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Terror by any other name...

By Surjit S Bhalla
November 02, 2009 13:46 IST
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Over the last few weeks, there has been a ratcheting up of Naxalite/Maoist (N&M) violence to bring truth and justice to the Indian democracy. A parallel movement has occurred over the same period -- a campaign by "liberal intellectuals" (I am sorry but that is the most accurate description, though Yasser Arafat would have added so-called) to cleanse the ever-increasing flow of blood. We are told, in breaking news terms, that the violence can only be stopped with "development"; that unless progress is brought to the poor tribals, arresting the violence will be of little consequence.

We are also told that it is not only incorrect but also unfair to characterise the N&Ms as terrorists. Why? Because unlike genuine terrorists, the N&Ms are genuinely interested in development and helping the poor. Example? Well, a Maoist leader and a leading member of their Politburo, Mr Kobad Ghandy, has been glowingly reported as a development junkie. His movement, we are told, has been operating in poor villages for decades; they have been talking and cajoling the poor tribals to drink boiled water, something that the authorities presumably haven't done.

How does one differentiate the N&Ms from all the NGOs that have devoted their lifetime to helping the poor, and in many more ways than just communicating the importance of boiled water? For that matter, how does one distinguish the N&Ms from Bill Gates' foundation, or from international organisations like the World Bank? Before we get all syrupy about violent protesters having a heart of gold, we need to understand, and define, the limits to action in the name of the poor. If media reports are to be believed, the N&M violence is often against the poor, only they are a different kind of poor. They are the local police, or local government officials. Other times, the violence is against "ordinary" poor people.

One of the main complaints of the N&Ms is that development often does not reach the poor, that it gets eaten up by the state, as official help travels from the centre to the hinterland. This is a complaint that is widely echoed by the liberal intellectuals, as they staunchly defend their defence of the N&Ms. The defence, therefore, has two components; first, that violence is perpetrated by the N&Ms because they have little option; the state has in many instances behaved badly, and is massively corrupt, so corrupt that it would steal from the poor. Second, that the N&Ms are really like any other NGO, going to remote areas, where the middle class does not dare to tread, and helping the poor by telling them about the importance of boiled water.

Criticism of the non-beneficial nature of the state, and its innate corruptness, is not the monopoly of the N&Ms or their defenders. This claim has been made by most; indeed, the first person to concretise this proposition was no less an establishment figure than the former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. And he made that claim -- that less than 15 per cent of government expenditures meant for the poor actually reached the poor -- in 1985, when the present day M&Ns were mere toddlers.

There are other people who resort to violence when they feel that they are unjustly treated by the state, or by art. India's leading painter, Mr MF Husain, has been in exile for several years. His crime? That he dared to paint nude Indian goddesses. There was protest violence, though not as violent as that by the N&Ms. Yet, no one has come to the defence of these vandals -- nor they should. But by any count, these "morally right" lumpen proletariat has done less violence to the poor than the N&Ms. So, why are the latter defended and the former vilified?

Throughout history, there have been several champions of the poor; these champions came to power in the name of the poor, and soon destroyed the poor and the nation. There was Stalin, and more recently Pol Pot of Cambodia. Look into their histories -- it is the same sad movie over and over again. They say the system is rotten; the intellectuals support them because the terrorists are also smart enough to realise what resonates with the "intellectual" elite. Then they come to power and when they leave, the system, and the poor, is a lot worse off than what it was when they started.

Above, we discussed the question of differentiation of those who do good. The flip-side question is equally important. How does one, nay should one, distinguish between those who do bad? To put it starkly -- there are few people (except the mandatory some) who defend the actions of a terrorist group like the Al-Qaeda. Since these "few" reside in India, let me restate the proposition -- how many Indians would defend the perpetrators of 26/11? Did I hear any? No. Now what is the difference between the 26/11 terrorists and the Al-Qaeda? None; indeed, the financing for the two organisations most likely comes from the same source. What do these terrorists have in common? Much; for starters, they have the same cause: fighting for the poor and the oppressed. And why are they fighting for the poor and the oppressed? Because the system has failed, the system is corrupt, and only the valiant in the name of the poor, terrorists, can right historical wrongs. Honestly, there is as much difference between the Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT) and the Maoists as between the Al-Qaeda and the Naxalites. This recognition is important if the Indian system has to defeat the terrorists.

The author is the chairman of Oxus Investments and anchor of Tough Talk, a talk show on NDTV profit

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Surjit S Bhalla
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