Conflict of interest

With their attack in Dantewada on Monday, Maoists have signalled that they no longer distinguish between security forces and civilians so long as they can eliminate a few of the former. Thirty-five people, including 24 civilians and 11 Special Police Officers were killed when an IED ripped through a private  bus about 40 km from Dantewada town. This is of course not the first time that the Maoists have killed civilians. Several villagers have been shot dead for allegedly co-operating with the police. Villagers participating in rallies associated with the Salwa Judum have been blown up in the past. The brutal attack on Monday, though unpardonable, reveals a sense of desperation with the UPA government’s one-track policy, which is only addressing the symptoms rather than the cause.

Home Minister  Chidambaram’s response to the attack is shocking. Instead of owning up responsibility for a flawed approach he is blaming civil society. Instead of initiating course correction, he is demanding a larger mandate to persist down this wrong road. The UPA government’s military offensive has set in motion a vicious cycle, leaving villagers in the area more vulnerable to violence than ever before. This wrong strategy stems from treating the violence merely as a law and order problem rather than seeing it also as manifestation of a socio-economic issue affecting millions of tribal people.
The politician-police-mining tycoon nexus in mining areas is well known. This nexus is believed to be in favour of military operations in Chhattisgarh, Orissa and other states to eliminate the Maoists, tribals and anyone else who stands in the way of their exploitation of the region’s minerals. Chidambaram himself did have links with Vedanta Resources. He had fought the mining giant’s case in the courts some years ago and was on the company’s board too. He is reported to have severed these links subsequently. However, one wonders whether his former ties with mining companies has clouded his present thinking on the matter. Those who are espousing the military offensive against the Maoists need to tell the country clearly how their militarisation of the conflict is going to resolve a socio-economic conflict. And they need to tell us on whose side they are: the mining companies or the ordinary people? They need to bear in mind that India’s security cannot be enhanced by undermining the security of its rural poor.

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