As long as the State sends brute force into its ne­glected heart­land to re­claim its ‘writ’, Maoists will have an al­ibi

SI Kru­param Ma­jhi’s mur­der of­fers proof of a car­di­nal er­ror made eight years ago.


THERE WERE 76 jawans two years ago and sev­eral dozen face­less men mas­sa­cred in be­tween. Now the mur­der of sub-in­spec­tor Kru­param Mahji in Odisha is proof yet again that Man­mo­han Singh made a car­di­nal er­ror eight years ago. The Maoist in­sur­gency is not In­dia’s “great­est in­ter­nal se­cu­rity threat”; it is a sad, shoddy war that pits the poor against the poor.

How we de­fine our prob­lems designs the so­lu­tions we bring to them. The tragedy is, as long as the In­dian State sends brute force into its ne­glected heart­land to re­claim its “writ”, the Maoists will have an al­ibi. In a con­flict, both hunter and hunted know the other is fair game. And any­one who has re­ported from the ground can vouch for this: “comb­ing op­er­a­tions” are no be­nign ca­ress of democ­racy, geared to un­tan­gle op­pres­sive knots. They bring burnt huts, robbed grain, killed chick­ens, raped women and beaten trib­als in their wake. Fresh fod­der for old grouses. There­fore, In­dia’s war on the Maoists, in ef­fect, is a war of its poor jawans against its poor trib­als. Fear breed­ing on fear. And the be­wil­der­ing re­tal­i­a­tions born out of that.

But the Maoists have much to an­swer for, too. No one can deny that they have catal­ysed cru­cial ques­tions onto In­dia’s con­scious­ness. By a strange trick of his­tory, of­ten they speak more for the con­sti­tu­tional rights of dis­pos­sessed In­di­ans than the elected cus­to­di­ans of our democ­racy. But for the heated de­bates, trig­gered un­for­tu­nately only by their vi­o­lence, how many main­stream In­di­ans would have heard about for­est rights, cor­po­rate land grab, min­ing vi­o­la­tions and the Fifth Sched­ule? In­deed, how many even now know of the 1/70 Act or the 2/56 Act? And if the Maoist threat were to dis­ap­pear al­to­gether, rus­tle up the courage to ask: would the In­dian State still be rush­ing wel­fare schemes to Sukma and Malka­n­giri? We right­fully ab­hor Maoist vi­o­lence, but has the In­dian State ever been at­ten­tive to peace­ful and demo­cratic protest? In dis­tricts where the “writ of the In­dian State” does run, do we have la­goons of jus­tice and good gov­er­nance to serve as a re­buke for the rebels?

But the Maoists have much to an­swer for, too: their own cold-blooded mur­der of trib­als they deem “in­form­ers”, their doc­tri­naire pol­i­tics, their sti­fling regime, their im­pa­tience with dis­sent, their col­lu­sion with big busi­ness. Now, with the kid­nap­ping of Col­lec­tors and the cold­blooded mur­der of Alex Menon’s guards — emis­saries of wel­fare, not brute force — they are slip­ping ever lower on the moral tree. If the In­dian State were wise, it would use the op­por­tu­nity to re­claim the lan­guage of con­sti­tu­tional rights from the Maoists, set its face doggedly to­wards de­liv­er­ing jus­tice, and in­stead of rush­ing more armed pla­toons to cen­tral In­dia, would leave the Maoists to fade out slowly through their own PR dis­as­ters.

ALL WARS de­pend on two kinds of am­mu­ni­tion: the man­u­fac­tur­ing of sharp po­lar­i­ties, and a healthy dose of dis­in­for­ma­tion. CLAWS, an army think-tank, re­cently held a sem­i­nar on the Maoist cri­sis. Their mood seemed gen­uinely con­sul­ta­tive. But one of their speak­ers — a colonel — made for a fas­ci­nat­ing study of how wars are drummed up. He ar­gued emo­tively for a full-blown mil­i­tary as­sault on the Maoists. Called them “ter­ror­ists”. Said all talk of “poor trib­als” was a scam. Raged that Binayak Sen, the jailed doc­tor who be­came an in­ter­na­tional cause célèbre, had ac­tu­ally never treated a pa­tient in his life. And in­sisted that all in­tel­lec­tu­als who speak of “com­plex­ity” and “root causes” are “white-col­lar criminals”.

If so, I hope more In­di­ans will proudly claim that pe­nal trans­gress. It is pre­cisely this kind of para­noid dis­course that is es­ca­lat­ing the Maoist cri­sis in In­dia. Peo­ple like Binayak Sen, Hi­man­shu Kumar and San­deep Pandey are In­dia’s safety valves: com­mit­ted democrats who are un­afraid of dis­sent, rais­ing ques­tions and other such “white-col­lar crimes”. But in­stead of us­ing them as lis­ten­ing posts, what has the State done? It has run them to the ground. So, the next time an or­di­nary In­dian wants to raise an is­sue, what is he to do?

Kid­nap a Col­lec­tor?

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