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Getting it wrong all over again

The murderous attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp at Silda is being regarded as the beginning of a routine Maoist counter-offensive, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2010 23:04 IST

The murderous attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp at Silda is being regarded as the beginning of a routine Maoist counter-offensive. More attacks are feared elsewhere in India to force a redeployment of security personnel. However, the timing suggests a more proximate motive. The audacious attack was launched within a week of Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s visit to Kolkata to review inter-state operations, and it may be calculated to embarrass him into immediately launching Operation Green Hunt, the armed State initiative which he had announced last year and then denied, suggesting that the media had cooked it up.

The Maoists would be interested in precipitating open war with the State for two reasons. War against the State is the millennial vision of the movement and as cadres graduate from murdering villagers to engaging with real khakis, they will be energised by a sense of manifest destiny. They will have some success against the paramilitaries and the police, who are not trained or equipped for jungle warfare and may now have to move in precipitately, without proper logistical support. Besides, the Maoists enjoy an advantage if they have links with local forces, as is being suspected. And as counter-insurgency commanders know only too well, political interests often find it expedient to pull back forces from the final offensive and allow violent movements to linger on.

The Maoists will suffer losses, too, but Green Hunt itself will serve them as a recruitment drive. Popular singer, Trinamool Congress MP and Mamata Banerjee’s bête noire Kabir Suman is now threatening to protest against Green Hunt at the gates of the Lok Sabha, and he has a point. The forces are not staffed exclusively by officers and gentlemen and in the course of an operation, they are not particularly gentle with the locals. If they behave like a force of occupation, they help to swell the ranks of insurgencies by heightening alienation.

Which, by the way, can do without a stimulus. The Indian State is pretty good at combating rebellions with its armed might but surprisingly unconcerned about the discontents they feed on. Green Hunt may cut off the head of the Maoist movement in the east, but its long tail will keep on lashing because the government is blind to it. Take Lalgarh, a landmark experiment which demonstrated the Maoists’ ability to gain local acceptance and defy the State. After winning back the territory with paramilitary support, the

West Bengal government had announced a sizeable financial package to win back hearts and minds. The administration had produced a detailed report for action but nothing much happened thereafter and apparently, even NREGA funds are not reaching the people.

This perhaps owes to the confusion prevailing in West Bengal, which is headed for change after more than three decades of Left rule. Politicians and administrators don’t know which way to jump. Policy-making is in limbo, preventing the State from moving decisively on problem zones from Lalgarh to Gorkhaland. Perhaps it’s no accident that the Maoists chose to cross the border from Jharkhand and strike in Silda. With the government on the backfoot and unable to react except
with brute force, West Bengal is just the arena for the Maoists to stage a show of strength.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

n pratik@littlemag.com

The views expressed by the author are personal