Saturday, June 1, 2013

Congress Dilemma: Focus On Maoist Insurgency Or On Coming Election

Congress Dilemma: Focus On Maoist Insurgency Or On Coming Election

                                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

“If terrorism is uncontrolled, if Left Wing extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment.”

This is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as eloquent as he can be, on June 9, 2009, replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha. His position has remained unchanged. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is, ofcourse, yards ahead of him. Congress and the BJP have the same economic policies, he says. It follows therefore that the Congress join hands with Raman Singh, BJP Chief Minister, and hammer the Maoists. But on the eve of state assembly elections, Congress party sought to make tactical adjustments to the strategic vision and got hammered in Bastar.

This is the backdrop to the drama being played out between the Maoists and the state, across the tribal belt spanning eight states.

The Prime Minister’s statement cuts to the heart of the matter. The State must have access to mineral wealth for the economy to zoom to its destined height – 10 percent. Gunfight at Sukma, is the latest battle in the long drawn war.

“On May 25, a detachment of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army, conducted a massive attack on the 20 plus vehicle convoy of the Congress party which resulted in wiping out of at least 27 Congress leaders, activists and policemen including Mahendra Karma, the bitter enemy of the oppressed people of Bastar ………………….”

This is the opening of a cogently drafted, 3,000 word press note issued by the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) the day after the massacre. The draft makes it amply clear that the principal target of the People’s army was Mahendra Karma, founder of Salwa Judum, a mercenary force of Adivasis or tribals which has been raised since 2005 to be pitted against Adivasis mobilized under the Maoist umbrella.

How distant the state and the Maoists are becomes clear at the manner of Mahendra Karma’s death. In the convoy studded with many Congress stars, Karma had the highest form of security – Z category. And yet, the armed Maoists, mostly women in this instance, surrounded him. They riddled him with bullets, plunged knives into his cold body and danced around it. The Congress ran around trying to hide its shame. Earlier it was only whispered that it supports Salwa Judum, against whom there are Supreme Court strictures. It turns out that the Salwa Judum is in fact a large part of the State Congress.

The manner of his killing should leave no one in any doubt where Karma stood in Maoist’s esteem: a bleak and shoddy villain of history. Since he was the clear Numero Uno in the Congress Convoy, one would expect the party to deify him as something of a martyr at some appropriate date.

The Prime Minister’s vision is straightforward. His eyes are not on the Adivasis but on the mineral that lies buried in their lands and to which the multinational miners must have unhindered access. Maoists are spoiling the party by citing the indigenous people’s interests, a call which thwarts the global good. Can mere Adivasis be allowed to obstruct the path paved with good intentions?

In this land of startling contradictions, the Adi Shankara or the original Shankara stands on the highest social pedestal, but the Adivasi or the original inhabitant has no station, not even the lowest. The Adivasi, in millennia past, was pushed into the forest by those who displaced in the plains. Ancient texts describe the dwellers of the forests as Rakshas or “demons”.

If these “demons” can be subjugated, (goes one theory) they will be amenable to better management within the caste framework. Yes, they will be transformed into brooding Dalits at the outset but who may, at some later stage, erupt as durable political entities like, say, Mayawati. That may not be the happiest of outcomes, but draw what comfort you can from the fact that Mayawati is atleast part of the caste pyramid. The Adivasi on the other hand, is challenging the pyramid from the outside. He is asking for a fair deal from an equal.

Another complication. A Congress Chief Minister in Bhopal would have seen Chattisgarh differently from the UPA which sees the mine belt from its New Delhi’s vantage point. There is a wide variation in optics from New Delhi and Bhopal.

As Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, for example, would have fallen back on his own political experience. He would have been more familiar with the topography of Chattisgarh, as indeed Ajit Jogi, is. His and Jogi’s basic instinct would be to fight the BJP tooth and nail – politically.

The Manmohan Singh – Chidambaram line on the other hand is to seek co operation of the BJP for the economic policies which will eventually end up clawing at tribal lands.

Since independence, New Delhi and Bhopal have only talked of development but in effect sought to subdue regions like Bastar with force.

In 1966, Dwarka Prasad Mishra, the powerful Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh was infuriated by the immense popularity of Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo, King of Bastar who effectively obstructed the state machinery from encroaching on tribal lands. In the dramatic, showdown, paramilitary forces killed the King and his guards who waged a quaintly symbolic battle with bows and arrows.

The State’s list of grievance against the Maoists includes the fact that they don’t accept western, liberal democracy, as a means for transiting from their current dismal state to civilization. But, let us face it, Bastar’s King had accepted the democratic model and had won by a record margin the 1957 State Assembly election from Jagdalpur. The state killed him, nevertheless.

Remember, P. Chidambaram’s lamentation as Home Minister after the Dantewada humiliation? He told a TV station he was having to fight the “merciless” Maoists with his hands tied behind his back. The Ministry of Home Affairs had in those days floated the line that Chief Ministers of Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orissa “were asking for air support to fight Maoists”. Congress Working Committee member Keshava Rao and a host of others had opposed the line as did Defence Minister A.K. Antony. In fact Antony echoed his Air Chief’s views.

“The military – Air Force, Army and Navy – are trained to inflict maximum lethality. They are not meant for limited damage. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border.”

Is New Delhi in a huddle trying to revive Chidambaram’s and the PMO’s hard line which was check mated by a more cautious Congress party. The timing of the Congress Parivartan Yatra in Chattisgarh and the dramatic ambush have been most unfortunate. Should New Delhi now focus on the Maoists and control the insurgency? Or should it keep a steady gaze on votes until the November election? The two approaches lead to different destinations.

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