Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blatant efforts to wage a proxy war

M G Devasahayam
First Published : 15 Apr 2010 12:33:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 15 Apr 2010 12:44:40 AM IST

The Dantewada massacre took the lives of 76 CRPF jawans and caused a huge setback to the Union home ministry’s self-proclaimed ‘war on tribal terror’. It also portends a debilitating civil war unless humane governance replaces the gun-wielding ‘area-domination’ mindset in the heartland.

Instead all we get is sound-bytes. Union home minister P Chidambaram says something must have gone “drastically wrong” and orders an inquiry. Before finding out what went wrong, he discreetly suggests the use of air power against the Maoists: “At present there is no mandate to use the Air Force or any aircraft. But, if necessary, we will have to revisit the mandate to make some changes.” But the Air Force chief says: “Our training and weapons are meant for enemies across the border and to inflict maximum lethality. We cannot do this on our own people.” The army chief too says it is not wise to deploy the army against Naxalites. Defence minister A K Antony rules out direct deployment of armed forces.

Pushed on the back foot, Chidambaram offers to resign, which as expected is rejected by the prime minister. The BJP spokesperson says Chidambaram has been entrusted with the nation’s security and the responsibility is his. They want him to ‘face boldly the situation which has arisen.’ Their ally and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is more to the point. He wants Chidambaram to work more and speak less and control his ‘tone and tenor’.

As for Chidambaram, if the Maoists believe in shooting their way to revolutionary glory, he seems to believe he can rein them in by shooting off his mouth and jumping the gun with his thoughtless rhetoric. When he visited Lalgarh on April 4, everyone expected a series of confidence-boosting measures. But he tried to pass the buck to the state government. For good measure, he added that the Maoists were “cowards hiding in jungles” and fixed a three-year timeframe for their elimination. The Maoists hit back with a vengeance within 48 hours, butchering 76 security personnel. A rattled Chidambaram hurriedly termed the Maoists ‘savage’ as if the whole issued hinged on the adjectives he chose.

He did not even spare army chief general V K Singh who had said in good faith that the massacre was perhaps due to inadequate training and orientation. One need not be a top-notch commando, as the general was in his younger days, to say this. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of jungle warfare would say this a thousand times.
Why is the ‘calm, composed and competent’ darling of India’s neo-liberal media getting so worked up when it comes to tribals and unwashed Naxal-Maoists? Why does he brand well-meaning intellectuals and ideologues as Naxalite-extremists? Why have things gone so far as to make social activists lament that ‘in this country whoever tries to fight for justice, who talks about the poor, who brings up the issue of human rights, the government labels all of them as Naxal supporters’.

The answer lies in the mandate of Operation Green Hunt — to clear the tribal area of insurgent groups, hold the territory to ensure that Maoists can’t re-enter, and, finally, prepare the ground for development projects by ‘civilian agencies’. This is not a mandate for a counter-insurgency mission in the jungles where paramilitary forces are expected to ‘fight guerrillas like a guerrilla’ and not capture or hold territory.

Then for whom is this mandate intended? Obviously for the mining-MNCs who can build their industrial empires on this ‘captured’ territory. A look at the interests of the London-based MNC — Vedanta Resources plc, one of the world’s largest — gives enough clues. Of India’s total aluminium capacity of 1.3 million tonnes, Vedanta’s share is 3,85,000 tonnes. Its 5,00,000-tonne smelter in Orissa’s Jharsuguda is getting commissioned and the company will ultimately create 1.6 million tonnes of smelting capacity there, to be backed by a five million-tonne alumina refinery at Lanjigarh and a power complex of 3,750 MW. Its subsidiary, Balco’s capacity will be raised to one million tonnes.

In Lanjigarh alone Vedanta has access to bauxite deposits of 75 million tonnes and the government has promised an equally large deposit nearby. A five million tonne refinery is justified provided links to bauxite deposits lasting for about 50 years can be acquired. Orissa, where most of Vedanta’s aluminium action is to unfold, has an estimated 1.7 billion tonnes of the country’s total 3.3 billion tonnes of reserves. Vedanta says it has strong claims to free deposits because of the world’s single largest smelter it is committed to building at Jharsuguda.

If Vedanta has its way all this capacity will be on the ground by 2013. These reserves lie under the tribal forestland. It all depends whether Chidambaram can secure and deliver this land, a task he has taken upon himself and for the purpose declared a state-of-war.

The fact that Chidambaram had a close relationship with Vedanta raises serious concerns about the motive, agenda and mandate of this ‘war on tribal terror’. In 2003, he represented Sterlite Industries (a group company) before the Bombay High Court, when it faced charges of avoiding customs duties and tax evasion. Shortly afterwards, Chidambaram became a director on the board of Vedanta and only surrendered this job on May 22, 2004 — a day before taking up the position of finance minister at the Centre.

With an orchestrated neo-liberal media baying for ‘full-scale war’, area-domination operations have restarted. This time around it is the commandos of the Special Action Force who have been specially trained to fight Naxals. And the tribals are fleeing their villages. The question is: With such a blatant and high-level ‘conflict of interest’ does the home ministry have any moral authority to pursue this proxy-war?
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)

No comments: