In every war, the first casualty is often the ability to digest criticism. India’s war against the Maoists is no exception. How seriously the government takes this threat can be gauged from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s repeated assertions that Maoist violence is the gravest internal security threat. The Chhattisgarh police, in a press statement, alleged that four activists — all well- known critics of the State’s battle tactics in Maoism’s ‘Ground Zero’ — Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar, Himanshu Kumar and Arundhati Roy have close links with Lingaram Kodopi, who allegedly led the July 6 attack on a local Congress leader in Chhattisgarh. A senior state police official has also warned the four that they could be treated as ‘co-accused’ under the Chhattisgarh Special People’s Security Act for “waging war against the State”.
It seems that in its no-holds-barred battle to reoccupy lost land from the Maoists, the government is erasing the line that divides someone waging a ‘war against the State’ and someone who is critical of its policies like the Salwa Judum. Though no case has been filed against the four yet, the State’s inability to distinguish between the two is worrying. In a letter to the home minister, historian and anthropologist — not a Maoist sympathiser by any stretch of stretchable imagination — Ramachandra Guha said that such allegations are “not just slanderous and defamatory, but also deeply counter-productive”. He is right. It is clear that there is a trust deficit between the ‘pro-Maoist’ tribals and the government and such allegations without any evidence beyond sharing a ‘territory’ will only exacerbate matters. The police, we have now been told, are investigating the alleged links. So what was the perishing hurry to go public with the allegations when they themselves are unsure about the links?
In a democracy, criticism is a part and parcel of solving any problem and the State has to be seen as an exemplar of fair play. The Maoists don’t need to follow the rulebook. The State, by definition, has to. Many, especially in the frontline of anti-Maoist operations, may find this dichotomy difficult to tackle. But difficulty is not an excuse to throw the rulebook away. For the sake of the State and what it stands for, let the Government of India not make a ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ paradigm that serves against its ideals, and more importantly, against its own operational strategy.