Fighting one's own people

20 ဧပြီလ 2010

India is using the Maoist 'threat' as a cover to justify its larger neoliberal agenda.

Published at
The News

For much of history, most of the world's peoples lived as subjects under despotic emperors, kings and princes. The monarch's will was all that mattered -- there was no rule of law. It's only in the last century that significant numbers of people became citizens with political rights.

Until the Modern Age, governments made no distinction between proper armed services and the police. Soldiers rounded up suspected criminals, who were tried by judges loyal to the monarch.

In India, the military-police distinction was clearly established during the colonial period. But even before it could get consolidated after Independence, new paramilitary entities emerged: the reconstituted Central Reserve Police Force and its state variants, the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Rapid Action Force, National Security Guards, etc. The paramilitary forces are the fastest-growing component of India's security/police personnel.

Nevertheless, there's a clear, healthy line of demarcation between the paramilitary forces and the armed services; the former report to the home ministry, the latter to the defence ministry. The paramilitaries are meant for internal security; the armed services for external threats.

The consensus has been that the paramilitary forces must be "non-military in culture, ethos and training". Unlike the defence services, they are not meant to inflict maximum damage on adversaries, only to contain them so they can be brought to justice.

Today, security hawks and self-styled insurgency specialists want to treat Naxalism or Maoism as an insurgency, like militarist separatism in Kashmir or the Northeast, and to fight it as a combat operation. This means militarising the paramilitary forces in the anti-Naxal Operation Green Hunt by raising the standard of training and permissible force levels.

This is one toxic effect of the Maoist killing of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada district of the state of Chhattisgarh.

The April 6 killing was luridly described by the media as "war", "massacre" and "butchery". TV anchors exhorted the public to "take sides" between the Indian state, democracy and the Tricolour, on the one hand, and the forces of subversion, lawlessness and violence, on the other. All distinctions between gun-wielding Maoists, sympathisers of justice for tribals, civil liberties activists, and even Gandhians, were erased.

If you are not with the Indian state, you are with the Maoists -- as their accomplices and collaborators. The hysterical message was: "Shoot first, think later".

Top government functionaries, from Home Minister P Chidambaram down to state directors-general of police, responded uniformly to this: Dantewada marks a historic watershed and an act of war by the extremists who want to destroy the state; the state must respond by stepping up the scope and level of force.

So, threatened Chidambaram, the state could consider using air power against the Maoists, for which there's no mandate so far. Talks with the Maoists are firmly ruled out, as that would "mock the supreme sacrifice made by 76 jawans".

Such intemperate responses, coupled with the quasi-self-incriminating admission that "something went drastically wrong" in the CRPF-state police "area domination" exercise, don't speak of maturity, sobriety or wisdom. Rather, they are reminiscent of President George W Bush's Global War on Terror as his knee-jerk response to 9/11 -- which has since led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths, chaos in Afghanistan, huge discontent in the Islamic world, widespread loss of the US' credibility, and a seven-fold rise in terrorist incidents globally.

Escalating Green Hunt will inflict enormous damage upon innocent civilians in the tribal belt, three lakhs of whom have been displaced by unremitting violence by the police and paramilitary forces and by the super-criminalised state-funded militia called Salwa Judum.

Three questions arise. Can the Maoists' Dantewada attack be justified? Is the state right to unleash 60,000-plus paramilitary troops on them, which will inevitably cause huge civilian casualties? Is there a sensible strategy to deal with the Maoists?

First, the CRPF men were combatants, and hence legitimate targets in a conflict situation. But the attack's scale is unjustifiable -- morally, politically or militarily. It wasn't a spontaneous defensive response to Green Hunt or to the horrendous state of iniquity in the tribal belt. Wanton, large-scale killing violates the principles of military necessity and proportionality (of retaliation), which are central to all conflicts.

The Maoists, who claim to defend the underprivileged and to stand for justice and equality, discredit themselves by such brutal acts, including the reported beheading of two CRPF men.

These will invite horrible retaliation against those very Adivasis they claim to defend. This is reportedly already happening through revenge killings by the CRPF in Mukram village. Nor will such attacks destabilise the state. They may at best demoralise the Green Hunt troops -- temporarily.

Let's put it bluntly. Given the paramilitary forces' poor general literacy, skills and basic proficiency -- maybe slightly better than the regular police -- they won't perform better in the short run. And there are so many joining the paramilitaries that their leadership have enough cannon fodder and needn't train them well.

For instance, the ambushed CRPF company ignored the Standard Operating Procedure of guarding their camp and returning to it by a route different from the way they left it.

That brings us to the civil war that the state has launched in the tribal belt to privatise its vast wealth in forests, minerals and land. Hundreds of memoranda of understanding have been signed with groups like Vedanta, Posco and Tatas for mining leases. A tonne of iron ore which sells for Rs4,000 yields a paltry royalty of Rs27. To implement the MoUs, the state has displaced lakhs of vulnerable people and destroyed rivers, mountains and forests.

Such implementation involves flagrant conflicts of interest. High state functionaries, including Chidambaram, have been directors of some of these companies or legally represented them. Supreme Court judges who own their shares have heard cases involving them.

Enforcing neoliberalism entails coercion of people who resist displacement and dispossession. This further consolidates the condition of social servitude and economic bondage prevalent in India, reflected in acute deprivation, malnourishment and hunger. Thus, war-like violence is built into the very logic of neoliberalism.

The greatest crime a democratic state can commit is to wage war against its own citizens. India is using the Maoist "threat" as a cover or excuse for Green Hunt -- actually a war to fulfil its larger neoliberal agenda.

Finally, the question of correctly dealing with the Maoists. They enjoy some popular credibility because the state preys upon the people. The state must be reformed through a human-centred development agenda. Entitlements must be created to food, safe drinking water, healthcare, education, and employment. The absence of this agenda for 60 years bred Naxalism. Trying to wipe out the Maoists before undertaking development is putting the cart before the horse.

This doesn't argue that the government should tolerate the Maoists' violent acts. It should treat them as crimes. It should prosecute the Naxalites, not accuse them of political-military offences like waging war.

This means revitalising the police and the justice delivery system, and establishing the rule of law by breaking the bureaucracy-contractor-forester-miner nexus, while opening a dialogue with Maoists for a ceasefire and more. That alone will restore the people's confidence in the state and give them a sense of belonging.