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Maoists in Chhattisgarh have succeeded, so to say, through the gruesome massacre of 28 persons in the Congress convoy they ambushed on Saturday, in...

Maoists in Chhattisgarh have succeeded, so to say, through the gruesome massacre of 28 persons in the Congress convoy they ambushed on Saturday, in provoking the Union government to go brutal in its campaign against the extremists. Three days after the attack, Maoists operating in Chhattisgarh have sent a four-page note claiming that a People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) detachment had carried out the attack on the convoy of 25 cars carrying Congress leaders. Hours after the Maoists claimed responsibility, Minister of State for Home RPN Singh said, "Maoist barbarism and cold-blooded murders have peaked in the last six months", and added that there was urgent need for a relook at policy and intensify anti-Maoist operations.

The anger and frustration are understandable. The same sharp language was used by human rights activists when some tribals were killed by Salwa Judum vigilantes recently. There were attacks by Naxalites earlier on individual political leaders. Former home minister of Andhra Pradesh Madhava Reddy was killed while he was traveling to Hyderabad from Bhuvanagiri. Former speaker Sripada Rao and many others were shot dead. But decimating almost all the important Congress leaders in a State happened for the first time the other day in Chhattisgarh. Top leaders, including VC Shukla (who was Indira Gandhi's Information Minister during the Emergency), have been critically injured. The PCC president Nanda Kumar Patel and his son, abducted by the Maoists following the ambush, were found dead later.

The founder of Salwa Judum Mahendra Karma and many others died in the spot. The Congress was hoping to improve its position in Bastar and its Parivartan Yatra was a major initiative in view of the forthcoming elections. Mahendra Karma who stood like a wall between the Maoists and the "democratically elected" government with his own undemocratic and violent outfit, Salwa Judum (translated as Peaceful March in Hindi and Purifying Hunt in the local language), had full support of the BJP Chief Minister Raman Singh. Karma, who was also a former Home Minister, launched Salwa Judum in 2005 by mobilizing tribal youth of south Chhattisgarh and arming them. He deployed them against Naxalites.

The Judum was financed and armed by the state government in a rare piece of understanding between the BJP and the Opposition Congress whose common enemy happened to be Naxalites and common friend used to be multinationals dealing in minerals. The uneducated and untrained tribal youth with weapons used to create havoc in the lives of ordinary tribal people burning their dwellings and raping their women. The Maoists said in the press note that Karma had been punished for his misdeeds.

Reports say thousands of armed police have encircled Bastar and are moving into the forest for combing operations. There will no doubt be a counter killing spree in which hundreds of innocent adivasis and some of the Maoists who participated in the deadly action would die. Some other Maoists may escape for now but not for long. It happened soon after Nara Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in West Bengal were attacked when they were chief ministers. Strong retribution followed and powerful counter-insurgency measures resulted in killing and disabling hundreds of Naxalites. But the police action was not the only reason for Andhra Pradesh becoming relatively free of Left wing extremism.

Anyone who watched UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AICC Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, on TV, expressing their condolence to the families of the departed leaders would have certainly noticed that they were raging beneath their sullen but sober facade. They would perhaps send more arms and more police personnel to Chhattisgarh. Though Defence Minister Antony clarified that the army would not be used, the trinity may even think of some harsher measures. Maybe they would also request Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh to share the experience of the State police, Greyhounds, in eliminating "the greatest internal security challenge India has been facing", as our PM has been saying since 2006. Rest assured that all these measures, and more of such moves, are bound to fail unless they are simultaneously accompanied by more important civil steps.

The triumvirate ruling the country should first understand the cause of action instead of focusing only on action. The cause is unmitigated poverty, unabated exploitation and inhuman living conditions making the lives of the tribals miserable. These conditions are congenial for Naxalism. Many girls have reportedly participated in the ambush. What motivated them? Is it only the fear of Maoists? Or, is it also a hope that one day they would be liberated from the rapacious forest contractors and other unscrupulous exploiters? What is making them follow Maoists in their armed struggle, knowing very well that it is well-nigh impossible to defeat the powerful State and that death or jail is inevitable? Sonia and Manmohan should have given time to the fact-finding committee that went to Chhattisgarh, met Mahendra Karma and many others, including politicians, members of Salwa Judum and Naxalites besides ordinary tribals. The committee comprising stalwarts like noted historian Ramachandra Guha, accomplished IAS officer EAS Sarma who has been leading movements against pollution and related issues, and well-known academic Nandini Sundar were not taken seriously.

Alternatively, they should have thoroughly read the judgment delivered by Justice B Sudershan Reddy and Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar on the petition filed by members of this committee. If the top policymakers of the land did not read the path-breaking judgment given on July 5, 2011, till now, it is something of an aberration. They should read it now. The judgment was a treatise on the state of affairs in the country, in general, and Chhattisgarh, in particular. In the case between Nandini Sundar and others versus State of Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court's order at the very outset says that "this case represents a yawning gap between the promise of principled exercise of power in a constitutional democracy and the reality of the situation in Chhattisgarh where the Respondent, the State of Chhattisgarh, claims that it has a constitutional sanction to perpetrate, indefinitely, a regime of gross violation of human rights in a manner, and by adopting the same modes, as done by Maoist/Naxalite extremists.

The State of Chhattisgarh also claims that it has the power to arm, with guns, thousands of mostly illiterate or barely literate young men of the tribal tracts, who are appointed as temporary police officers, with little or no training, and even lesser clarity about the chain of command to control the activities of such a force, to fight the battles against alleged Maoist elements."

The judgment, given by two conscientious legal luminaries, goes on to quote brilliant writer Joseph Conrad who wrote on the brutal ivory trade in Congo, an African country endowed with rich minerals, sought to be expanded by the imperialist-capitalist conspiracy policy of European powers. They draw parallels and quip that they would be saying "the horror, the horror!" at the end of hearing of the case as Kurtz, the main perpetrator in the novella, 'Heart of Darkness' by Conrad, says breathing his last.

The learned judges also make it clear that "people do not take to arms in an organized fashion, against the might of the State, or against fellow human beings without rhyme or reason". Quoting Thomas Hobbes, a Western political thinker, they continue, "Out of a fear of lawlessness that is encoded in our collective conscience, we seek an order. However, when that order comes with dehumanization, of manifest injustice of all forms perpetrated against the weak, the poor and the deprived, people revolt".

That was what happened in Telangana which led to the famous peasants' armed struggle in the 1940s. It was against the landlords who returned with General Chowdhuri's army and snatched away lands, distributed by the Communists, from the poor. It was against the landlords, again, that the Naxalites fought for three decades. After the landlords fled the villages, and the democratic institutions started functioning and mandal system came into vogue, the poor started participating in democratic governance, however inadequate it was. The Naxalites who could show an enemy to fight lost the popular support as the dalams went into forest.

The Naxalites thus moved away from people and lost popular support. With education and employment opportunities increasing considerably, rural and urban youth stopped being attracted towards Left extremism. The recruitments in Telangana ceased and the leaders had to move on to Chhattisgarh or AOB(Andhra Orissa Borders). The reason for the Naxalite movement fading out in Telangana was not only effective police action but also governance reaching the poor in plains and the poor gaining access to democratic system.

The forests, where the government is absent, still give shelter and succour to Maoists who are sacrificing their lives in their romantic belief that only an armed struggle will be able to bring about a revolution in the lives of the poor. Presently the recruits are mostly Dalits and tribals. Youth from other communities are busy in hunting opportunities for education and employment. NTR and other chief ministers who succeeded him were somewhat successful in reaching out to the poor in the plains but they could not penetrate forests. That is the reason why Dandakaranya has become the chosen theatre of experimentation and battlefield of the extremists.

It is not the Naxalite "problem" or the Maoist "menace" as most nationalist pretenders, nay presenters, in our English news channels so excitedly and dramatically describe, but it is the mess created by six- and-a-half decades of parliamentary politics and indifferent governance that should bother all of us. How to clear the mess and fix the problem of denial of basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution should be the priority of the government. If the cause is addressed, the Maoists' sole raison d'être would vanish.

The second priority for Sonia Gandhi and her team in the last year of their second term would be to revisit the 73rd amendment of the Constitution for which Rajiv Gandhi so assiduously worked for months together. The UPA chairperson should know that it is the Congress-ruled States that sabotaged Rajiv's dream of gram swaraj. Rahul, who claims that he is not soft like his mother but a task master like his grandmother, would do well to review the process of devolution of powers to the villages.

The UPA government should call for a meeting of persons who can contribute to the solution and establishment of peace on a permanent basis. The two judges who wrote the great judgments (identifying the root cause of the trouble as "amoral political economy") have to be invited for such a meeting. The petitioners have to be requested to attend. Those who value human dignity and human rights among the ruling party (for instance, Kishore Chandra Deo and Jairam Ramesh) and other political parties should be asked to participate in the deliberations. Eminent thinkers like Arundhati Roy and social workers like Aruna Roy have to be involved.

The meeting should evolve a policy and a plan of action aimed at making tribals part of the development process, actually practicing what Manmohan Singh claimed in his progress report on the UPA anniversary: inclusive growth. Such a bold and extraordinary initiative is called for at the present juncture instead of a kneejerk reaction. Persons who subscribe to annihilation theory and insist on armed police killing all the Maoists should be kept away from this exercise. Last but not least, Sonia and Manmohan have to look for a good and hard- working home minister.

The Judum was financed and armed by the state government in a rare piece of understanding between the BJP and the Opposition Congress whose common enemy happened to be Naxalites and common friend used to be multinationals dealing in minerals

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