Saturday, April 17, 2010

A WAR WITHOUT ANY WINNERS

Keshav Pradhan, TOI Crest, Apr 17, 2010, 09.56am IST

BATTLE FATIGUE The April 6 attack on the CRPF in Dantewada has thrown the spotlight back on the root cause of Maoist trouble — lack of development.

History repeats itself,first as tragedy,second as farce: Karl Marx

Stunned by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,George Bush threatened to "smoke out" those responsible for the strikes.But even two wars and nine years after that fateful day,America continues to hunt for those behind it without any success.

Days ahead of the April 6 Dantewada bloodbath,P Chidambaram uncannily sounded like the world's best known guru of guffaws.Known for his measured words,the Union home minister vowed to "wipe out the Maoists in two to three years" during a visit to the blood-soaked West Bengal district of Midnapore.Unlike the fanatic outfits responsible for the 9/11 strikes,the Maoists lost no time in answering the challenge thrown at them.They killed 11 cops near Koraput (Orissa) on April 4 and 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Dantewada two days later.

Considering the enormity of the Dantewada attack,it's time for all stakeholders - the government,Maoists,mainstream parties and civil society - to learn from history and redefine their roles for the sake of lasting peace and development.So far,the government's response to the latest Red offensive has been one of extreme anger and desperation.A prisoner of his own rhetoric,Chidambaram even offered to quit office,owning moral responsibility for the Dantewada debacle.

On the other hand,some of the mainline parties and media have gone almost hysterical by prescribing a military solution to the Maoist crisis.Imitating Bush's "You're-either-with-us-or-against us" threat to nations unwilling to back the Afghanistan invasion,these political parties and media have projected the Maoist problem as a war between "us (nation ) and them (Maoists)."

This kind of hawkish stand betrays a lack of understanding of the implications of the ongoing Maoist-led 'people's war' in the geo-socio-politicohistorical perspective.It may lead to more bloodshed by negating all chances of an early dialogue between by the Centre and the Communist Party of India (Maoist).Occasionally,both sides indicate that they are open to negotiations.Early this year,amid reports of security forces launching fresh operations,Maoist strategist Koteshwar Rao aka Kishanji offered to halt his party's "revolutionary violence if state terror is put on hold." Responding to this,Chidambaram said he was ready for negotiations,provided the rebels gave up their path of violence.

Somehow,things did not move forward thereafter,for reasons best known to the Centre and the Maoists.There were no attempts to build mutual trust and confidence.Both sides went back to attacking mode.While the Red rebels attacked trains and civil and police installations,the security forces began a fresh campaign in the Maoist zone stretching from West Bengal to Chhattisgarh.Like two separate warring nations,they frequently claimed military successes against each other.

Against this backdrop,the Dantewada operation assumes tremendous strategic and political significance for the Maoists.It made it clear that the Communist rebels have achieved huge military and territorial gains since their retreat from Andhra Pradesh following a ruthless,all-out campaign by the Grey Hounds over five years ago.The Maoists are now tucked right inside India's belly - from West Bengal,Bihar,Jharkhand,Orissa,Chhattishgarh,Andhra Pradesh and parts of Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat,Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.In recent times,they have extended their base to the volatile North-East.

Moreover,inspired by Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist),Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin have founded Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ) in southern Bhutan bordering West Bengal and Assam.India has open borders with the two Himalayan nations.Security officials engaged in anti-Maoist operations claim that the Red rebels have looted so much arms and ammunition from security forces in recent years that they can launch their "people's war" in some more states.

Mao Zedong's followers the world over describe a people's war as "a protracted war fought without hope of victory within measurable time but based on maintaining at all times the unity of army and people." There's every possibility of the Maoists expanding their military wing,the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army,in the near future.This apart,they have militias as well as mass organisations,both of which operate among the poor,especially in the strategic tribal belts of West Bengal,Jharkhand,Bihar,Orissa,Chhattisgarh,Andhra Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

In view of all this,it would be a mistake to equate the Maoists with the LTTE,Lashkar-e-Taiba or Al-Qaida just because they believe in armed struggle.Owing to popular support,they have a much wider network and the ability to inflict more extensive damage on the country.Between 2004 and 2009,they overran Jehanabad town (Bihar),Nayagarh and Koraput (both in Orissa) and Sankrail (Bengal).They have hijacked trains in Jharkhand,especially Latehar,numerous times over the past two years.

In many areas,the Maoists have created base areas,liberated zones,raised taxes and run parallel courts.They have all three magic weapons as prescribed by Mao - party organisation,People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and mass fronts.Mainline parties are often accused of taking the Reds' support in elections.

In stark contrast,the Centre and the governments of Maoist-hit states look confused and directionless.Last week,Chidambaram came under flak from West Bengal and Bihar for his comments on law and order in the two eastern states.Adding more to his woes,armed CPM cadres have begun to confront Maoists in south Bengal.Meanwhile,Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren,who broke off ties with the Congress last year,is accused of delaying anti-Maoist operations.In Orissa,chief minister Naveen Patnaik,the BJP's estranged ally,had to wait for many months to get CRPF reinforcements.

Whatever the outcome of their movement,the Maoists have radically changed the life and politics of almost 200 districts spread over nine states.Their armed struggle has brought to the fore the need to immediately address issues of social justice and equality.Alarmed by the growing influence of the Maoists,mainline parties have begun to rethink their stand on employment,industrialisation and land acquisition so as to keep their base intact.

In Bengal,the Trinamool Congress successfully opposed land acquisition at Singur and Nandigram.This campaign helped Mamata Banerjee's party win last year's Lok Sabha polls handsomely,though it caused a huge setback to Bengal's industrialisation process.In Orissa,the BJP and the Congress,tacitly or otherwise,resist land acquisition at Kalinga Nagar and Paradeep.Major parties in Maoist-hit states now more or less acknowledge that tribals have faced neglect and deprivation throughout history.People in the conflict zone may suffer more because of the government's reluctance to carry out development work there.

Since conflict can cause more violence and lawlessness,it is only by compromise that the government,democratic parties and Maoists can make governance more inclusive and offer a level-playing field to the deprived.No side can afford to be arrogant and combative forever.The government and the mainline parties cannot easily obliterate the Maoists.For,the latter represent an idea which is very difficult to kill.In the '70s,most Indians thought the Naxalbari idea would die along with Charu Mazumdar.But four decades later,it re-emerged with more vigour in the form of the Ganapathy-led CPI (Maoist).

Likewise,the Maoists can rectify the mistakes of history though pragmatic politics.Considering the prevailing national and international situations,they cannot hope to take over India by force but can definitely transform it one step at a time.

keshav.pradhan@timesgroup.com

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