Wrong remedy

Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that “there is no question of any talks now” with the Maoists marks a hardening in the approach of the government in dealing with the rebels.

At a meeting with Chief Secretaries and Director-Generals of Police of 10 states contending with Left-wing extremism, the minister warned the Maoists that an attack would get a “befitting reply” from the security forces. He has promised Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar full funding from his ministry for setting up Special Forces.  Singh’s statements indicate that the NDA government is adopting an overly force-centric approach in tackling the Maoists.  This is doomed to fail. For one, underlying the Maoist violence are social, economic and political grievances, which need to be addressed to end the armed conflict. Unleashing force on the Maoists may undermine their fighting capacity but this is at best a short term gain. Being guerrillas, they will simply melt away and return to strike at a place and time of their choice. Violence will surge again and an escalation, even a spiral of violence will follow. This is why the military option is a recipe for disaster.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the past described Maoism and terrorism as the greatest threats to India’s internal security. This is a flawed reading of the problem and has led to a wrong remedy. The government must rethink its approach. Talks enable a reframing of the conflict and provide space for the conflict parties to articulate their views, find shared interests towards which they can work together, common ground on which they can base a lasting solution. 

It may be recalled that when P Chidambaram as home minister favoured a more aggressive strategy towards the Maoists, he came under fire from senior party colleagues. While Digvijay Singh admonished Chidambaram for treating it as a law and order problem, Jairam Ramesh called for replacing the security-centric approach with a more comprehensive one that focused not just on security and policing but development, politics and justice. These are valid points that Rajnath Singh must heed now. The way to defeat Maoist violence is to invalidate the path of violence. A “befitting reply” to rebel violence amounts to endorsing their use of the gun. Instead of empowering violent means, the government must show that political and democratic means are effective.

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