Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taming the Red menace

E Raghavan Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:59 IST

It is quite easy to be completely cynical about Union home minister P Chidambaram’s offer to step down. Whether he made the offer following the slaughter of CRPF jawans in Dantewada knowing fully well that the political leadership in the Congress would not let go of him at this stage is besides the point.


The offer to step down by any minister in a situation of this sort goes beyond political gamble and always runs the risk of being accepted.

Cynicism on that score is, therefore, a bit misplaced because there are no brownie points to be earned by offering to resign. At best Chidambaram could have earned some respect for carrying with him a conscience that does not allow him to be callous in the face of massacre of paramilitary forces by the Maoists. Even then it would not have been able to redeem in full measure the loss of face over what happened in Dantewada.

There is actually another dimension which is worth taking note of. Whether driven by sheer political pragmatism or a genuine desire to fight the menace of the Maoists, a sort of consensus seems to have surprisingly emerged.

For the first time all major political forces seem to agree that the Red menace ought to be fought and Chidambaram is best suited to do that. That kind of a consensus is really a pretty big deal because it is probably based entirely on his ability to deal with the task in hand rather than popularity.

Therefore, to receive support from across the political spectrum because of the commitment to fight is a rare gesture. That is what needs to be built upon and strengthened so that there is political unanimity, even a sense of urgency, to deal with a growing menace.

In spite of the ideological veneer that they use, there is hardly any difference between the Maoists or whatever leftist nomenclature they give themselves, the thuggees of 19th century and the forest brigand Veerappan in recent times. The Naxals may have started in the late 1960s with a determination to fight on behalf the poor.

Their successors now do so only in the name of the poor, if the stories of extortion, collection of revenue through unspecified taxes on businesses in the areas they operate and even kidnapping for ransom are to be believed. Veerappan did exactly the same thing.

Even he, like the Maoists, was believed by some to be a Robin Hood helping the poor villagers with money made from extortion or smuggling sandalwood and ivory.

The Maoists, like him, operate in vast jungles and, again like him, are capable of creating the impression that they control the entire territory.

If the fear of Veerappan made everyone believe he actually controlled the entire stretch of forests on the boundary between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu merely because he had a free run in the jungle, similar fear now shows the Maoists as controlling the area all the way from West Bengal to Karnataka. They certainly seem to have a free run in tribal areas in many states and have earned a fearsome reputation to strike at anyone opposed to them.

Whether the driving force is ideology or sheer greed, as in the case of Veerappan, the fact is that the Maoists break all laws and they need to be treated as outlaws. It is fine if they want to fight on behalf of the poor tribals but the minute they wield the gun, they would not be different from a Veerappan who, like they have done now, killed scores of policemen, some in such a gory manner that it is really hard to describe.

The real problem is in viewing the Maoist menace through a political prism and drawing the conclusion that the end they pursue — a better deal for the poor — is to be appreciated even if the means they use are not. The menace from activists using violence as a means can only end if you begin to treat this as a problem beyond ideology. It is quite simply a case of violation of the laws of the land through gruesome means.

That is how it ought to be viewed; not as a case of honest souls with misplaced zeal. Honest they might be, but law is law and anyone who breaks that, no matter what the cause, needs to be dealt with severely. The danger of accepting the argument of misplaced zeal is that the means that terrorists employ can be justified on the same basis. They too think they are fired by an ideology.

The country certainly needs truck-loads of wide-eyed youngsters who believe in causes that show up the softer sides of human nature. Concern for the poor, the dispossessed and the exploited ought to be encouraged and channelled into positive activism. It should never be turned into an armed struggle against civic society.

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