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Between the line

An aimless fight
October 07, 2009


EVEN after 62 years of independence, the democratic India has not settled down to peaceful environs within its own borders. The country is in the midst of at least five mini wars. The main ones in Nagaland and Kashmir have been there from the dawn of freedom. The armed struggle by extreme left Nexalites (Maoists) and the secession movement of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) are three decades’ old. The trouble in the North East, particularly in Manipur, goes back to the eighties.

All these wars, however limited, may not pose a danger to the country’s integrity. But they are a drain on India’s economy. Their worst fallout is the lessening of liberalism which is India’s proud possession. When the police force under the states and the centre increases manifold, the question is bigger than law and order. Does the increase reflect a failure of political will or helpless dependence on force? In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, this point is indeed relevant because people all over the world are watching how the country is measuring up to the moral standards while dealing with uprisings.

Whatever the why or how of mini wars one thing apparent is that the problems have been allowed to pile up, with the expectation that the passage of time would solve them. Yet today when these challenges pose a danger to the country, the sword is being unsheathed to tackle them. The government knows no other way.

The Manmohan Singh regime may have inherited the problems. But the Congress which has ruled the country for more than five decades is most to blame for letting the different situations prevail because the party has been opting for the status quo. It is difficult for governments to depart from familiar paths. But this is what is required—vision and sagacity in place of brute force and a sense of self righteousness.

Unfortunately, New Delhi has come to believe that power alone can solve all prickly problems. The result is that the administration in the country has developed authoritarian methods. More and more policemen are being recruited and even the commando force is contemplated to be used. Stringent laws are being added to the armoury of harsh measures. There is less hesitation to use even the military.

It is an aimless fight since the genesis of problems has not been understood. Top army officials have told the government many a time that the solution is political, not military. Yet the government refuses to learn any lesson and continues to follow the same old formula of force and more force. The government has to have a different approach, more humane, to step out of the corner in which it and most political parties have painted themselves.

This does not suggest that those who indulge in violence or organize a rebellion against the state should go unpunished. In fact, the atrocities committed by them are unpardonable. But these elements should not force us, wittingly or unwittingly, to the conditions which restrict the space an ordinary person occupies or violate the spirit of the constitution. Both the security forces and the so-called liberators are reducing India to a banana republic. People are picked up on suspicion or killed in false encounters. The government resents interference when human rights activists or intellectuals take up the case.

When there is a proliferation of policemen to serve the whim of rulers and when the administration itself comes to believe that the force would solve the problem, the excesses are but natural. This is precisely what happened during the emergency (1975-77). The police became an instrument of tyranny and carried out such orders which were illegal, unconstitutional and inhuman. Yet none of the perpetrators was punished. Today the rulers and the security forces are behaving in the same way as if they are not accountable. At that time we lost the sensitivity to differentiate between right and wrong and, today, between moral and immoral.

The state has powers to declare a place as a “disturbed area.” By doing so, the government gives untrammeled powers to the security forces. They become law unto themselves and bring “order” in the area according to their own methods. In Manipur, an agitation is going on currently because a retired judge has been appointed to probe a fake encounter. People want a serving judge because the reputation of retired judges is wanting.

How one of the mini wars involving the Maoists is sought to be fought was detailed by Home Minister P.Chidambaram before the Editors’ Guild India a few days ago. The Maoists reportedly control some 2000 police stations out of 14000 in the country and there are many districts where the government’s writ does not run. If development is the way to stop Maoists’ appeal to the people in backward areas, Chidambaram explained, the territory had to be taken back to enable the government to build roads, schools and health centres.

No NGO or intellectual is opposed to the government taking police action to retrieve the territory under the Maoists. There cannot be a state within the state. Yet one would like to know why did the government not develop it when the territory was under it? The Maoists’ sway is the consequence, not the cause. Lately, the sympathy or support to the Maoists has lessened because they are indulging in the killing of the innocent.

Chidambaram’s presentation would have carried more weight if he had listed the steps his ministry had taken to ease the rigours of preventive and other laws. The Armed Forces (Preventive) Act which has given authority to the security forces to shoot down a person on mere suspicion is too arbitrary and should be amended forthwith. The ministry would win laurels if it were to bring at the next parliament a legislation to make it obligatory to have a judicial inquiry after every ‘fake’ encounter.

If the report that the government may strafe the Maoists’ stranglehold by the planes is correct, it would be the height of folly. The entire population in the area would be alienated. Pakistan resorted to bombing by air in Baluchistan. It only stoked fires of revolt. There is a lesson in this for New Delhi to learn before thinking of using the planes in the Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand where the Maoists are entrenched.

Yet the starry-eyed ideologues must understand that one revolution through arms can be replaced by yet another. Violence is bad per se. It does not provide any solution to the problems. What really matters is the people’s support won through the ballot box. One Stalin in the world should have been good enough to realize the futility of the gun.

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