SI Kruparam Majhi’s murder offers proof of a cardinal error made eight years ago.

By Shoma Chaudhury

Shoma ChaudhuryTHERE WERE 76 jawans two years ago and several dozen faceless men massacred in between. Now the murder of sub-inspector Kruparam Mahji in Odisha is proof yet again that Manmohan Singh made a cardinal error eight years ago. The Maoist insurgency is not India’s “greatest internal security threat”; it is a sad, shoddy war that pits the poor against the poor.

How we define our problems designs the solutions we bring to them. The tragedy is, as long as the Indian State sends brute force into its neglected heartland to reclaim its “writ”, the Maoists will have an alibi. In a conflict, both hunter and hunted know the other is fair game. And anyone who has reported from the ground can vouch for this: “combing operations” are no benign caress of democracy, geared to untangle oppressive knots. They bring burnt huts, robbed grain, killed chickens, raped women and beaten tribals in their wake. Fresh fodder for old grouses. Therefore, India’s war on the Maoists, in effect, is a war of its poor jawans against its poor tribals. Fear breeding on fear. And the bewildering retaliations born out of that.

But the Maoists have much to answer for, too. No one can deny that they have catalysed crucial questions onto India’s consciousness. By a strange trick of history, often they speak more for the constitutional rights of dispossessed Indians than the elected custodians of our democracy. But for the heated debates, triggered unfortunately only by their violence, how many mainstream Indians would have heard about forest rights, corporate land grab, mining violations and the Fifth Schedule? Indeed, how many even now know of the 1/70 Act or the 2/56 Act? And if the Maoist threat were to disappear altogether, rustle up the courage to ask: would the Indian State still be rushing welfare schemes to Sukma and Malkangiri? We rightfully abhor Maoist violence, but has the Indian State ever been attentive to peaceful and democratic protest? In districts where the “writ of the Indian State” does run, do we have lagoons of justice and good governance to serve as a rebuke for the rebels?

But the Maoists have much to answer for, too: their own cold-blooded murder of tribals they deem “informers”, their doctrinaire politics, their stifling regime, their impatience with dissent, their collusion with big business. Now, with the kidnapping of Collectors and the coldblooded murder of Alex Menon’s guards — emissaries of welfare, not brute force — they are slipping ever lower on the moral tree. If the Indian State were wise, it would use the opportunity to reclaim the language of constitutional rights from the Maoists, set its face doggedly towards delivering justice, and instead of rushing more armed platoons to central India, would leave the Maoists to fade out slowly through their own PR disasters.

ALL WARS depend on two kinds of ammunition: the manufacturing of sharp polarities, and a healthy dose of disinformation. CLAWS, an army think-tank, recently held a seminar on the Maoist crisis. Their mood seemed genuinely consultative. But one of their speakers — a colonel — made for a fascinating study of how wars are drummed up. He argued emotively for a full-blown military assault on the Maoists. Called them “terrorists”. Said all talk of “poor tribals” was a scam. Raged that Binayak Sen, the jailed doctor who became an international cause célèbre, had actually never treated a patient in his life. And insisted that all intellectuals who speak of “complexity” and “root causes” are “white-collar criminals”.

If so, I hope more Indians will proudly claim that penal transgress. It is precisely this kind of paranoid discourse that is escalating the Maoist crisis in India. People like Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar and Sandeep Pandey are India’s safety valves: committed democrats who are unafraid of dissent, raising questions and other such “white-collar crimes”. But instead of using them as listening posts, what has the State done? It has run them to the ground. So, the next time an ordinary Indian wants to raise an issue, what is he to do? Kidnap a Collector?

Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka.