Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Maoists have less answers than questions'

Amrita Tripathi / CNN-IBN

There is no “immediate meaningful” solution to end the Naxal rebellion. The best bet is declaration of ceasefire by both the Maoists and the government. The worst step would be to “unleash massive firepower” on the rebels. That is the view of Sudeep Chakravarti, author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. “The crisis is going to last for years, in one form or another,” he told Amrita Tripathi in an interview.

Amrita Tripathi: How does the Government’s reaction (to Naxals) measure up, according to you?

Sudeep Charkavarti: There are several sets of reactions against the Maoist rebellion. One is from New Delhi, and others are from the various states where the Maoist rebellion is prevalent in a range from minimal to maximum.

But generally, the Government response is incoherent beyond trying to develop better coordination between various state police forces, paramilitary and various intelligence networks. Government is looking at eradication of Maoists in a stated three-year timeframe, not a lasting solution.

Amrita Tripathi: Do you think any resolution is possible to this situation, explosive as it is?

Sudeep Charkavarti: There is no immediate meaningful way ahead beyond a time-bound declaration of ceasefire by both Maoist rebels on the one hand, and state and Central governments on the other. Negotiations can only begin then.

The only other short-term solution is for government forces to unleash massive firepower, but that would be extremely foolish, as thousands of innocents are certain to suffer. Such an action will only breed more resentment and will for sure initiate another cycle of violent protest against the State.

Amrita Tripathi: A lot of people--and as your writing attests--have been talking about how the need of the hour is development. Yet it doesn't sound like there's any consensus on the best policy, especially given the rampant corruption. Do you see any way out?

Sudeep Charkavarti: The need of the hour is good governance. That has not existed for decades. Lack of governance and attendant corruption has led to the issue of violent protests, its organized form being the present-day Maoist rebellion.

To try to annihilate Maoists without having development options in place will be meaningless. And, unfortunately, the development options the Central government and state governments have in place are meaningless with the current level of corruption.

Government agencies have themselves pointed to gross failure and misuse of schemes like NREGA. Politicians in Jharkhand have bought SUVs from development funds. Corruption exists at every level. There is no way out until this stops.

Amrita Tripathi: Have you been in touch with any of the Maoists or Maoist supporters you interacted with in your travels? How are they reacting to Maoists/Naxals making the news on a daily basis now? Do you feel their support base is growing, or is there some amount of public distancing with news of beheading (of Jharkhand police officer Francis Induwar)?

Sudeep Charkavarti: Being headline news works both for and against Maoists. It works for them to the extent the movement is much better known now than ever before. It works against them when the contradictions within the Maoist approach and some grotesque actions such as beheadings are made public.

Certainly, there is middle class revulsion when such images are shown, as with the beheading of Francis Induvar. Maoists have realised what a public relations disaster it was for them, and have since apologized.

While the state has certainly not come up as angels, Maoists have not either. We all know the state to be corrupted, callous and given to utter venality. Now Maoists are showing they have less answers than questions.

Amrita Tripathi: If this is another example of the "privileging of violence" (Arundhati Roy's phrase, quoted in Red Sun), how do you see this playing out in the days to come. Is this a crisis that's going to last for the foreseeable future, given the sort of planning you detail (urban support centres etc)?

Sudeep Charkavarti: The crisis is going to last for years, in one form or another. Our rural and urban centres are deeply stressed. Pressures will increase tremendously over the next 10 to 25 years on account of negative pressures from population, infrastructure, employment opportunities, the shift away from farming, and displacement of people in both rural and urban areas.

I don’t think the Maoist movement will remain the way it is today. It will morph into other forms, including an active attempt to move inwards into cities. And they may not call themselves Maoists, but certainly, there will continue to be extreme left-wing activity on account of these pressures. In the foreseeable future, there will be more than enough tinder for multiple conflagrations

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