Sohan Potai has been a Member of Parliament from Kanker in Chhattisgarh for 10 years and has served four terms as an elected member of the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of India's Parliament. He represents a parliamentary constituency where seven out of its eight assembly segments are affected by Naxalism in varying degrees.
Last month Potai attended a meeting in New Delhi that was a first of its kind when Home Minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram met with MPs of the districts affected most by Naxalism, the armed insurrection against the Indian State mounted by the extreme left group in pockets across nine states.
"This was the first time we had a meeting with the home minister on the problem of Naxalism, but there was not enough time for the 22, 23 of us MPs present to put forth our views. Only 3, 4 MPs got a chance to speak -- for a problem of this scale, we need two days of discussion," says Potai, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP who has just returned to Kanker from New Delhi after the conclusion of the Budget session of Parliament.
Another meeting is to be convened this month, a date for which has not yet been decided. The meeting was called to apprise the MPs of the developmental schemes in India's 33 Naxal-affected districts and to improve the development performance in these areas. The home minister also asked the MPs to share their suggestions and discuss issues related to their areas.
"After the home ministry's presentation on development schemes, Yashwant Sinha, the MP from Hazaribagh, was the first MP to speak -- the MPs from Bihar and Jharkhand got a chance to discuss but due to paucity of time it was decided that another meeting would be called in May," adds Jayaram Pangi, the MP from Koraput in Orissa where six Naxalites were killed in a gun battle with security forces on Sunday.
The battle against the Naxalites has seen a great loss for the security forces in the last 34 days after 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were massacred by Naxals in Dantewada, Chhattigarh, on April 6. Eight CRPF men died in a land mine explosion on May 8 in Bijapur, again in Chhattisgarh.
"The Naxals change their strategy on hearing about the government's strategy. They have 10, 15 years of planning -- in the Bijapur incident, they had laid a mine on the National Highway 10, 15 years back," says Potai in a telephone conversation with rediff.com en route to Raipur, the state capital.
Elaborating on the issue, he says there are different reasons like geography and language that add to the Naxal dominance in tribal areas. Potai was elected from a reserved scheduled tribe constituency (allocation of seats for scheduled castes and tribes in the Lok Sabha are made on the basis of proportion of SC/ST in the state to that of the total population. There are 47 ST constituencies in India).
He feels it is important for the CRPF and those dealing with people in Naxalite-affected areas to understand the language of the inhabitants. "One of the fallouts of not understanding the language is that you tend to get suspicious of them," he says.
"I told the home minister that just as he understands Hindi but cannot speak it fluently; the tribals understand Hindi but are not fluent enough to reply if someone asked them a question. They would reply in their own language -- just as if someone asked the home minister something in Hindi, he would probably reply in English or I would prefer to reply in Hindi even though I understand English -- because of our comfort and command of that language as a preferred means of communication."
Citing reasons of unemployment, helplessness and the fear of the gun as primary causes for people turning to Naxalism, he said the government has to win the heart of the local people. "The home minister should meet the local intelligentsia and people living and working in Naxal areas. This will only help in tackling the Naxals," adds Potai.
In the meeting, which according to Prabodh Panda, the MP from West Midnapore, West Bengal. lasted an hour, Chidambaram had also stressed on better utilisation of central government funds in Naxalite-dominated areas.