In the brows-furrowing debate about whether the Government of India should hold talks with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), one fundamental question is being relegated to the side: what is the ultimate purpose of putting an end to the Maoist menace? The question, perhaps sounding too obvious to merit a reply, is a valid one because answering it could change the modality in which any engagement with the Maoists should be made. Of course, one of the criteria by which New Delhi and state governments decide their policy will be how to disarm the CPI(Maoist) and take its violence out of the equation. The latter is waging battles against the State and the State is right to ensure that the Maoists don’t win the war. But the central point of bringing law and order in Maoist-affected areas is to take the people in these areas out of a war zone and set up a permanent solution that will enable them to be part of India
in peace and prosperity. For which purpose the government must not only think of talking to the Maoists but also to the real stakeholders of these violence-hit regions: the groups, especially comprising tribal communities, who have been clubbed under the Maoist tag without anyone checking their credentials.
The CPI(Maoist) has been largely successful in convincing mainstream India that its cause is inextricably linked to the cause of the downtrodden and dispossessed. It would be wise to consider that there are indeed groups in large swathes of the country that have protested against the Government of India’s policies — whether about mining rights or developmental projects — in a non-violent manner. To protest against the government hardly makes them automatically Maoists or even Maoist sympathisers, although between their perception of the devil and the deep sea, many have indeed moved closer, perforce, towards the devil with the ideology of power flowing from the barrel of a gun. It is these groups that the government should reach out to for an honest exchange.
CPI(Maoist) leaders like Koteswar Rao a.k.a. Kishenji would like the affected tribals as well as the rest of the country to believe that they are the sole representatives of tribals’ concerns. They aren’t and it would do the Government of India a great deal of good if it works out the modalities of holding talks with not only the CPI(Maoist) — which seems to be pulling out all the stops in the rhetorical and public relations department while not bothering to stall its violent ways — but also to engage with non-Maoist tribal groups. These disaffected people have been looking for a solution to their conditions much before the Maoists entered the picture and will remain there long after they have gone to play revolutionaries elsewhere.