Sunday, July 02, 2006

Congress, the joker of calibration (July 2, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

Those familiar with diplomatic gobbledegook will have noticed the generous overuse of the term “calibrated” to describe a prevailing confusion or tentativeness of existing policy. Often used as a euphemism for “nuanced”, a “calibrated” strategy invariably involves moving in one direction without any clear sense of purpose, and with one eye on a possible exit route.

It would be ungenerous to suggest that the Left approach to the exercise of political power at the Centre is whimsically calibrated. On paper, the Communists are in the twilight zone between wielding power at the Centre and being in opposition—the only caveat being that they will not allow the UPA Government to collapse in a hurry. At the same time, they have ensured that a generous clutch of their fellow-travellers—the “eminent historians”, the professional seminarists and the custodians of left-liberal conscience—have found their way into advisory committee and government-funded quangos. From these watchtowers of the establishment, they have begun the battle to shape the ideological debate in the country.

In the past month, many of the usual suspects who are otherwise battling Narendra Modi and supporting terrorists have initiated a campaign to rubbish the robust, one-year-old Salwa Judum campaign against Maoist terror launched by the adivasis of Chhattisgarh. Beginning with a press conference in Delhi by members of a Independent Citizen’s Initiative, the mainstream media has been inundated by demands that the Salwa Judum camps be disbanded and a cease-fire offered to the CPI(Maoist)—an insurgent group described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “single biggest internal challenge” faced by the Republic. These demands have been endorsed by the Communists and a section of the Congress which hopes to benefit politically from an expedient understanding with the Maoists. It is only a matter of time before the human rights industry now descends on Chhattisgarh to plead the terrorists’ case.

Given the array of forces ranged against Salwa Judum, it is apparent that the patriotic adivasis of Chhattisgarh are doing something right. It has long been said that left-wing extremism cannot be countered as a purely law and order problem. There is no empirical basis to sustain the argument that winning a civil war against a non-ethnic insurgency involves delving into complex socio-economic formulations. The Naxalites in West Bengal in the 1970s, the JVP in Sri Lanka in the late-1980s and the Khalistani secessionists in the early-1990s were crushed by the effective use of the coercive arms of the state. But inspirational policemen like Ranjit Gupta in West Bengal and J.F.Rebeiro and K.P.S. Gill in Punjab also used civil society groups adroitly to combat terrorism. Leaders like Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi also led the charge against Red terror in West Bengal.

It is this aspect of the anti-terrorist operations which scare Maoists. The Maoists have traditionally used their guns to intimidate villagers into submission. By temporarily resettling locals into camps—a technique first tried with great success in the anti-Communist drive in Malaya in the early-1950s—the Salwa Judum campaign has created the opening for effective police action. Salwa Judum is not the be-all and end-all of counter-insurgency; it has secured an environment for the effective use of force.

The Maoists want Salwa Judum called off for two reasons. First, it will send a powerful signal to the adivasis that the Maoists have political clout to supplement their guns and claymore mines. Those who took the initiative to fight terror will end up as sitting duck targets of the Maoists. Second, the Maoists have over-extended themselves and need a little respite to regroup, rearm and re-fund their units. The CPI(Maoist) wants a breather to take advantage of the transition in Nepal. If there is some deal to legitimise the People’s Liberation Army as a parallel force to the Royal Nepal Army, the surplus weapons of the Nepal Maoists will start flowing to the Indian Maoists.

There is nothing “calibrated” about the CPI(M) simultaneously playing interlocutor with Nepal’s Maoists and facilitating India’s home-grown terror in Chhattisgarh. Both amount to the same thing. The joker of calibration is the Congress which wants to fight Maoists but can’t resist the temptation of cutting short-term deals with them to unsettle a state government run by the BJP.

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, July 2, 2006)

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