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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 44, October 17, 2009

Deserved Recognition for a Courageous Step

Editorial

Saturday 17 October 2009, by SC

Electioneering in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh having come to an end, polling for the elections to the three State Assemblies took place today. According to preliminary information, there was moderate to heavy polling in the three States—whereas Maharashtra had the lowest turnout, that is, over 50 per cent, in Haryana the figure was 65 per cent while Arunachal Pradesh recorded the highest (72 per cent). The results are due on October 22.

What is striking is that despite the recent spate of Maoist violence resulting in the death of 18 policemen in Gadchiroli, the poorest and most backward district in Maharashtra, the area had a high voter turnout—till noon it registered the highest in the State (24.5 per cent) while the Mumbai metropolis witnessed a dismal 12.8 per cent upto that time. This was the picture both in the last Lok Sabha poll as well as the 2004 Assembly elections. This can, of course, be interpreted as a rejection of the Maoists’ poll boycott call by the people of the region in general; but one can also underscore that nothing prevented the Maoists from using their firepower to prevent the electorate from exercising their franchise—the fact that they did not do so exposes the falsity of the official propaganda branding them as bloodthirsty brutes. True, they have resorted to gory killings but it must be pointed out that they are not on a killing spree—they are striking at select targets, mainly those representing the organs of state power as also those whom they describe as informers; but if they were indiscriminately butchering the rural populace they would have completely alienated themselves from the masses which is not the case (rather their strength among the people is still on the rise). This is only to stress the need to adopt a totally different approach in dealing with the Maoists in tribal India since the approach relying only on the military option, one must repeat, would be just suicidal.

On the terror front the audacious strike on the Pak GHQ in Rawalpindi brings out the increasing reach of the Taliban and fundamentalist forces within Pakistan. This should have evoked serious commentaries in the Indian media which is only highlighting the Lahore High Court’s decision to quash the two cases against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the supposed brain behind the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. One does not in any way minimise the importance of this development and the setback it has caused to New Delhi’s efforts to nail the person under scrutiny (as well as its implications for Indian security). Yet the attack on the Pak GHQ marited more attention than was paid to it.

As far as the issue of tackling Maoists is concerned, the PM has once again referred to the Maoist menace as the “greatest internal security threat” to the country. At the same time he has rejected the idea of drawing the armed forces into anti-Maoist operations. Also for the first time Manmohan Singh said in Mumbai:

The growth of Naxalism in central India obliges us to look at what causes this sense of alienation among certain sections of the community, especially the tribal community. It could be indicative of the deficiencies in the pace of development. We are looking at that aspect, but groups of individuals have no right to take law and order in their own hands. The designs of these groups are well known and we will take effective measures to counter them.

This reflects a holistic response to the Maoist upsurge. But the question is: what is the actual strategy adopted on the ground against the Maoists? The steps taken so far are based on nothing but a military-centric policy towards our indigenous Left-wing extremists. Past record has shown such a one-track policy is bound to fail. However, matters have been complicated by the attitude of the Left establishments. The West Bengal CM’s advocacy of and plea for joint State-Centre paramilitary operations in Jharkhand and West Bengal manifests a mindless militaristic attitude without any political content related to a development-oriented programme in the prevailing situation of intense deprivation and destitution. This will further embolden those in the Manmohan Singh dispensation totally committed to the militaristic handling of the Maoist problem.

However, all these national and regional events have been overshadowed by the most noteworthy development in the international sphere—the Nobel Peace Prize being conferred on US President Barack Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation”. This decision of the Nobel Committee reportedly caused, according to a leading national newspaper, “worldwide jaw-drops” while another major daily observed that the announcement “shocked people in Oslo where an audible gasp escaped the audience, drew criticism in the US and abroad, caught the President’s admirers unawares”. One cannot question the validity of the basic criticism—after all, it is too early for any President to show spectacular achievements in the global arena. However, what is baffling is that learned commentators have failed to note the landmark initiative that Obama lately took to withdraw President Bush’s $ 53 billion plan for National Missile Defence (NMD) based on land-based radar and interceptors in Europe that would have threatened security in both the continent and the world by giving a renewed spurt to the arms race with Russia retaliating with the deployment of the Iskanadar missile in Kaliningrad. The very fact that the Russian President and PM reacted positively to the move, with PM Putin characterising it as “correct and courageous” was a tribute to Obama’s foresight and statesmanship. If for nothing else he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for this bold step towards reinforcing world peace and security regardless of how critics (both in India and abroad) view it.

It is tragic that Nehru’s India has failed to comprehend the meaning of this step so engrossed our government is trying to fathom the implications of Obama’s emphasis on the NPT. An unmistakable case of missing the wood for the trees!

October 13 S.C.

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