Home minister P. Chidambaram has in the past days said the government will talk to Maoist rebels were they to switch off their rebellion for 72 hours—a tempering of his earlier pitch of no talks until rebels put down their weapons for keeps.
Maoists have since 2004 maintained talks can only take place if a slew of and-or conditions are met: their jailed comrades be treated as political prisoners and not terrorists, all colleagues be released, big projects in tribal homelands be scrapped, land be redistributed to the landless, and so on. It’s all humbug.
A deal can only come about if there is both ground and momentum for it. There simply is neither at this point of time. My take is that Chidambaram knows it as well as the Maoist leadership. This talk-talk, fight-fight approach by both is just posturing.
While Maoists are undeniably under pressure from several arrests, deaths and capitulation—rebels giving up for reasons ranging from illness to disillusionment—among their leadership and ranks over the past couple of years, they aren’t yet weakened to the point of negotiating a mass surrender and rehabilitation in the guise of talks. Besides, the Maoist rebellion has moved from the level of relatively small noise in the hinterland of India to an aggressive wishful thinking of a spread into industrial and urban areas—at the very least—to retain the influence they now have in central and eastern India, primarily in forested and resource-rich areas. For the Maoist core, it’s make-or-break time, as I mentioned in an earlier column. Their desperate intent was underscored when they blew up a bus carrying both indentured security personnel and civilians in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. Though Maoists have apologized for it to cushion bad PR on account of this episode, their strikes have not dropped off.
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The government—Chidam-baram’s ministry in particular—is under pressure to show it can deliver. The pressure has increased since early April, with Maoists picking up the paramilitary and police nearly at will in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, beginning with the ambush on 6 April that killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada.
Chidambaram has shored up his political credibility by offering to resign owing moral responsibility—not surprisingly, rejected—and soaked up appreciation from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for a hard line on internal security issues. Bad PR on account of recent reports of phone tapping by some security agencies, the indiscriminate targeting of human rights organizations as Maoist fronts, and allegations of the government working on behalf of mining and industrial interests have done little to slow the pace of anti-Maoist planning and operations.
In any case, what would Chidambaram and his colleagues guarantee those who become Maoists? To take it further, guarantee that more people, potential recruits for Maoists or other bands of the desperately disaffected, do not take to the gun in anger and disgust? Is any Central or state government in a position to guarantee lessening of corruption, delivery of constitutionally mandated rights, delivery of 360-degree justice, tamper-free delivery of development funds, and to put socio-economic development out of the reach of the clutches of the establishment?
As the answer evidently is no on all counts, the conclusion to this cycle of Left-wing rebellion will only come about with a winner-takes-all play. It is a sad commentary on India’s political construct, but there it is.
I believe it is also pointless to look for a solution based on templates in neighbouring Nepal, where a decade-long Maoist rebellion wound down in 2006—ironically, with the eventual intervention of India. Maoists there formed a political front with seven major parties to combat the decrepit monarchy run by King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev.
Nepal’s Maoists had a far greater run of the land than India’s Maoists do at present, and the monarchy had crossed way too many lines, including the assumption of absolute power and suspension of civil rights. This engendered mass outrage and showed the Maoists a quicker way to power; the environment for Maoists coming on board became appropriate. (The experiment worked for a while, now Maoists are ranged against the rest of that country’s political establishment, all together pushing Nepal further along the road to ruin as the reconciliation exercise lies dislocated.)
The point is: India’s conflict curve is nowhere near Nepal’s was in 2006. Likewise with the horizon for a negotiated peace. Ignore the talk. Buckle down for conflict.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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