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There is a much simpler answer to Maoism

April 12, 2010 19:36 IST
B S Raghavan, former chief secretary, West Bengal, on how Maoism can be dealt with.

The so-called war on Maoism has fast degenerated into a war of words. This phony war is entirely the offshoot of the political establishment, governing class and security agencies unleashing their combined might against those whom they castigate as the apologists, accomplices and sympathisers of Maoists, defined as any group of balanced, thoughtful analysts who have the temerity to argue that full-throated, blood-curdling cries of a 'fight-to-the finish' with all the forces at the government's command are no answer to Maoism.

The official hardliners have already let loose a sykewar (psychological warfare) against the proponents of a cool-headed, multi-pronged strategy that takes into account all aspects and dimensions of Naxalism which has morphed into Maoism.

In the Big Fight programme of NDTV 24X7 channel on April 10, self-righteous security hawks called the advocates of a holistic approach abettors of the heinous offence under section 121 of the Indian Penal Code of waging war against the Government of India who should be punished with death, or imprisonment for life. Can any solution to Maoism ever be found by whipping up a rabid phobia like this?

The panjandrums raring for war from the safe dovecotes of power need to ask themselves a few basic questions:

The Naxal movement started in April 1967 in one state (West Bengal), in one district (Darjeeling) and in one police station area (Naxalbari). By November 2009, it has spread to 23 states, 250 districts and over 2,000 police station areas (equivalent of 40 per cent of India's geographical area and 92,000 square kilometres), with 20,000 armed cadres and 50,000 auxiliary ones, despite the whopping increase of 600 times in combined police budgets of the Centre and the states during the same period. Why? Is it that the central and state governments deliberately let it grow or that they could not get the better of it for some reason not intelligible to them?

I am obliged to Deboo Bandyopadhyay, than whom it is difficult to find a person who has made such a deep study of Naxalism, for the information that, according to a knowledgeable scholar, Dr Walter Fernandes, between 1947 and 2004 nearly six crore (60 million) persons were forcibly displaced due to acquisition of land for development purposes, and of them 40 per cent constituted Scheduled Tribes. Out of a total population of generic tribals of eight crore, 2.4 crore (24 million) were involuntarily thrown out of their land, home and occupation. This figure constitutes 30 per cent of the total tribal population.

Official figures admit that only 28 per cent of the displaced tribal population has been rehabilited. Assuming that even this low figure is not an exaggeration, what happened to the remaining 72 per cent of the displaced tribals numbering 1.44 crore (14.4 million)?

When the ministers and MPs in illegal occupation of vast official mansions in Delhi, owing crores of rupees to 'We, the People' in rent, electricity and water charges, and having their own extra homes elsewhere, are sought to be evicted, do not they raise Cain and cling to their illegal possessions, defying Parliament and the people? Do not the fat cats of the corporate domain let out a howl whenever the exemptions they have grown accustomed to are touched? You want the poor, the deprived and the downtrodden, subsisting without food or water, to feel ecstatic when you trample them under foot?

The law-and-order maestros are horrified at the violence and savagery from the side of Maoists and want to exterminate them at all costs and by all means. True, violence is abominable and deserves to be condemned. But then, people are forced to take to violence because only then the powerful home minister deigns to invite them for talks and sends his secretary to open the car doors of the invitees and receive them at the entrance to the ministry!

People have come to know by experience that the government functionaries are stone deaf and the only way to jolt them is by exploding a bomb or setting fire to public property, for, only then, everyone from the prime minister down rushes out to listen to them.

There is a much simpler answer to Maoism than even development, and that is good and honest governance and rule of law. There should be visible evidence that the government is determined to deal summary justice to the corrupt and the venal, rid legislatures and cabinets of persons involved in crimes, and inculcate sensitivity, empathy, responsiveness, commitment to values, dedication to the public weal and, most of all, humility in public servants from top to bottom.

Let me just give one instance of how hypocritical public functionaries living at taxpayers' expense make themselves execrable: The minister of environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, grandiloquently says on his Web site: 'I assure you that every one of your comments, feedback and questions will be duly looked into. I look forward to your support in making this a citizen-friendly ministry.'

I have been reminding him by personal e-mails to his name of a letter (couriered to him a month ago but remaining without even an acknowledgement) inviting him to launch a campaign of awareness of climate management and environment protection by the Indo-Japanese Chamber of Commerce. Result: Total silence.

If this is the fate of one of some eminence, imagine what the feelings of an impoverished, helpless and oppressed villager would be towards those who preen themselves to be high and mighty!

B S Raghavan