From 'own people' to 'urban Maoists': PM's Naxal switch

From 'own people' to 'urban Maoists': PM's Naxal switch

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI file photo

During an election rally in Chhattisgarh on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Congress of supporting urban Maoists. He said the urban Maoists live in air-conditioned rooms in cities and extend assistance to Naxals to target tribals.

As chief minister of Gujarat in 2010, Modi had referred to Naxals as 'our own people' and proposed initiating a dialogue with them.

"These (Naxals) are our people. We will have to explain to them that violence cannot be a solution to problems. Dialogue is the best way to solve the Naxal problem,” Modi was quoted as saying at an event in Aligarh, which was reported by News18 on May 20, 2010.

The term 'Urban Naxals' has been used against human rights activists who oppose the anti-people policies of the government. The term, which was used frequently by right-wing outfits, shot into the mainstream after the arrests of activists with alleged links to the Bhima Koregaon violence in January this year.

Although several BJP leaders and right-wing media organisations use the term from time to time, this is the first time that the prime minister has used the phrase to demean the Congress party.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi had represented the activists in the Supreme Court after historian Romila Thapar and others filed a petition against the arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao and three others.

Modi has changed his stance on various issues since he became the prime minister. As chief minister, he was a fierce critic of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government policies and programmes like the GST, the Aadhaar and fuel hikes. Now, however, the prime minister is a champion of the policies.

The Naxal issue

Naxals in Central India were a threat to public safety and the UPA government had launched missions like Operation Green Hunt to root them out. Modi has also followed UPA policies to quell the Naxalism. The government at the Centre and in Naxal-affected states have offered attractive clemency programmes to surrendering Maoists.

And the incidents of Naxal attacks have dramatically reduced. Union Home Ministry data shows a 60% decline in incidents from 2,258 in 2009 to 908 in 2017. In April, the Union Government also removed 44 districts from the list of Left Wing Extremism-affected districts.

On the other hand, the number of casualties in Naxal attacks has increased by 27% from 2015 to 2017. Recently, a Doordarshan cameraman was killed in an ambush that targeted security troops performing election duties.

It's difficult to determine the exact motivation behind the prime minister's latest attack on urban Maoists but it's likely part of the darkening clouds of election season.