Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two eyes for an eye, the jaw for a tooth

Kanchan Gupta

Even before the CPI(M) could stabilise and get its act together after it was formed in 1964 following the historic split in the CPI over what the Marxists call “revisionism and sectarianism in the Communist movement at the international and national level”, it was convulsed by a revolt within. Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal, veteran Communists of north Bengal, insisted that pursuing the path of parliamentary democracy was futile; that conditions were ripe for a rural insurrection to seize state power; and, that till this goal was achieved, the party should play the role of “revolutionary opposition” instead of becoming a part of the bourgeois system.

By early-1967 Charu Mazumdar had all but declared his split with the CPI(M). The insurrection, when it came, was more of a monsoon uprising than a spring thunder. On May 25 the police fired at protesting landless peasants in a remote hamlet called Naxalbari in north Bengal. That incident triggered what came to be known as the ‘Naxalite movement’, based on Mao’s dictum that “power flows from the barrel of the gun”. It spread like a wild fire from West Bengal to Bihar to Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere.

The late-1960s and early-1970s were tumultuous years in West Bengal. The United Front experiment had proved to be catastrophic, resulting in political chaos and social upheaval. The Naxalites made the best use of the situation. In 1972 the Congress won the Assembly election and Mr Siddhartha Shankar Ray took charge as Chief Minister on March 19. He immediately set himself to the task of tackling the Naxalite menace. Charu Mazumdar was picked up from his hideout (some of his trusted comrades are believed to have squealed on him after a dose of what used to be known as ‘third degree treatment’ in the pre-jholawallah era) on July 16, 1972, and died 12 days later on July 28 at Alipore Central Jail. Minor distractions like custodial deaths did not bother Mr Ray. He gave the police a free hand and demanded results. He got them. By 1977, the ‘prairie fire’ in West Bengal had been stamped out; nobody was under any illusion that Mr Ray and his police had played by the rule book but everybody heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Over the following decades the Naxalite movement waxed and waned and waxed yet again. But what began as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) splintered into innumerable groups, each proclaiming its own ideological line and claiming it to be more correct than that of the others. The cadre, however, continued to be referred to as ‘Naxalites’. In September 2004, three dominant factions — the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoist Communist Centre in Bihar and the CPI (ML-Party Unity) in West Bengal — came together to join forces and launch the CPI (Maoist). They also declared that the movement was no longer to be associated with the peasant uprising in Naxalbari but the larger goal of Maoism (overthrowing the state with the use of force) and the cadre would henceforth be called Maoists, not Naxalites.

Since then, there has been a spectacular rise in Maoist violence. Security experts say up to 180 districts have sizeable presence of well-armed, highly motivated and ideologically committed Maoist cadre. The Government concedes nearly 25 per cent of India’s districts are Maoist-infested. The worst affected States are Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar. What has greatly hampered efforts to quell Maoist violence is the pernicious campaign by the Left-liberal intelligentsia that the state, and not the Maoists, are to blame. The CPI (Maoist) is a banned organisation. Yet it continues to enjoy the support of civil liberties and human rights activists who crowd television studios.

This has only served to embolden the Maoists. A marauding horde descended on Phulwaria Karasi village in Bihar’s Jamui district last Wednesday night and slaughtered 12 tribals. Last Monday, Maoists killed 24 jawans of Eastern Frontier Rifles at Shildah in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district. Many of them were charred alive. The attack was led by a woman, Jagari Baskey, who is said to have the “eyes of a cobra”. Maoist leader Koteswara Rao, also known as ‘Kishenji’, who is in regular contact with mediapersons, issued a statement after the massacre: “We have attacked the camp and this is our answer to P Chidambaram’s Operation Green Hunt… unless the Centre stops this inhuman military operation we are going to answer this way only.”

Maoists, coyly described as ‘Left-wing extremists’ by the Government, are in reality thugs and criminals masquerading as champions of tribals whom they terrorise with guns, loot, rape and murder at will. The much-touted and talked about ‘Operation Green Hunt’ is yet to be launched. The Government’s hand, it would seem, is being held back by intellectuals who have no qualms about justifying murder in the name of Mao. If the Union Government is hesitant to act against what the Prime Minister has repeatedly described as the “gravest internal security threat” which India faces today, then State Governments, barring the Government of Chhattisgarh, have proved to be equally pusillanimous in their approach. Strangely, a Cabinet Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, claims that “there are no Maoists” and hence there is “no need for police action”. A Trinamool Congress MP, Mr Kabir Suman, a guitar-swinging wannabe Bob Dylan who has sworn to uphold the Constitution of India, has recently released a music album extolling Chhatradhar Mahato, a Maoist now in police custody.

The time to discuss and strategise the state’s response to Maoist terror is long past. The Government cannot be seen to be abdicating its primary responsibility of protecting citizens from criminal excesses. It must act with the fully fury of the state, and act now. Let there be no mistake: Maoists are thugs and criminals who deserve no mercy; Maoists are dedicated to the goal of overthrowing the state and will never give up their violent ways; Maoists do not respect human rights and hence there is no reason why the state should care a toss about their human rights. The argument about fighting Red terror with development is fallacious. Maoists are the biggest impediment to development projects. They have been blowing up schools, health care centres, panchayat buildings and roads, thus destroying infrastructure needed for taking development to the rural hinterland inhabited by tribals. They are anti-development, yet they claim they are fighting for the welfare of tribals.

The Government’s response must be harsh, relentless and unforgiving: Two eyes for an eye; the entire jaw for a tooth. Maoist terror must be met with overwhelming force. The jholawallahs should be told to go take a walk, or join Kobad Gandhi in his prison cell. Nothing less will suffice.

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