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Mainstream, VOL LII No 12, March 15, 2014

Maoist Strike in Election Season

Saturday 15 March 2014, by SC


It’s election season now and the selection of candidates is giving headaches to the leaderships of all the major political parties including and notably the BJP. The Modi juggernaut is moving ahead across the country no doubt, but the seats of the supreme leaders of the party, BJP President Rajnath Singh and prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi, have yet to be finalised. Problems have reportedly mounted in the higher echelons of the party’s decision-making apparatus with senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi (Varanasi) and Lalji Tandon (Lucknow) in UP digging in their heels and refusing to vacate their seats in favour of Modi and Rajnath respectively. This is bound to have a dampening effect on the prospects of the main Opposition party at the Centre new positioning itself to storm into the citadel of power in South Block.

On the other hand the Congress too is in a major crisis. While there are strong indications of some of the scam-tainted leaders of the party, who had to quit their posts earlier, being rehabilitated with the gift of tickets, one among them—former Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal—is learnt to have already been appointed as the candidate from Chandigarh in place of Union I&B Minister Manish Tewari who is being made to contest from Ludhiana. Party-insiders are saying it is winnability which has taken precedence over matters of principle as is the case in a functional parliamentary democracy in an economicallly stratified society like India which has currently fully embraced neo-liberalism with all its attendant evils. It is also understood that Pawan Bansal is not the only person in this category and more like him are to follow. This only goes to show that the importance of the newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party’s anti-corruption campaign (that fetched it rich dividends in the electoral arena in the last State Assembly poll in Delhi) has yet to sink into the psyche of the principal parties in the electoral fray (since the BJP too has selected former Karnataka CM B.S. Yeddyurappa, who had stepped down on serious charges of corruption, an one of its candidates in the State). And the hollowness of the Congress’ avowed crusade against corruption (as highlighted in the projection of the passage of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament) comes out in bold relief in the light of such a development. The party is not able to comprehend what kind of surprise awaits it at the hustings wherein corruption will definitely figure as a major issue.

The AAP is also riven by dissensions. Several grassroots workers are unhappy with the choice of candidates in different constituencies and have openly vent their anger on this score, the latest being AAP members in Chandigarh resenting against actress Gul Panag being made the party’s nominee from that seat.

While the BJP has announced the names of about 100 candidates (that include several heavyweights) contesting from different parts of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Kerala, it has yet to finalise its lists of UP and Gujarat. As for the Congress, its second list of 71 contestants has 35 per cent from the youth brigade, as promised by Rajiv Gandhi, while 11 among them are wonen.

Meanwhile the Third Front has yet to formally take off with Tamil Nadu CM and AI ADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa summarily snapping her electoral alliance with the CPI and CPM she had herself declared a few days ago and the AGP and BJP declining to immediately join the combine. The Left’s bete noire Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal CM leading the Trinamul Congress (TMC), appeared to have stolen a march over them by forging an understanding with the redoubtable Anna Hazare that, she felt, would act as the fulcrum of the Federal Front she has proposed, but Anna’s absence from her “public rally” in the Capital that turned out to be a mega-flopshow signified that her efforts to build a national alternative to the Congress, BJP and the Left were coming unstuck. Indeed for the non-Congress, non-BJP parties what seems to be in store is grim uncertainty. However, things may change in the coming days since the elections are still some time away.

[ It is, nevertheless, noteworthy that among the leaders of such a combination it is only Bihar CM Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) who has befittingly paid back Gujarat CM Narendra Modi in the same coin. Responding to Modi’s diatribe against him at a hunkar in purnea on March 10 (wherein the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee had tried to establish through data how much better Gujarat under his stewardship is compared to Bihar under the erstwhile NDA leader), Nitish disclosed in Patna yesterday that whereas Bihar’s growth between 2008-09 and 2012-13 was 11.5 per cent, Gujarat had registered a 9.1 per cent growth; while 20.7 per cent people were brought above the poverty line in Bihar in the 2005-06 to 2011-12 period, the corresponding figure of Gujarat in the same period was 15 per cent; the rise in literacy was 16.8 per cent in Bihar between 2005-06 and 2011-12 when Gujarat’s performance in this regard was 10 per cent. In fact, as mentioned in these columns earlier, Nitish is the only Third Front leader who enjoys wide credibility across the spectrum.]

It is against the backdrop of this electoral scenario that the Maoist insurgency in the tribal heartland of central India has once again shot into prominence with the Maoist strike in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district day before yesterday that resulted in the killing-of 11 CRPF joawans, four policemen and a civilian. This was the deadliest Maoist attack since the ambush of a convoy of political leaders and activists in the Darbha valley in the same district in May last year that led to 27 deaths—almost the entire leadership of the Congress in the State was wiped out—and the latest incident took place barely 10 kilometres from the spot where the Congress convey was ambushed. [ Of course, the worst of such actions was in July 2010 when 76 CRPF men where killed.] Like the May 2013 attack, which happened before the State Assembly elections (that were conducted in November 2013), this time too the Maoist assault came just before the Lok Sabha poll (Bastar will vote on April 10—precisely a month from now). This has been and is being interpreted as a move by the Maoists to disrupt the elections. While this is the obvious inference one can draw from this Maoist offensive, it needs to be pointed out that in spite of the poll-boycott call by the Maoists before the November elections to the Chhattisgarh Assembly last year, the turnout of voters in the State, including in the areas under Maoist control, during the Assembly elections was unusually high thereby showing that the Maoists eventually did not pressurise the people against voting and there is no reason why they won’t do so this time as well. The Maoists’ basic objective was to demonstrate their unimpaired capability to carry out such operations and intimidate and compel the armed forces to vacate the zones under Maoist jurisdication—typical tactics of armed outfits waging guerilla war against the state.

Several newspapers, commenting on the latest Maoist strike have highlighted the serious lapses that resulted in the killings and urged for “more effective” millitary retaliation. There is no gainsaying that the severity of the Maoist assault is bound to invite such exhortations. At the same time one cannot possibly ignore what a perceptive veteran police officer (now retired), with vast experience of fighting Leftwing insurgency, underscored while speaking on a TV channel the other day. ”Unless you give back to the tribals the rights which are legitimately theirs, they will continue to be goaded by the Maoists,” he lucidly explained. Inherent in his appoach was the endeavour to unveil the political dimension of the problem. Without such a political perspective mere reliance on military means to fight Maoist insurgency will come a cropper.

That of course is a long-term strategy whatever may be the measures taken in the short run. But it must be reiterated that ”more effective” (military) strategies to defeat the insurgency cannot succeed unless these are intertwined with the adoption of ”innovative” (political) means to handle the problem, means that are fully compatible with the democratic aspirations of the people at the grassroots, the original inhabitants or adivasis who have been kept out of the development process and are now in the firm grip of the Maoists who are using them to realise their political aims.

But who is interested in this long-term vision, especially in the election season when Rambo is on stage displaying Hindutiva-based ultra-nationalism?

March 13 S.C.

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