Sunday, April 11, 2010

After Dantewada

The cure to Maoism lies in a political solution and not military action, insists N.V.Subramanian.

9 April 2010: It is honourable that P.Chidambaram resigned to accept responsibility for the Dantewada massacre and it is fair that the prime minister rejected his resignation. But that won't take away from the fact that the Manmohan Singh government has made a grotesque mess of countering the Maoists.

First, the Maoists are not terrorists or insurgents. They are for want of a better description guerilla fighters who have embraced armed struggle to express their deepest reservations about and opposition to aspects of the Indian state. Among the disadvantaged communities of India, the tribals are the worst off. Not only have they got no fruits of development, the state and its middlemen have cornered and destroyed them in the garb of progress. The tribals have no political constituency. Because the benefits of democratic politics have eluded them in sixty years of Independence, they have shifted sides to the Maoist ideology. For all the violence the Maoists have unleashed, they have not terrorized civilian populations as to make them terrorists. By the fact that they fight state forces, they may appear to be against the state, but that still does not make them insurgent separatists. It is dangerous to mislabel the Maoists because they may become what you want them to be.

Second, it is absolutely disastrous to consider involving the armed forces in anti-Maoist countermeasures. Readers will note that this writer is not using words like war, battle, etc, in the context of the Maoists but countermeasures. The armed forces are trained and equipped for war. There is no war underway within India for the armed forces to intervene. To even think of using the army and air force against the Maoists is gross and unacceptable overreaction. The Manmohan Singh government has twice thought aloud on these lines, the second time yesterday, when unfortunately even the PM touched on the possibility of using air power. Both times the armed forces resisted involvement, and the IAF chief currently has been sharply oppositional. Perhaps the lessons of Operation Bluestar have been too soon forgotten, which not only lead to prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, but provoked an unthinkable mutiny in the Indian army, arguably the first since Independence.

When the military is frequently called by politicians to fight the people, it does not take too long for the brass to entertain notions of being better able to govern than the political class, and we have seen where that leads to in Pakistan. But to be fair to the Indian military leadership, they have resisted internal deployment, and from Jammu and Kashmir to the troubled North East, they have only seen the armed forces' role as enabling a political solution, which is as it should be. The military fights foreign enemies, not its own people. It is ironic and not the least helpful that the government considers using the military against the Maoists but prohibits cross-border punitive actions against Pakistani terrorists.

Three, there has to be a mix of police/ paramilitary countermeasures and political action to neutralize the Maoists. On the political front, the Manmohan Singh government has spectacularly failed. It has antagonized Opposition-ruled states like West Bengal and Bihar by demanding (unwise) action against the Maoists although law and order is a state subject. Chidambaram has not accorded respect to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as an elected chief minister and Nitish Kumar, one of the deepest politicians in the business, does not approve of the Union home minister's anti-Maoist schemes. Without a political consensus, there cannot be a political solution to Maoism, and after Dantewada, states will not permit reckless deployment of Central forces.

Finally, the Manmohan Singh government has to accept that there are serious structural faults in the New Economic Policy that has been in place since the early nineteen-nineties. India's growth is undeniable but it has only brought islands of prosperity. The Congress party's 2009 election victory was largely on account of its anti-poverty programmes. But the tribals were barely benefited by them. All classes now are crushed by the raging food inflation in the face of which the economist PM has not provided inspiring leadership. If it is no coincidence that Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, is returning to take up a formal role as watchdog of the government's social sector spending (her own personal no-confidence motion against the regime, you may say), then it can scarcely be argued that there are nil legitimate and compelling angsts in the tribal regions that the Maoists seek to overcome with arms.

If the Dantewada massacre is not to be repeated, it has to be back to the basics for the Manmohan Singh government. There is enough political depth in the country to manage the Maoists. Let us not make them into terrorists and insurgents and force the tribals into separate nationhood.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor,, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email:

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