Bastar bloodline

The Maoist problem is not one of law and order alone but also of ensuring social justice, especially of giving tribals access to forest lands

Although there have been equally ghastly attacks by Maoist insurgents, also called Naxalites, in the past, the virtual decimation of the top state leadership of the Congress in Chhattisgarh is particularly savage and audacious.

Nearly 300 Maoists, including many young women, ambushed a Congress Party cavalcade returning from an election rally in the sprawling Bastar district. The outrage reconfirms what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying since 2006: that the Maoist insurgency is the greatest internal security challenge India faces. By the same token it underscores that despite its many claims to the contrary, the Indian state has been able to do little to curb the Maoist menace. There are interludes when the Central and the state governments feel that they have the situation under control. But then a horrific incident takes place and the country is back to square one.
Among the 28 Congress leaders and activists killed mercilessly was the state Congress president Nand Kumar Patel, who, along with his son, was initially kidnapped. The bullet-ridden bodies of both were found the next day at the ambush site. The number of those wounded critically is larger and includes veteran Congress leader and former Union minister V.C. Shukla.
In one respect, the slaughter in Bastar has been a departure from the ones in the past. Hitherto, Maoists have concentrated on attacking uniformed security forces or civilians suspected of being their informers. This is the first time they have made politicians of the Congress Party their target, although in the past their attempts to assassinate two former chief ministers —
N. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in West Bengal — had not only failed but had also invited exceptionally strong retaliatory action.
Evidently, their motivation in Chhattisgarh was stronger, if only because they knew — their intelligence, regrettably, seems better than that of the government — that among the leaders seated in the Congress car-borne procession was Mahendra Karma, the founder of Salwa Judum, a highly controversial anti-Maoist organisation and, therefore, very high on their hit list.
Translated as “Peaceful March” in Hindi and “Purifying Hunt” in the local tribal language, Salwa Judum was financed and armed by the state government and was meant to fight the Maoists by mobilising and arming the tribal people. However, the organisation became a series of private militias acting most ham-handedly. In 2011, the Supreme Court declared it illegal and ordered the state government to disband it.
Another factor that could have influenced the Maoists’ decision to strike at the Chhattisgarh Congress leadership is that, with an eye to the coming state Assembly elections, the Congress has redoubled its efforts to win over the Bastar tribals, the Maoists’ power base.
Even so, it is perfectly understandable that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh should have been so shocked, stunned and angered by the outrage as to land in the state capital, Raipur, almost immediately, preceded by the Congress vice-president and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi. All three consoled the bereaved families, while Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh issued strong statements against the Maoists. Mrs Gandhi called the attack on her party “despicable” and an assault on “democracy”; Dr Singh declared: “Our leaders have sacrificed their lives. However, our country will never bow down to Naxalism.”
Up to this point the two top leaders have said little about the state government. But the surviving state leaders of the Congress Party were busy condemning the state government for denying the Congress procession adequate security. They even alleged that while 300 security personnel were protecting the chief minister, Raman Singh, on a “Vikas Yatra” Pilgrimage to Progress), hardly any security was given to the Congress’ “Parivartan Yatra” (March for Change). To them the BJP had replied that the occasion called for unity to face the Maoist menace, not mud-slinging at each other.
However, at a meeting the Prime Minister had with the state chief minister and senior officers, in which Mrs Gandhi, Mr Gandhi and some others were also present, the Congress president lost her temper and angrily contradicted the chief secretary when he asserted that the security given to the Congress rally and the cavalcade was adequate. For his part, even the usually reticent, indeed taciturn, Prime Minister repeated thrice that he failed to understand the state government’s “utter failure” to prevent the Maoist barbarity.
There is a clear and present danger that, like every other issue in the country in the last few years, the horrific Bastar incident will also turn into a loud verbal exchange between the Congress, the core of the present Central government, and the principal Opposition party in New Delhi that has been in power in Chhattisgarh and the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh for the last 10 years. Mr Raman Singh has already started saying that Naxalism is a product of 50 years of Congress’ rule. This squabble must be halted at all costs.
For, the need of the hour is that not only the Central and Chhattisgarh governments, but also the governments of other nine states where “Red Terror” prevails, unite to do more to meet and defeat the Maoist menace than they have done so far.
There is sufficient realisation at appropriate levels that the Maoist problem is not one of law and order alone but also of ensuring social justice, especially of giving tribals access to forest lands and produce. But precious little has been done on this score. Sadly, even more inadequate is the government’s action on report after expert report pointing out that the paramilitary forces deployed against the Maoist challenge are neither properly organised, nor adequately equipped. Would this disastrous state of affairs be rectified at least now?
One final point: On most TV channels and in some newspapers the chilling news from Chhattisgarh has had to take second place to the IPL’s Big Fix, which speaks volumes about this country’s milieu and priorities.

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