Is HM deaf to Sonia?

The sparring in the Congress on how to tackle left extremism in the tribal belt may come to an end with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s press conference on Monday, May 24. Or it may continue until June 18, at least, when 56 Rajya Sabha results will be in. Will the cabinet be reshuffled after that date? Will it be a limited reshuffle?

The series of attacks by Maoists in the tribal belt, specifically in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, can be seen either as a failure of the UPA-led Central government or as incompetence of the BJP led state government — or both.

In his recent TV appearances, Union Home Minister Chidambaram has given the impression of having to fight the ‘merciless’ Maoists with his hands tied behind his back.
Naturally, someone as quick as BJP’s Arun Jaitley smacks his lips at the jam being offered. Poor fellow, says he, even as the BJP forms an admiring circle around the tallest Congress leader from Tamil Nadu in the present cabinet.

Digvijay Singh, who had been Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister when Chhattisgarh was part of his political parish, would, in his guts, like the party to hammer the BJP for its failure in the state. He is obviously disturbed at Chidambaram providing scoring opportunities to a party any Congress chief minister in Bhopal spends a lifetime fighting.
De ja vu! Remember Arjun Singh and Karunakaran proposing diametrically opposite stance towards the BJP during the P V Narasimha Rao years? Their attitudes towards the BJP were determined by their experiences in their respective states.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has to fight the BJP tooth and nail. Karunakaran required the RSS cadres and the various ‘Munanis’ or cultural organisations to throw their weight behind the UPA to beat the Left Front.

Chidambaram’s political experience in Tamil Nadu leaves him BJP — neutral. Which is roughly the attitude of the corporate sector, large sections of the media and, of course, global capitalism. In fact the dream scenario of the Maruti-plus middle class and interests mentioned above would be growing floor co-ordination between UPA and the BJP (or NDA and the Congress) after the democratic exercise on polling day.Chidambaram’s stance is all the more audacious after Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s ‘letter to Congress persons.’

“...While we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root causes of naxalism. The rise of naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially in our most backward tribal districts,” says Sonia in her letter. This diagnosis of the Congress president has ready acceptance at various levels of the party.

Ground reality
In fact the CWC member, K Kesava Rao, whose ‘padyatra’ in the Maoist strongholds of Andhra Pradesh some years ago brought him face to face with various dimensions of the problem, is totally opposed to the Chidambaram line.

After the April 6 Maoist attack, Air Force chief P V Naik said in Ahmedabad. “The military — Air Force, Army and Navy — are trained to inflict maximum lethality. They are not trained for limited damage. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border.”
A spokesman for Raman Singh, BJP chief minister in Chhattisgarh, said helicopter gunships would be extremely useful. Defence Minister A K Antony, demurs and echoes his air chief’s views.

Maoists believe that by demanding air support, Chidambaram is opening the door to “somehow bring the army into the fight,” rather like the Pak army in Waziristan — step by step.
Since Maoists depend on local support for their operations, civilian deaths, as in the attack on the bus last Monday, undermines their strategy. Hence expressions of regret even by Maoist leader Kishenji with one proviso: “I request the people not to travel in any vehicle which is carrying police personnel.”

In an interview to a TV channel Kishen asked: “Why is Chidambaram killing poor people when Sonia Gandhi is advocating a development path.” Did the special police officers boarded the civilian bus to use them as human shields? The truth may be simple incompetence, a violation of standard operating procedure which prohibits police personnel from travelling in civilian transport.

While divisions within the Congress on the issue are providing material for the BJP to gloat over, the CPM in West Bengal (which seeks air support) is finding itself embarrassed by its junior partner the CPI which describes naxalism as a socio-economic problem and not just a law and order issue which seems to be the CPM’s emphasis.
Even as the pros and cons of the stance towards Maoists are debated within the ruling party, a grave situation is developing in neighbouring Nepal where on May 28, the Constitution lapses opening the way to a situation the consequences of which cannot be accurately predicted.

That situation too is charged with Maoism, but one which is open to the democratic route. What is New Delhi’s attitude towards Nepal’s Maoists embarked on the democratic route? Maoists outside the pale must be watching this with interest.

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