Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Murder, they wrote

by Kalyani Shankar

The brutal murder of Andhra Pradesh Congress party legislator Narsi Reddy and eight others on Independence Day only confirms that the Maoists are indeed running a parallel Government in certain parts of the State.

It is shocking that the incident took place at the same spot where an official function was on. When the leader was cremated in his native village in Dhanwada in Mahboobnagar on Wednesday, there were emotionally charged scenes with Congress workers reacting with anger and frustration.

The Maoist menace is not new to Andhra Pradesh; indeed, it has taken firm roots over the years. All efforts of various chief ministers, be it of the Congress or the Telugu Desam Party, have not yielded the desired results. The Maoists hide in thick forests and often dictate to the villagers during elections as to who should they vote for. Often they order villagers to boycott elections.

Narsi Reddy's brutal murder brings into focus the urgent need to contain ultra Left-wing violence. Incidentally, this is the first direct confrontation between the YS Rajasekhara Reddy-led Congress Government and the Maoists in the past one year. The Government should be worried now that intelligence agencies seem to have gathered information that there may be more targets including ministers, MPs and senior Congress leaders from Andhra Pradesh. They are now living in absolute dread despite their security.

It is well-known that the Maoists have been expanding their operations gradually. According to Home Ministry figures 167 districts are affected by their menace. Beginning with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the 'red corridor' runs through States like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. The Maoists, who are ruling the roost in Nepal, have links with Naxalites and, ever since the royal coup, things have become worse.

Mr Rajsekhara Reddy is under tremendous pressure from both his party and his opponents to deal with the situation. While he was playing hot and cold all these days, he responded in the only way possible after the murder of Narsi Reddy: Reimposition of the ban on the Maoists. The Centre too seems to have advised in favour of the ban. Mr Rajsekhara Reddy has assumed all powers to deal with the Maoists from his Cabinet. If he succeeds, he gets kudos, and if he fails, he will have to face the consequences. He has the full backing of both the party as well as the Centre.

Interestingly, political parties cannot be absolved of the blame because they allegedly took the help of these extremists to come to power. This is true of the Congress, TRS and TDP. The TRS could not have won so many seats without the tacit support of the Maoists.

The Congress had said in its 2004 election manifesto that if it came to power, it would begin peace talks. Soon after taking charge, perhaps out of sheer political expediency, Mr Rajsekhara Reddy called the Naxalites to the negotiating table without any preparation. He failed to assess their true strength or the full implications of adopting a soft line towards them. He was naive enough to believe that the Maoists would be reasonable. But the talks went nowhere.

The Maoists, of course, came to the table for a much needed reprieve to mobilise resources and arms to continue their activities. They knew their campaign of violence was fast eroding. The Maoist Communist Centre and People's War subsequently merged on September 21, 2004, to form CPI(Maoists). Now that his policy of peace talks has failed, Mr Rajsekhara Reddy has gone back to the ban.

In this scenario the blame game will not be the answer to tackle the problem. What is required is a national policy to deal with these extremists. It should have both political and social content. If necessary, the law should be changed to arm the Centre with greater powers. It is not going to help any more by pushing it to the State governments on the ground that it is their responsibility or a joint responsibility with the Centre. Indeed, the Centre continues to hold the view that it is for the States to deal with the situation while the Centre would provide the broad parameters for peace talks.

The Union Government has told the affected states to share their intelligence information and increase their coordination. But in actual practice this is not happening. There is not much coordination among the Naxal-affected states. Last year, when Mr Rajsekhara Reddy lifted the ban on Naxalites, some of the other violence-hit states were opposed to it. The Maoists possess modern arms and ammunition while the police force is crying for modernisation to deal with the menace. Narsi Reddy was killed with an AK-47 rifle, which confirms the worst suspicions of intelligence agencies.

Maoist violence cannot be treated as a mere law and order problem. The basic issue is lack of development and the Maoists are able to hold sway because of endemic backwardness in certain regions. Successive governments in Andhra Pradesh have been talking of social measures to improve the conditions and the recent one is to raise a tribal battalion. The implementation of land reforms is tardy. The local people need jobs and lack of employment is yet another reason for the woeful state of affairs in Naxal-hit regions.

The Government should try to get to the root of the problem and resolve it rather than talk about it in a haphazard manner. Dealing with insurgency with a firm hand is yet another way of resolving it. Committed officials should be posted in violence-affected districts. In the late 1970s, the Vengala Rao regime in Andhra Pradesh succeeded in curbing Naxalites, even though some attribute its success to the Emergency. Mr Rajsekhara Reddy comes from Cuddapah, where bombs are aplenty. He must, therefore, give a better account of his administrative skills.

Until now, the Maoists had targeted other parties including the TDP and Telengana Rashtra Samithi. In fact, only recently, six TRS ministers resigned from Mr Rajsekhara Reddy's Cabinet under Maoists' pressure. TRS ministers at the Centre too are facing tremendous pressure from the Maoists to deliver on their promise of separate Telengana State. Politically, the TRS leaders must feel some respite now that direct confrontation has begun between the Government and the Maoists.

The BJP has joined the 'separate Telengana' chorus after the TDP parted ways with it. Political regroupings have begun in the State. The Maoists will run away only when all the political parties commit themselves to annihilation of violence. Above all, the Naxal policy of the State Government should be consistent and coordinated.


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