Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is on firm ground when he maintains, in the context of the Naxalites who have killed abducted policemen in the state, “I do not think bargaining after holding people hostage is high ideology.” But Mr Kumar is barking up the wrong tree. The many Naxal groups operating in the country, including in nearly every district in Bihar, are not hankering after ideology, although they seek to occupy the high moral ground in the name of promoting such an ideology.
In general, Naxalites today are neither Robin Hoods nor conscious ideologues of contingents of labouring men and women. There is little alignment between them and even the “bandits” that the historian Hobsbawm wrote about so eloquently. Just as right-wing extremists tend to speak as though they are high priests of culture, and this is typically done to justify their criminal actions or sometimes to glorify these in the eyes of unsuspecting people, left-wing extremists become the self-appointed guardians of the poor, and no poor person dare oppose them for fear of being annihilated. The Bihar Chief Minister, however, appears blissfully unaware of this, or he would not be disdainful toward the Centre’s efforts to coordinate anti-Naxalite actions with state governments.
Countering Naxalism is not easy for any democratic government since its leaders speak in the name of the poor, beguiling many a middle class intellectual with their pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric. It is, therefore, short-sighted of parties such as the RJD and the LJP in Bihar to launch an all-out attack on the Bihar CM for his inability to cope with the menace of Naxalism, in particular his slow-footedness in dealing with them even as the bandits hold policemen hostage in Lakhisarai district in the state. The Opposition leaders clearly wish to exploit the situation for the Assembly election. They forget that they could have been in Mr Kumar’s shoes. The issue the state is confronting is not about to go away in a hurry, and is not unique to Bihar. Nevertheless, it is plain to see that the Bihar government has comprehensively failed in handling the Naxal question. Unlike his counterparts in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, even the beginnings of an effort are not visible.
Mr Kumar has been too busy advertising his efforts at social engineering. In the beginning of his term, hopes were raised that the JD(U)-BJP government would be able to bring the rampant lawlessness under control. That optimism appears to have dissipated. The force is demoralised. It lacks personnel. The police also lack weapons, communications equipment and leadership. As for intelligence, the less said the better. Several days after the policemen abduction drama began, the state government does not have a fix on where the captured policemen have been kept, although the criminals busily use local television stations for propaganda. The net effect of the government’s lax attitude toward policing has emboldened the various Naxal groups. A demoralised state government has now offered talks. It is to be seen if this has any effect on the desperadoes.