Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who frequently visits Naxal-hit areas, tells Saubhadra Chatterji that it will now be difficult to undertake political activities in Red Corridors. Excerpts.
This is first Maoist attack targeting a Congress state unit brass. What do you suspect to be the motive?
Earlier, individual leaders from some parties like the Telugu Desam, even the BJP had been targeted. But this is a systematic carnage against a political party that has never been seen before. This is not only an assault on democratic values but clearly, there are forces who don’t want the Congress to come back to power in Chhattisgarh.
Is there a need now to re-look at the centre’s policy against the Maoists?
We have a comprehensive policy against the Maoists that has four elements: security, supporting political mobilisation, tribal-centric development and some restitution of past injustices. We will have to deepen our political agenda and intensify our development activities.
At the same time, a type of pro-active security action that was undertaken in Operation Anaconda in Saranda is required. This time, we need multiple Ops Anaconda. Local police has to be much stronger in states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand
But do you fear political engagement will now take a backseat?
There is no alternative to active political engagement and development activities. This has worked in West Bengal, Odisha and we are hopeful it will work in southern Chhattisgarh as well. But I admit, it will now be difficult to intensify political activities. We had planned a big Yatra in Jharkhand and parts of western Odisha. But now, these may undergo changes.
The aam sabha — holding public rallies — gives oxygen to the system. If politicians can’t organise aam sabhas, the system gets choked. But remember, in Andhra Pradesh, once the Maoists started targeting the political class, the situation turned against them. This carnage too, will turn the tide against them.
You travel extensively in Maoist areas. How do you assess the ground reality?
We have already identified 82 districts across nine states as problem areas. But I must say that Southern Chhattisgarh — that comprises areas like Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kankar - has now become a Maoist citadel. There are Maoist-dominated patches in other states. But around 8,000 to 9,000sqkm in southern Chhattisgarh is a complete “free zone”. Here, the Indian flag doesn’t fly, administrators can’t go. No form or idea of governance exists in any way.
But there is also a section of public opinion that refers to Maoism as a fight against “government’s injustice”.
I am not a romantic who believes Maoists have any ideology. They are cold blooded killers, terrorists. Some liberals, poets and authors don’t understand this reality.