Weapons of mass desperation

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Operation Green Hunt, the offensive against Naxals, might blow up in our faces.  Shoma Chaudhury examines the tricky and dangerous terrain

ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2009, India woke up to the news that the Delhi Police had captured a top Naxal ideologue, 58-year-old Kobad Ghandy – a South Bombay Parsi who had grown up in a giant sea-facing house in Worli, had gone to Doon School, and had studied for a CA in London before returning to India to work with the most destitute of Indian citizens in Maharashtra, before going underground in the 1970s. His wife Anuradha, a sociologist, went underground with him and died of cerebral malaria last year. (Malaria, particularly the lethal falciparium malaria, is a common affliction in the neglected heartland of central India.) Home Minister P Chidambaram called Ghandy the State’s “most important Naxal catch.”

Enemy worthy? Naxals in Abujmarh. Women suckle babies. The poverty shows
Enemy worthy? Naxals in Abujmarh. Women suckle babies. The poverty shows
Photo: AP

On the night of September 22, Times Now had a prime time debate on the significance of Ghandy’s arrest. The aggressive rhetoric of anchor Arnab Goswami epitomised typical high urban attitudes to Naxal issues. If you happened to watch him anchor the show, several terrifying things would have become evident. Over this past year, the Home Ministry has been planning a major armed offensive against the Naxals, particularly in Chhattisgarh. According to reports, the plan involves stationing around 75,000 troops in the heartland of India — including special CRPF commandos, the ITBP and the BSF. Scattered newspaper accounts have spoken of forces being withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast; there is also talk of bringing in the feared Rashtriya Rifles — a battalion created specially for counter-insurgency work — and the purchase of bomb trucks, bomb blankets, bomb baskets, and sophisticated new weaponry. Minister Chidambaram has also said that if necessity dictates, he will bring in the special forces of the army.

The decision to launch such a massive armed operation on home ground — due to start this November — should have triggered animated political, civil society and media debate. But Operation Green Hunt — as the offensive is being termed — has been gathering force in almost complete silence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Chidambaram have variously called Naxals — or “Maoists” — “the gravest threat to India’s internal security.” Perhaps a military offensive against them is the answer, but is it the only answer? Is it the best answer? Will it provide a solution? Who will be impacted by this offensive? What will be its repercussions? Who are we really declaring war on? What are we declaring war on? Are we going into this with eyes wide open? Is there anything we should have learned from the seemingly irreparable psychological mess in Kashmir and the Northeast? These are the questions a democratic society should be asking. One can perhaps understand the well-heeled turning their back on such bleak issues. But with such a significant operation looming on the horizon, what can excuse the complete absence of debate from national political parties?

But silence, perhaps, is only the lesser worry. A few days ago, the government announced an ad blitzkrieg as part of its psychological offensive. “Naxals are nothing but coldblooded murderers” the ad screamed across all major news dailies. The visual showed a series of men, women and children brutally killed by Naxals.

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