Thursday, December 03, 2009

Minister prod on rebel fight

SANKARSHAN THAKUR

P Chidambaram
New Delhi, Dec. 2: Union home minister P. Chidambaram sought to throw off political and civil society shackles on the anti-Maoist security offensive today, using their repeated refusal to abjure violence and negotiate to build a strong case for confronting them.

In an effort calibrated to secure a broad consensus behind him, Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha during a short duration discussion on internal security this evening: “It is time for us, for those who represent the state and believe in the parliamentary system to take a stand. You, all of you who are part of the state and the parliamentary system must tell me what to do, how to respond... I have done what I could to talk to them, we are not at war with them, they are citizens of this country, but they don’t seem interested, they call the parliamentary system rotten, they call it a pigsty. You must now tell us what we should do.”

Underscoring the complexities of tackling the Maoist challenge, Chidambaram pleaded: “There are any number of civil society bodies that blame the government, they paint the government in bad light and say Naxalite methods have a justification. This is not true.”

Chidambaram’s tone today clearly suggests the home ministry’s anti-Maoist offensive — planned in collaboration with governments of Naxalite-affected states — hasn’t been able to get off the ground with the intended punch for lack of political endorsement.

The minister wouldn’t spell it out, but there are divisions within the Congress itself on whether the Centre should sanction a campaign to wipe out the Maoists militarily.

Top leaders like Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi are believed to cautioned Sonia Gandhi about the adverse political implications of opening a bloody front against the Maoists. Rahul Gandhi has hinted at a more political approach to corrections, saying the growth of Naxalism owes to lack of governance.

In articulating his helplessness Chidambaram was seeking to rebuild political support for a fight to finish.

Chidambaram quoted at length from the post-election (June 12) Maoist document on aims and intents to inform the House that the Maoist objective was to destroy the state and the system.

“They say this very clearly and repeatedly, that they will wage armed struggle, that they want the overthrow of this state, how is one to respond to this, you must tell me. I have tried to talk to them, and all the response I have got is that they will not give up violence, even temporarily.”

During the two months since Chidambaram first spoke of neutralising the armed Maoist challenge, there has been an active civil society campaign aimed at preventing armed confrontation. Other than a string of peacenik meetings and appeals to the Prime Minister, there has also been lobbying to put brakes on the offensive.

On his part, Chidambaram too has been on a propaganda overdrive, with a slew of television and print interviews in which he has posited talks to the Maoists should they agree to halt violence. Probably to lend credibility to his position, he has also spoken, lately, to civil society activists like Himanshu Kumar of Chhattisgarh, and promised to attend public hearings in Maoist strongholds like Dantewada. But meantime, his ministry has continued to make preparations for mounting an offensive on the Maoists’ jungle bases in central and eastern India.

A top officer from the home ministry is co-ordinating the anti-Naxalite operations between state-level forces and central paramilitary units, dispatched to affected states. In Chhattisgarh, for instance — where Operation Green Hunt is in low-key operation — a dedicated command and coordination centre has been set up and the first batch of paramilitary officers briefed on the offensive.

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