Friday, March 05, 2010

OPEN-ED: Govt cannot afford to alienate Maoists

Javed IqbalFirst Published : 05 Mar 2010 11:24:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 05 Mar 2010 12:22:52 AM IST

I like to imagine that when Union home minister Chidambaram called Maoist leader Kishenji over his offer of a ceasefire, he was confronted with an outrageous caller tune. I’d like to use my imagination and hope the two of them started to exchange smileys via SMS as well.

That’s probably the closest any of us will get to an environment of peace with two warring parties, who it seems have neither the intention nor the humility to put the interests of the other before their own. Both claim to be committed to the highest ideal — the will of the people.

The idea of a just peace may be Utopian as well as any hope that the Adivasis and the poorest of the poor have a say in their own fate. Yet if one were to dream, one could believe that this longed-for bilateral ceasefire is followed up with massive land reform, the protection of forest rights — the return of the Adivasis to their jal, jungle and jameen. Yet if the people win, the biggest losers would be the multi-national companies and India’s industrial growth model. And Vedanta’s advocate P Chidambaram is not going to accept that the simple demands of the Dongria Kondh (who are in no way linked to the Maoists) for a mountain are key to the idea of a just peace.

Kishenji’s 72-day call for an unconditional ceasefire is proof that the Maoists are a political force. Only a politician could make such a perfectly calculated move. He is aware he can’t hold a gun to the head of a MNC or a Special Economic Zone as easily as to the head of a corrupt landlord or exploitive contractor. He is aware that he is in no position to undo the evil effects of displacement or the brutal repression unleashed on the Adivasis by the state. Yet he can try to capture the imagination of the people, as he obviously has done.

And why would a legally-endorsed (no matter how corrupt or criminal) government give the poor their rights at the behest of an armed revolutionary group? Would the state allow the Maoists such a political victory?

One should forget any idea of peace, as neither the state’s trigger-happy belligerence — which has almost no care for the number of police personnel it is exposing to the terrifying arbitrariness of guerrilla warfare — nor the Maoist’s desire to abjure violence when a majority of its terror activities over the last four decades involved the acquisition of arms (a kind of hatyaar-kabbaddi, when the Maoists come over-ground, steal weapons and disappear into the jungles before the security forces can nab them) offers a solution.

Yet what both parties can do is to help create an environment for democratic space. A bilateral ceasefire is the first step, but the state is missing the point when it is arresting the Mahatos and calling everyone who stands up for the rights of the poor a naxalite or naxalite sympathiser. The Maoists too need to stop targeting cadre of different political parties, or alleged informants, or using improvised explosive devices and landmines to blow up off-duty police personnel. It is a cruel sport.
The onus, however, is really on the state to cease combing operations that are not just isolated acts of random violence. I have spent months around the Andhra-Chhattisgarh border, collecting testimony from villagers of the so-called ‘liberated zones’ who have been attacked by the security forces. And there is a definite pattern.

‘The police came, we ran, and those who couldn’t escape were either caught and taken away or they were killed.’ — they told me again and again. Only the tone and place were different. This is a known counterinsurgency tactic. The idea isn’t to merely kill known rebels and sympathisers but to terrorise the society from where they come. For that reason, you need to break the will of the people and for the same reason you sever them from their support bases — their community leaders, their press, their judiciary, their activists and every idea of hope. You don’t govern them; you don’t administer them. You alienate them. You administer collective punishment and you turn murder into a part of everyday life.

Human rights activists and independent observers can scream themselves hoarse about the creation of more Maoists and more violence, using the hate-breeds-hate, violence-begets-violence logic. But a machine-gunned silence over a population that has accepted injustice, along with learned helplessness is the goal of counterinsurgency.
Why would the poor fight for their rights if they would lose all hope in the struggle? Peace for the Adivasi can’t exist without justice. If every politburo member is killed in an encounter tomorrow, and every dalam has been disarmed, there’s no guarantee that deep-rooted injustice, held together by structural violence won’t lead to bloodier, more violent revolutions. There have been Adivasi uprisings for centuries long before there were any Maoists. Countless more contemporary uprisings are written off as influenced by the Maoists. By painting it in this hue, the state can deal with it militarily — repression without any need to address the real causes of unrest.

These issues need to be addressed. Not just by activists, politicians and Maoists, but by the people. Until the concerns of the Adivasi in the jungle, or the iron in Irom Sharmila’s soul aren’t taken note by every Indian, one cannot speak about the idea of a nation. As the saying goes, it is not how deep you feel, but how wide.

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