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Violence is a zero-sum game

The State must take note of conflicting truths if it wants to solve the Maoist problem. Pratik Kanjilal writes.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 16:32 IST
Pratik Kanjilal

Could the government please stop congratulating itself for collaring soft targets, superannuated Maoist thinkers like Kobad Ghandy and Gour Chakraborty, and neutralise the underground fighters who have wrested away its territory? The State has lost ground like an absentee landlord who materialises only to display his majestic wrath and collect tribute. The Naxal belt needs more government presence in the form of welfare, justice and professional policing. The Home Ministry has proposed police reform — which has languished in the proposal stage for decades — but nothing more. As usual, it believes that sending in the paramilitaries will solve everything. Even though they failed in West Bengal, where the Maoists are back with a loud bang after Operation Lalgarh.

And the Home Ministry has launched an expensive and useless advertising campaign against Maoism during an austerity drive. It may have worked four decades ago, when the Naxalite movement enjoyed an intellectual leadership recruited from the urban newspaper-reading classes. Now, it draws its strength from the rural poor. How many Chhattisgarh villagers were affected by the ads which appeared this week? Did they see them at all? Ironically, their real target audience is the ageing Naxals whom the State has jailed, and the poets and troubadours who defend the movement on TV. Excellent creative people, but they aren’t the people who mine police convoys, are they?

When will we citizens take a mature stand on Maoism? I am depressed by the childish, churlish opinions being bandied about. Naxals, I hear, are no better than terrorists, and it’s apparently a scandal that Ghandy had the gall to raise slogans invoking the great freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Excuse me, but Bhagat Singh was reviled as a terrorist by the Raj, which represented the State at the time. And he considered himself a revolutionary, just as Ghandy does. Whom you consider a terrorist depends on who you are.

Meanwhile, far Left ideologues and public figures are refusing to accept that Maoists support murder. Let’s set aside the gory pictures of corpses in the Home Ministry’s ridiculous ad. A victim of Maoist violence is indistinguishable from a victim of the Salwa Judum. Even so, there is overwhelming evidence that the Maoists have behaved like an army of occupation. They claim to eliminate State terror but they often supplant it with their own version. On the other hand, the belief that they want to eliminate the State is a generalisation. Many Naxalites actually support the democratic process.

Confusing, isn’t it, so shall we cut the crap? What we’re seeing is a contest between State violence and extremist violence. At some point in our lives, I’m sure every one of us has seen the ugly, feral aspect of the State. A few of us have been assaulted by it. Some of us have been moved to action. Very, very few of us have the moral resolve of Irom Sharmila, or of the Manipuri women who shamed the Army instead of fighting it. Taking up the gun is madness, but one understands why people do it.

There are no easy answers here, but ambivalence isn’t necessarily a weakness. The ability to acknowledge conflicting truths is actually a sign of humanity. And without a little humanity, the Maoist problem will remain a zero-sum game.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine