Weapons of mass desperation

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TODAY, THE biggest riddle for anybody concerned about a just and equal world is the dilemma of violence as a tool of political struggle. When the government shows such poor intention, when it is completely deaf to peaceful people’s movements like the Bhopal gas victims’, or the tribal resistance to bauxite mining in Niyamgirhi, or the Narmada Andolan, is one justified in asking the poor to defang themselves, unless one is willing to step out of one’s comfort zone and share their lives of helpless status quo?

Should one distinguish between Naxal violence and spontaneous rural violence? Yet, in a democratic society, how can violence of any kind be condoned? Where does that leave democratic practice?

Despite these internal tussles, contrary to what Arnab Goswami asserts, almost the entire human rights community is agreed that not only is Naxal violence to be condemned, but subdued. Increased and international access to weaponry has led to escalating violence. As Prakash Singh, a widely respected retired police chief, says, “The Naxals used to move in dalams [cells] of 20. That’s gone up to a 100. They have sophisticated weapons and their attacks have become more brutal. We have to show that such armed insurrection will not be tolerated.”

The disagreements arise over strategy and efficacy. A top security expert who wishes not to be named but is generally considered a hawk, for instance, has serious doubts over Operation Green Hunt. Ironically, he voices the anxiety of a wide range of human rights activists. “To attempt this kind of an action by police forces against your own land and people is a dangerous trap,” says he. “We usually reserve such operations for hostile territory. The police is supposed to go after particular individuals – say, Ram Lal, a criminal. But in an operation of this kind, you don’t even know who Ram Lal is, it is very difficult to know who he is or get accurate intelligence on his movements. You might end up killing Ram Lal’s relatives or his whole village. And if you don’t hold inquests, you’ll never know who you killed.”

Kashmir and the Northeast are bleeding, painful reminders: once paramilitary forces or the army moves in, you can never really withdraw. No bureaucrat or military strategist or powerful minister can control the vicious logic of paranoia, fake killings, genuine mistakes and revenge that sets in. When friend and family can be an informer, everyone is an enemy.

Already, this helpless cycle has started to turn in Chhattisgarh. Last week, in the first of its assaults, a company of 100 COBRA commandos set off to destroy an alleged Naxal arms factory in Chintagufa area. They were caught in Naxal fire. Seven COBRAs were killed. In turn, they claimed to have killed nine Naxals (whose bodies they say they have) and many more they claim the Naxals dragged away. The government has tried to pass this off as a big triumph. But the deadly smoke and mirrors game has already begun. Villagers claim the COBRAs made no kills and had dragged innocents out of villages to tot some up, among them an old man and woman. Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan does not help matters by refusing to answer questions: “I don’t have any details,” he says. An odd answer for a DGP. Plus, there’s the wound of six COBRAs dead in the first sortee.

As Operation Green Hunt kicks into top gear, all these problems will magnify. The hallucinations of the impregnable forest. Extremists who disappear, leaving villagers to bear the brunt of the commandos’ ire. Paranoia within and without, revenge and, as in the Salwa Judum, innocent tribals caught between the fury of the Naxals and the fury of the State.

Pressure will create equal and opposite counter pressure. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can’t seem to grasp this simple physical equation. The impact of the Salwa Judum was to drive more tribals into the arms of Naxals. Operation Green Hunt promises to set the place on fire. When Binayak Sen spoke against the Salwa Judum, he was jailed. Now, when Himanshu Kumar is warning about impending civil war, no one is listening.

“Not commandos. Send in health workers and schoolteachers protected by the CRPF,” pleads he. “Show the tribals hope and they will choose life over death.” But the weight of his voice does not sway even a mote of dust in the corridors of the Home Ministry.

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