Saturday, May 01, 2010

'Naxals have to be tackled politically'

Q&A: K Keshava Rao
Saubhadro Chatterji / May 2, 2010, 0:15 IST

There are no differences within the government on tackling the Naxal problem, K Keshava Rao, general secretary of the Congress and Rajya Sabha MP, tells Saubhadro Chatterji

Many of us were surprised to see you as the first speaker for your party in a recent Rajya Sabha debate on the Naxal menace. Was it to show that a section of the party doesn’t endorse the home minister’s anti-Naxal tactics?

I was the first speaker because I am a senior leader and I know the subject. I also come from a state which has faced Naxal problems.

There are no differences within our party over the issue. Our policy is there in our party resolutions, which says that it is a socio-economic problem. My reservations pertain to the focus of the debate. Dantewada is a symptom of a larger malaise. I believe violence has no place in a democracy and the government’s action to quell violence is legitimate. It is a constitutional obligation of the government, not any party’s policy formulation. The policy concerns the development aspect.
The home minister said his policy was two-pronged: Development and maintenance of law and order. In fact, they are intertwined. To my mind, there is yet another aspect — talks. Talks are the only way out. While we admit that this is a socio-economic problem, we find immediate solution in guns and police. This is a wrong approach.

I have differences with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue. We believe a state is as an organic body and hence seek a human face to it. BJP believes it is inorganic and hence impersonal. For BJP, law and order is the prime concern of the state, while for us, social order comes first. Law should come into the picture to maintain this social order and equity.

Chidambaram has termed Naxalites as cowards, and critics accuse him of being aggressive.
It all depends on one’s mindset. There is no difference over policy issues. It is a question of how you present it. Somebody might talk about law and order first and development later. I will talk about development first and then, if necessary, police action. Chidambaram may call them cowards but I call them misguided friends and misadventurous youths.

Last month, Naxalites killed 76 people in Dantewada. Do you still believe talks are possible?
I am in favour of talks for many reasons. That is the only way to resolve the crisis, particularly its socio-economic aspects. Once talks begin, they will get all the attention, giving the government a credible opportunity to tell the people about its commitment to the poor and tribals, its flagship social programmes, etc. This will counter the propaganda of Naxalites.

Talks will be an earnest attempt to bring the Naxalites into the mainstream. Of course, one cannot expect wonders in just one or two sittings. Naxalism has been a 40-year-long struggle. We do not expect Naxalites to close shop even if we concur with all their views. In Andhra Pradesh, it took two years to convince them to agree to talk. During these 40 years, we had the same firmness and strategy, but we didn’t reach anywhere.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, said Naxalites have built iron walls with the help of arms in tribal pockets and these walls have to be crushed by force to bring development in these areas.
No one is against his own welfare. If someone puts hurdles, we need to devise strategies to reach out to the targeted groups. We need to win over the people and remove their distrust.

The common theory is that Naxalite movements have resulted from the lack of development in tribal regions.
The tribes, no doubt, are far away from the benefits of economic growth and development. We need to reach out to them. They have been living in an area for years. Suddenly someone comes and says there is coal beneath this land and we will mine this place. The people are getting displaced. And what do you give them? Rehabilitation in some other place and some money. The man loses his space, his cultural moorings. He can’t be sent to Delhi and rehabilitated. Development is the key but it can’t be thrust upon the people. In Jharkhand, roads are built in villages but villagers use short cuts. What is the need for such roads? Along with development, the tribes need to be empowered.

How do you propose to end this violence?
We need to find the reasons. We cannot be blind to existing socio-economic realities. How many of us can today say that we have not indulged in violence of one sort or the other in our political lives? We know that we wake up to a social reality only when such violence or pressure is applied. I am not defending violence. I am a pacifist. But I am drawing the attention of the government.

Naxalites need to distinguish between revolutionary and criminal violence. They must also realise that their potential for violence is no match to state violence. At the same time, it does not give democratic regimes the right to use their forces for oppression. A balance has to be struck. That is what talks will arrive at.

For the last 40 years, we have been talking of ending Naxal violence, but in vain. The reason is simple. Our concerns have not translated into actions. Our laudable growth has not “trickled down”. Rahul Gandhi also said “the government has not reached the tribal areas”. He did not use the word “development”. The nuance is: It is the legitimacy and empowerment of government that one is looking at, which do not merely concern material benefits, but social conditions and exploitation as well. That is social justice.

What is your prescription for Naxalism?
I will advocate a three-pronged approach: Remote area development (RAD), peace talks and law and order. The Planning Commission should take upon itself the implementation of RAD with time- and target-specific programmes. There should be unconditional talks with Naxalites to bring these groups into the national mainstream. Lastly, the government must do its duty to maintain law and order sternly. Naxalites are our own people, as the Supreme Court and our prime minister and home minister say. A stern but imaginative action is the need of the hour, instead of ruthless operations.

Are you confident that the Congress’ efforts for inclusive growth will yield results?
Of course. Our agenda of inclusive growth is spearheaded by Sonia Gandhi. She refused to take power, but she has her eyes on the government’s social programmes. Her vision is clear and it has started giving results in many areas.

You are in charge of Jharkhand and West Bengal. How do you see the role of the two state governments in curbing the Naxal menace?
I believe law and order and development are essentially the responsibilities of state governments. They have to win over the local people. The buck stops with them. I totally agree with the West Bengal government that we have to tackle this problem politically.

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