Thursday, March 04, 2010

Cause vs means

The Indian Express Posted online: Thursday , Mar 04, 2010 at 0344 hrs

India’s greatest internal security threat, to quote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has only grown graver. This newspaper has long advocated combating what is in essence an undemocratic, criminal force by summoning enough

political will. Mumblings about “root causes”, which need to be independently tackled, need to be disentangled from this internal security challenge — and the current chatter in civil society about accepting the Maoists’ so-called truce offer should be seen in this context. Better coordination between state and Central agencies, increasing boots on the ground, and improving resources are crucial, along with delivering the development that these impoverished areas so desperately need. But a beefed-up security apparatus, while necessary, must of necessity come with checks. While tough circumstances need tough actions, there is a greater need to prevent tough laws from being misused. Arguing for this is not to be pro-Naxal, it is to be pro-democracy.

Some human rights activists claim that security personnel are labelling legitimate critics as Naxalites to force their silence. In at least one instance, the Supreme Court agreed with them. On February 22, when a Chhattisgarh-based activist asked the court to protect 12 tribal witnesses to a massacre, the government lawyer was quick to brand him a Maoist “sympathiser”. The labelling drew the apex court’s ire, which criticised the use of “innuendo” without any proof. While the civilian networks that aid jungle-hiding Naxals surely need sharpened legal weapons to be tackled, the state is then under an even greater obligation to prevent the misuse of these weapons to target those who simply disagree with its views.

The actions of Naxalites speak of their unwillingness to engage with democracy. Many of their “sympathisers” on the other hand engage in debate and argument — precisely those qualities that make a democracy robust and diverse. As long as they shun violence and provide no material support, they need to be engaged with, not silenced. And it is vital that this engagement be invested with seriousness, because winning this argument about causes versus means is vital to our democracy. However, many emergency laws — such as the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act — considerably expand traditional notions of “conspiracy” and “abetment” to

ill-defined, vaguer notions of criminal complicity. These provisions of the law provide considerable discretion to law enforcement agencies and risk tarring a vast spectrum with the same brush. The law must be more clearly worded. The Naxal threat is fierce enough as it is, without having to bring imaginary enemies to the fight.

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