When it comes to propaganda, Maoists can be as smooth as government.
On 3 August, a call was given for a public meeting in New Delhi by “Concerned Citizens and Forum Against War on People” to “protest against the killing of Azad, spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), and journalist Hem Chandra Pandey”. Listed speakers included Swami Agnivesh, an interlocutor between the ministry of home affairs and Maoists for proposed peace talks, and Azad was his key conduit; writer Arundhati Roy; senior members of several human rights groups; poet and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao; G.N. Saibaba, a former underground Maoist; and some from the Revolutionary Democratic Front, a pro-Maoist group.
An explanatory note to the invitation emailed through Maoist-friendly Internet news groups touched on the death of Azad, or Cherukuri Rajkumar, widely suspected of being abducted from Nagpur on 1 July and killed in a staged encounter by Andhra Pradesh police the following day, along with Pandey, whom CPI (Maoist) has claimed as its own. The agenda for the meeting and demands, were to:
• “Institute a judicial inquiry into the killings. Stop Operation Green Hunt.” (That’s the name given to heightened anti-Maoist operations since mid-2009. After the “civil society” furore over massive deployment of security forces, and dangers of overkill—literally—home minister P. Chidambaram hastily denied it, only for the police chief of Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan, to claim that it was he who had coined the term and the plan.)
• “Withdraw paramilitary forces from tribal and other regions” and, “make public all MoUs (memoranda of understanding) on minerals and other projects.”
Many such calls have gone out, and similar meetings have been held in New Delhi and elsewhere. Always, the agenda neatly wove together seemingly separate yet interlinked issues that attempted to hit the Centre—and, in this case, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Karnataka.
The point is not entirely that mainstream media has since last year blanked such appeals and meetings and significantly reduced coverage of the Maoist point of view. Though incidents such as the Jnaneshwari Express carnage in West Bengal this May have hampered Maoist sympathy among both media and intelligentsia, it’s a worrying compliance with the home ministry’s aggressive public relations efforts.
Such meetings sow confusion on account of the mix of speakers that count both the undeniably non-Maoist and the undeniably Maoist. Agendas cleverly mix the imperative with the debatable, further complicating the issue. The demand for instituting a judicial inquiry is noble to expose the savagery of staged killings. But as far as the targeting of Azad is concerned, for the government he or anybody else among the Maoists is fair game; as this is war. (I for one have not subscribed to the feasibility of talks at this stage of the conflict as there is nothing for either side to discuss—in practical terms, it’s no-win.)
Stopping Green Hunt works for reducing incidents of brutality—harassment, molestation, torture, and killing of innocents—that additional tens of thousand of paramilitary and police across Maoist-affected states do and will continue to inflict alongside regular combat. Equally, demanding the cessation of operations against Maoists is silly from the government’s point of view—and crucial from the Maoists’. Similarly, to completely withdraw paramilitary from tribal regions of India would cede the advantage to Maoists; while from the human rights perspective, the paramilitary and police need to stop behaving like Huns.
Making public MoUs related to mining and metals projects goes beyond propaganda. If this Right to Information-like demand pressures revelations that businesses are hand-in-glove with politicians and bureaucrats in New Delhi and various states to gain project clearances, land acquisition, and other concessions: super.
The approach can work. Several extreme-Left ideologues and known Maoistas repeatedly shared the stage with well-known politicians and activists in Kolkata over Nandigram, Singur, and later, the agitation in Lalgarh. While it served to highlight the corruption and rot of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led coalition in West Bengal, and its brazenly strong-arm approach to acquire land for projects and for controlling rural populations, it also served the Maoist agenda.
This is in line with Maoist doctrine that advocates: “…a significant part of the party’s work in the urban areas concerns joint front activity…right up to maintaining relations and even joint activity with national bourgeois and even ruling class organizations”. Doctrine calls for “issue-based unity”, with individuals and organizations.
The war of propaganda and public relations is being keenly fought.
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.
To read all of Sudeep Chakravarti’s earlier columns, go to www.livemint.com/rootcause
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