More than a security failure, a social failurehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/more-than-a-security-failure-a-social-failure/

More than a security failure, a social failure

Stark questions about the state remain unasked,as we mythologise Maoists without understanding them

Stark questions about the state remain unasked,as we mythologise Maoists without understanding them

After this newspaper interviewed a Maoist leader last year,a top English news channel called the reporter for a possible “live” with the rebel. When explained the absurdity of this request,he switched to “some visuals” of the comrade,or at least a “phono” of the reporter. This illiterate editorial response towards the Red insurgency is at complete variance with the authoritative tweets from these editors now.

No prominent English news channel has a correspondent in Chhattisgarh,the capital of the Maoist insurgency. After a major incident,their crew flies in to put together a few primetime packages. The Naxal comrades become a story only when an attack creates a “peg”. No media,print or electronic,has a Naxal beat.

In Chhattisgarh,the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress have never deliberated the issue. They respond only after an attack,when the chief minister takes oaths about handling the crisis with resolve. How he will do that is never spelt out. The prime minister called Maoists the “biggest internal security threat” several years ago,but he never visited their zone. The Congress vice president did not even use the M word during his emotional midnight address to partymen in Raipur,hours after the attack in Darbha valley. The state Congress now generates conspiracy theories instead of asking why a political convoy needs to be accompanied by a 1,000-plus security persons. Raipur rallies don’t need paramilitary troops every hundred metres,why should Bastar? The Congress never asks the CM what continues to make Bastar a near-liberated zone,where elected representatives cannot even step in,or why the government has abandoned over two-thirds of south and western Bastar,where the administration has had no presence for the last seven or eight years.

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A majority of India does not understand the Maoists,and also lacks the desire and dedication to grapple with their reality. Op-eds and TV shows feature people who have,most likely,never met a rebel. The popular perception of Maoists is largely divided into a quadrangular formulation — pastoral guerrillas,corrective forces of history,extortionist butchers and disillusioned youths. Choose the Maoist that suits you.

Enjoy this ignorance,but despite local variations,the Red movement in India is still based on a social,economic and political ideology,and many cadres,though illiterate,would swiftly spell out a few sermons on Naxalbaad. Of his total curriculum,violence or armed insurrection is just one aspect,which,due to its obvious newsworthiness and our collective interest in gore,mistakenly dominates the discourse. Remain hypnotised by their violence,and miss the complex matrix they weave to continue operating: attack the enemy,awaken the masses,attract the intellectual.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Darbha attack was the tipping point,or the “first such attack”. It may be to compare death counts,but 24 is not even one-third of chhiyattar (76),the Tadmetla figure now part of Maoist lore. It was the fourth in this very year. “In a first” headlines accompanied news of an IED planted in a cop’s body (Latehar,January),a journalist’s murder (Sukma,February),an attack on a Doordarshan centre (April,Jagdalpur). The Sukma collector’s abduction sparked outrage last year,but a year before that,the Malkangiri collector had been taken hostage,and six IAS officers had been abducted three decades ago.

Innovation is a guerrilla’s character,his necessity. He may use a passenger bus to attack a police camp,or don a school uniform to eliminate the target. Having fixed the final goal,he changes tactics routinely to ensure survival in hostile terrain. A mobile creature,he is always on the move. If he stagnates,he will perish. He may condemn democracy,but will forge a clandestine pact with a “bourgeois politician”,an informal zone-sharing. He may hate capitalism and oppose mining for destroying tribal life,but may still take crores to allow that same miner to operate.

Again,don’t be bamboozled by cries of a “high-handed” or “all-out approach”. Forces have a very high hand. Andhra Pradesh police routinely enter Chhattisgarh territory,kill Maoists and swiftly take bodies along. Bastar today has five times more security personnel than 10 years ago,armed with the best weapons,but the Maoist kingdom has remained intact,the civic administration retreated.

To mention the absolute absence of basic services in interior Bastar,a region bigger than Kerala,may appear cruel in emotionally charged times. So raise the demand for drones and army presence,but know that if 22 CRPF,3 ITBP and 5 BSF battalions,besides thousands from the state police,cannot allow you to construct even the Sukma-Konta national highway along the most important stretches in Bastar,key for anti-Naxal ops,something must be horribly wrong. This is not a PMGSY road in some rural interior,it the same road that goes northwards to the spot of the Darbha attack. High-placed CRPF men have been shouting for years about deploying as many battalions as needed just to construct this road,but things do not move. The Indo-Canadian contractor who managed to get a tender for constructing a portion of this road was forced to withdraw after he alleged that a powerful BJP minister demanded a “million dollar bribe”. This 78-km broken stretch is a four-drive,but after entering Andhra,it suddenly transforms into a plush four-lane highway.

And then ask why,despite nearly Rs 5000 crore earmarked annually only for development projects in Bastar,apart from security expenditure,it remains a dark and “liberated” zone. What moral or constitutional right to rule does a government have,if,after 10 uninterrupted years,it still blames the Maoists when asked why there are no schools and health centres for thousands of square kilometres across Bastar? Are these insurgents really so omnipotent,or is there something within the cogs that keeps the wheels well-oiled?

Explore and explode the Maoist myth. A myth becomes formidable,supernatural,if not explained. Demystify the aura around the guerrillas. It is the government,opposition,media,the entire society that have failed to confront the rebels. If we come to them only after an attack,they will remain elusive. We should approach them during the lull,the time when they incubate and innovate. They thrive in the shadow of India’s collective indifference. Know their lives,their agendas,and ambitions. Their networks and connections,political and social. Give faces to the names that routinely surface after every attack. Instead of indulging in guess work after every attack,dedicate energies to understanding and engaging with the Maoist.

A conventional army loses a war if it doesn’t win it. A guerrilla army wins a war if it doesn’t lose it. This is the 46th summer after Naxalbari.

ashutosh.bhardwaj@expressindia.com