Halt the hunt

Halt the hunt

Less than a week after Home Minister P Chidambaram convened a meeting with officials of West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar to discuss the launch of inter-state security operations against the Maoists, the latter have sent out an unambiguous message of what lies ahead if the government goes ahead with the operations. They have attacked a joint forces camp in Bengal’s West Midnapore district, killing around 24 jawans.

Several are still missing. Dozens of Maoists are said to have participated in the well-planned attack and were able to engage the security forces for several hours. It is almost two months since the government launched ‘Operation Green Hunt’ and but for the horrific levels of violence it has unleashed on civilians in the Maoist areas, the operations have achieved little. In many cases, Maoists have melted into forests leaving tribal villagers to face the fire.

If the government was hoping that ‘Operation Green Hunt’ would intimidate the Maoists into submission, it is mistaken. The latter have repeatedly signalled that they will not be cowed down by the government’s show of security strength. Rather, as their attack in Bengal on Monday shows they are striking with renewed ferocity.

Both, the government and Maoist leaders are saying they are open to talks. But the government wants the Maoists to abjure violence and the latter while insisting on unconditional talks, want ‘Operation Green Hunt’ to be halted. Both are being disingenuous, expecting of the other what they themselves are unwilling to do.

If the Maoists are suspicious of the government’s conditional offers of talks, this is because in the past, the government has used ‘ceasefires’ to round up Maoist leaders who come above ground. That was their experience in Andhra Pradesh for instance. The government must convince the Maoists that talks will be aimed at a genuine quest for a settlement.

A cessation in violence will contribute to improving the atmosphere in the run-up to and during talks. It is a welcome but not an essential condition for talks to begin. Some are opposed to the government halting the operations at this juncture as the ‘gains’ made so far are in danger of being frittered away. But this is short-sighted thinking. The government must take a long-term perspective and this necessitates a halt to ‘Operation Green Hunt’ and initiation of negotiations. Expecting rebels to give up their bargaining chips ahead of negotiations is unrealistic.