Monday, July 06, 2009

Sane ways to fight violence and terrorism

By M.V. Kamath

The trouble with our political leaders is that they prefer to remain intellectually lazy. Civic violence in the streets does not move them. This is the tragedy of our country. Over and over again the country has witnessed hundreds of primarily lower middle class citizens letting themselves loose in the streets to fight for some indeterminate cause at great cost not only just to the city administration but to fellow-citizens as well. This should be a matter for all parties across the political spectrum to be concerned with.

Have we become a nation of barbarians? At the slightest pretext people get into the streets in a fighting mood, throw stones at enforcers of law and order, defy the police, torch private vehicles and public transport, compel shops to close down on pain of being looted—and this has now become standard practice in almost every city. Such public behaviour is taken for granted, to be accepted without complaint. One assessment is that the public suffers a loss of several crores of rupees every year, which is never re-imbursed. Life goes on. At a different level, especially in Naxal-infested areas which are primarily tribal, government rule is non-existent. Worse still, Maoist rule prevails and a parallel government holds sway.

In the year 2002, some 55 districts had come under Maoist control. Five years later, the number of districts afflicted by Maoism rose to 125. Of these 25 are in Bihar, 20 in Jharkhand, 19 in Andhra Pradesh, 14 in Orissa, 10 in Chhattisgarh and nine in West Bengal. Six districts were affected each in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh and five in Karnataka. Recent happenings in Lalgarh in West Bengal are symbolic of Maoist ascendance in tribal circles. The West Bengal government has apparently no control over 42 villages in the Lalgarh sub-division spread over about seven–and-a-half square kilometre. In mid-June, such were Maoist ambitions that about 500 Maoists—a hundred of them fully trained in combat and 400 others semi-trained—sneaked into Lalgarh from the Jharkhand neighbourhood. The government had to seek the help of 13 companies of central forces including the elite Cobra Commandoes from Orissa, to clean up Lalgarh of Maoist influence, but not before the Maoists had torched five houses of CPM leaders.

The Maoists attack reminds one of a similar attack organised by them in March 2007 during which an estimated 300 to 400 of them armed with grenades and petrol bombs killed 55 security personnel in a remote camp in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region. Two years earlier, in 2005 as many as 49 members of the security forces were killed (as against 29 in Bihar and 27 in Jharkhand). The killing is endless. The standard excuse is that the state governments are indifferent to the welfare of tribals and that, during the last 32 years the ruling CPM in West Bengal has killed 45,000 tribals in the state. Even if the accusation is factually correct, those killed must have been terrorists under any name and terrorists cannot expect leniency if they have indulged in killing.

The fact is a serious effort had been made as long ago as the commencement of the 5th plan for an integrated development approach in planning for tribals in Blocks with tribal concentration of 50 per cent and more. The idea was to bring the tribals within the framework of an Integrated Tribal Development Agency.

Similarly, micro-projects were formed in isolated projects for development of primitive tribes of whom there are quite a few. The 6th Plan envisaged a further break-through in the field of tribal development. The objectives of the 5th Plan were further revolutionised in favour of critical infrastructure and bringing out 50 per cent of tribal families above poverty line through family-oriented income generating schemes. The Ministry of Agriculture was to serve as a catalyst for stimulating, fostering and promoting the developmental activities in the project areas for tribals only. The problem was whether a policy of isolation or a policy of assimilation should be followed in matters of tribal development but here the issue was apparently shelved. But that does not mean that the governments both at the central and state levels are unaware of their responsibilities.

The trouble is that the Naxal leaders themselves don’t want to see tribals get into the mainstream for then they would become redundant. They would be revealed for what they are: exploiters of tribal people accustomed to exploit tribal ignorance for their personal self-aggrandisement. They deserve, to be exposed. This is a major job confronting our governments, especially considering that, according to the 1991 census, tribals numbered 7.7 per cent in then undivided Bihar, 5.6 per cent in West Bengal, 22.2 per cent in Orissa, 23.3 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 9.3 per cent in Maharashtra, 14.9 per cent in Gujarat and 6.3 per cent in Andhra Pradesh.

The enemies of tribals are not the police but the Maoists themselves with their antedeluvian ideologies and penchant for killing. Of the two G’s available to tribals—guns and Gandhi—the need Gandhi more, now more than at any other time. As for the increasingly frequent street violence one has been witnessing for years now, an effort, howsoever limited in scope, should be made to carry the message of non-violence to the urban lower middle class.

One way is to declare one day in a year as an Om Shanti Day, when people will be asked at well-organised public meetings to take a pledge that under no circumstances will they resort to street violence. One might as well distribute badges not costing more than a rupee each with a symbol of folded palms on one side and Om Shanti (or its equivalent in Urdu) on the other, which would indicate acceptance of non-violence in the pursuit of justice. But will that stop street violence by itself? May be not. But at least we could start a nation-wide movement to deprecate civil violence which has become the shame of the land.

A thousand mile journey, as a Chinese saying goes, starts with the first step. The trouble with our political leaders is that they prefer to remain intellectually lazy. Civic violence in the streets does not move them. This is the tragedy of our country. Over and over again the country has witnessed hundreds of primarily lower middle class citizens letting themselves loose in the streets to fight for some indeterminate cause at great cost not only just to the city administration but to fellow-citizens as well. This should be a matter for all parties across the political spectrum to be concerned with.

In at least some ways certain parties, as for example in Mumbai, where narrow parochialism holds sway, are no better than Maoists with their narrow vision and hate –filled action plans. Streets are meant for safe transport, not for mindless rioting, a point that needs to be stressed again and again these days when stone-throwing has become an art, whether it is in Mumbai or Srinagar or, yes, in Lalgarh. All political parties must take the issue of ending street fighting on a priority basis. Are we, or are we not, a civilised people?

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