Have we already forgotten the tiny, tear-streaked face of a little boy called Abhishek Induwar? In the way that only tragedy can accelerate adulthood, here was a boy, barely ten years old, who announced that when he grew up he wanted to be a police officer. This could be the happy dream of many a little child, except Induwar's declaration was rooted in precocious, guttural anger. His father's body had just been found, beheaded and abandoned on a desolate highway. An accompanying note said the killing was revenge for 'police oppression'. Francis Induwar's murder should have bridged the false polarisations that the Naxal Debate has engineered in India. Except that, as history repeats itself in a chilling loop — and another police officer's bullet-ripped body is recovered from the jungles of Lakhisarai — we have lapsed into a familiar, banal and fake 'For and Against' debate.
The impression of a severe, worrying ideological divide is, of course, courtesy the inchoate discourse within the political establishment. It's no secret that the Cabinet Committee on Security hasn't been able to agree on a full battle-plan against Naxal violence. The government stands deeply divided on the use of air support during operations against Maoist insurgents. The prime minister routinely describes the Maoist stranglehold over 40,000 square kilometres and 2,000 police stations of India as the "country's biggest internal security threat”.
But other than the generalised philosophical formulation of a 'two-pronged approach' — development and security retaliation — we have no sense of what he actually thinks on an issue that is more grave than any external terror threat. The Congress's Contrarian Members Club provides free, monthly entertainment when Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar are able to taunt the official establishment and declare themselves to be the real voices of the party's core values. While the home minister keeps putting the onus on "intellectual sympathisers” to stop romancing the Naxals, the BJP routinely targets the government for letting Mamata Banerjee advocate a softer line.
But the BJP's own ally, the Bihar chief minister — who is now grappling with a complex set of moral choices in dealing with the hostage crisis — has openly disagreed with his party's tough, unsentimental approach to Maoist violence. In other words, as the troops go into battle, the generals appear to be squabbling. To borrow an astute phrase from the ever-succinct former R&AW chief Vikram Sood, "There is a lot of politics in the insurgency. But no State can afford to have this much politics in its counter-insurgency.” Adding to the din is the noise of TV debates that amplify existing differences to create the illusion of a country that can't reach a consensus, even as the crisis deepens with every passing month.
The irony is that most Indians agree on much more than they disagree on. We may not be students of strategic affairs or be well versed in the complexities of crisis management, but the areas of
agreement seem remarkably simple and commonsensical.
First off, extra-constitutional violence — even in the name of the marginalised and the poor — will have to be countered with the legitimate and legal retaliation of the State. There can be no ifs and buts when it comes to condemning political violence. And I reckon that most of us are deeply exasperated by those who seek to glorify the gun as a mode of Robin Hood-esque revolution. When we watch our soldiers and policemen get swallowed by the dragon-mouth of this insurgency we feel helpless and ashamed. This time, as we watch the hostage crisis unfold, I think most of us cannot bear to confront the anticipation of loss in the eyes of the children, as they wait to discover whether their fathers will make it home alive or not. Whether or not the government should negotiate with the Maoists is a tactical question and has no easy answers. But it's a question that any government has to answer from a position of strength — not weakness.
That said, there is absolutely no space for extra-constitutional violence by the State either. Even today, hardliners who defend private militia like the Salwa Judum and pretend that these are tribal uprisings embodying a 'spontaneous' backlash against the Maoists are only eroding the credibility of the State and defending the indefensible. The State is morally bound — unlike the Maoists — to uphold the values of democratic accountability. When Mamata Banerjee dubbed the recent death of Maoist insurgent Azad as a 'murder', political points-scoring hijacked the core of the debate. Was Azad killed in a fake encounter? If so, does it not diminish the moral high ground the State occupies in the crisis like the one we are witnessing today? Every time the State lapses — either in human rights violations or in accounting for them — we alienate more people and give new life to the ever-spinning cycle of violence. So, morality aside, even tactically, it's poor strategising.
Most Indians also agree on the development debate in the Maoist heartland. None of us is comfortable with the idea of giant corporate foraying into mine-rich forests whether the local communities want them there or not, and irrespective of whether they are made stakeholders in the profits that accrue from such ventures. Despite embracing globalisation, cavernous corporate appetites sting our collective conscience. The exploitation and marginalisation of tribal populations is an undisputed failure of governance. We don't think it becomes a justifiable basis for violence and blackmail. But we do want it to change.
The ultimate irony is that we have found our voice of consensus in Sunita Induwar, the gentle, soft-spoken woman whose husband was beheaded by the Maoists. It is she who speaks, in a Zen-like moment of grace, of the need for the Indian State to find a "middle path”. The path is actually clear and visible. It just needs political courage to walk down it, before any more people die.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal.