Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dantewada offers another opportunity

First Published : 20 Apr 2010 11:25:00 PM IST
Last Updated : 20 Apr 2010 12:45:39 AM IST

Within days of the horrific killing of 76 policemen by Maoists in Dantewada, a group of students in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) held a ‘cultural meet’, ostensibly to commiserate with the Maoists and to ‘celebrate’ their victory over the security forces. This is what happens when some intellectuals become obsessed with the human rights of persons who promote armed insurrection against democratically elected governments, while those in government treat this merely as a law and order problem. While the Dantewada massacre is a challenge to the security forces, the JNU incident poses a challenge to the entire political class, because it mocks at the democratic process and the rule of law.

In fact, the response of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India(Marxist) to Dantewada offers a ray of hope for the survival of our Constitution and the democratic way of life. Both the parties have risen to the occasion by displaying extraordinary restraint and statesmanship. In a most unusual but welcome response to the security failure, the BJP declared that it did not want Union home minister P Chidambaram to resign, because if he quit, it would mean a victory for the Maoists. The BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said as home minister “he can’t whimper like an injured soldier on the backfoot”. Although the government had failed on all fronts, “this is not the time for a senapati to step down”. The response of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, was also statesmanlike. Just a week before Dantewada, Chidambaram had provoked the chief minister when he told mediapersons after a visit to Maoist-affected areas in West Bengal that “the buck stops with the chief minister”. However, after Dantewada, Bhattacharjee chose not to rub it in. Significantly, he did not pin the blame on Chidambaram. He said it was “collective responsibility” and “unless we work together, it is difficult to tackle Maoist violence.” Both the BJP and the CPI(M) have decided not to score petty political points but to speak responsibly.

Such display of unity within the political class is critical to get the better of those who wish to overthrow the state through armed rebellion and to win the argument against intellectuals like Arundhati Roy who describe the government offensive against the Maoists as ‘genocidal’. While there is merit in the argument that enough has not been done to bring about the amelioration of poor tribals in many states, there can be no justification of grievance redress via methods which are inimical to the democratic process. The government and the political establishment need to send out a strong signal that the democratic way of life is non-negotiable.

The response of the opposition parties is in line with the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Veerappa Moily, which examined the entire gamut of issues pertaining to Naxalism in its reports on ‘Public Order’ and ‘Combating Terrorism’. It said ‘democratic maturity needs time, patience, and genuine efforts to find rational answers to complex problems and willingness to reconcile conflicting views’. Therefore, it hoped the country’s political leadership ‘would come together to evolve a consensus on political conduct which would enable resolution of conflicts for overall maintenance of public order’.

After a detailed discussion of the terrorist acts indulged in by Maoists, the commission said all these incidents only reinforce ‘the urgent need for considerable capacity-building among the police and other security forces (state and central) in the areas of training, leadership planning of counter-terrorism operations as a part of a comprehensive policy, including reform and development’. Since the Second ARC was appointed by the UPA coalition, it is up to the government to give due weightage to the commission’s views.

Interestingly, while Chidambaram has got timely support from unexpected quarters, there can be no doubt that he has many critics within the Congress. Although even his worst critics do not question his competence, many in his party and outside are put off by what senior Congressman Digvijay Singh describes as his ‘intellectual arrogance’. This trait often comes to the fore, especially when he addresses the media and at times, even Parliament. He has a tendency to talk down people. Recently, he was seen advising journalists to do a crash course in law — something which is certainly not his business. If politicians who have no formal education can head Union ministries like finance, commerce or home, surely it is no big deal for reporters attending media briefings to understand some basic provisions in the Constitution or the IPC. Be it politics or the media, the truth is that everyone with drive, ambition and talent retains the aptitude to educate oneself and upgrade his/her skills. Among them, those who remain in the student mode, retain their relevance and humility. Those who begin to see themselves as masters, dissipate their advantages and build a horde of enemies.

The country had the opportunity to achieve some level of political consensus on the growing menace of terrorism after 26/11, but after some initial restraint, the government got into a slanging match with the opposition on policies that it ought to adopt to prevent future terrorist strikes. The Dantewada massacre offers yet another opportunity for the government to adopt a consensual approach to deal with the problem of terrorism and armed insurrection. The government must grab this opportunity to arrive at a political consensus and, as the Second ARC has said, display a willingness ‘to reconcile conflicting views’. It should neither worry about vote banks nor stand on false prestige, and it must adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards violence. Should the government display such grace, it will restore public faith in democratic politics and raise the hope for political consensus on major national issues.


No comments: