monday, June 22, 2009

CPI(M) in a bind over banning Naxalites

Saubhadro Chatterji / New Delhi June 22, 2009, 0:14 IST

Even as it is currently engaged in an intense armed battle against the Naxalites in the Lalgarh area of the state, West Bengal government may not finally ban the Maoists groups in the state. A large section of the CPI(M) feels banning these organisations will hardly make any difference on the ground and it is better to counter them politically. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat points out that states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have imposed a formal ban on the Naxalite organisations long ago. “But has the situation improved there? Their situation is similar to that of West Bengal,” Karat told Business Standard on Saturday evening.

According to Karat, banning the organisation will also mean that the groups can’t hold meetings publicly. “As it is they don’t hold open meetings and all their activities take place secretly. At the operational level, banning will hardly serve any purpose. Already our government is doing a lot to tackle the Naxalite problem,” Karat said.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said on Saturday that his government will now “seriously think” about the proposal to ban Naxalite outfits after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram suggested this can be a way to pressurise the insurgent groups. But party sources are reading Bhattacharjee’s statement more as a show of courtesy towards the Central government than actually changing the party’s long-standing political line on the Maoists. “If the Union Home Minister gives any suggestion naturally it should be considered seriously. Or do you expect the chief minister to rule it out publicly soon after the meeting?” said a Central Committee member of the CPI(M). Out of 241 administrative blocks in the state, 18 blocks are fully or partially affected by Naxalite presence, according to Bhattacharjee. Biman Bose, the Left Front chairman and CPI(M) state secretary in West Bengal said that the issue will have to be discussed in Left Front as the CPI(M) is running a coalition government and can’t take unilateral decision.

The top CPI(M) leadership also feels that its coalition partners too, may not agree to the suggestions of the Central Government. “I don’t think other Left Front partners will agree to this idea of banning the Maoists,” Karat told Business Standard.

But a section of the CPI(M) finds merit in Chidambaram’s another suggestion that while pressure on the Naxalites is to be maintained at all costs, major armed clashes should be avoided. “This has always been our approach. We never want to wage an aggressive armed conflict against the Naxalites. There cannot be a military solution to the problem. We have to fight the battle in the socio-economic context as well,” says Nilotpal Basu, a prominent Central Committee member.

At the meeting with the Chief Minister on Saturday, Chidambaram suggested that “as far as possible major armed confrontation between the security forces and the Naxalites should be avoided since it could see civilians getting caught in the cross-fire.”

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