When you hear about the killing of a policeman deployed in anti-Maoist operations, you are expected to condemn it in the strongest words possible. Otherwise you will be labelled an anti-national. If you have expressed an opinion that is perceived to be contrary to the Prime Minister’s beliefs that “Naxalism is the largest internal security threat,” you should make it a point to condemn the killing. Or else, you could end up being charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
One could feel a sense of déjà vu in the public domain after the Maoists killed Lucas Tete, one of the four hostages captured in the Maoist ambush on a Bihar Military Police camp in Lakhisarai. This is the biggest incident of its kind in Bihar after ‘Operation Green Hunt’ was launched in 2009. Ironically, the first anniversary of what civil society rightly terms a war against the people is being celebrated in a most bizarre manner in a state where the operation has been supposedly implemented reluctantly by its government.
The release of three policemen by the Maoists coincided with the announcement of the Bihar Assembly election. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar never uttered a word all through the show to indicate that he would consider releasing the eight Maoists in exchange for the four men. Neither did he ever reject the Maoists’ demand. A perfect statesman. Why did the Maoists demand the swap when they knew that ordinary policemen have no importance for the government? Why did they kill Lucas Tete, a Jharkhandi Adivasi, and not the Yadav, Sinha or Khan among the four abducted men?
In the Lakhisarai case, the hostages were prisoners of war (POW). In a similar incident in 2009, Maoist leader Kishenji said that the policeman in their custody was a POW and they would do him no harm. As announced, he was released in exchange for Adivasi prisoners.
But in Lakhisarai, Tete was killed. The remaining three were released under pressure from civil society, if we are to believe what a Maoist spokesman told the media. In this case, the Union and Bihar governments didn’t feel any pressure to release the Maoists in exchange for the abducted men, as their social status was not weighty enough for that. There is no other reason. Because we know from a number of such cases in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Northeast and West Bengal that hostages were swapped for prisoners as demanded by abductors. Why didn’t it happen in the Lakhisarai case?
India doesn’t have a clear policy in this regard. The Home Minister supported the West Bengal government for the release of Adivasi prisoners in exchange for Atindranath Dutta, the office-in-charge of Sankrail police station in 2009. The government justified this act by claiming the prisoners were not involved in serious crimes. If so, why were they not out on bail?
Tete’s killing is regrettable. It is a pattern followed by the Indian State, as in the case of Azad and Hemchandra Pandey, but is uncharacteristic of revolutionaries. The Maoists have to come up with a clear policy on the issue. Such issues should not be left to be decided in the circumstances in which they happen. India has rejected instituting a judicial inquiry, though evidence indicates it was cold-blooded murder. Ever since, the government has evaded questions related to Azad’s peace proposals.
The peace process shouldn’t be derailed. The government alone cannot decide on war and peace. It has been a year now since the war on people was launched. The situation has to change. It is through a strong people’s movement that India will be made to understand the need for peace in the place of its war on people.
GN Saibaba is Vice-President, Revolutionary Democratic Front of India