“Dear fellow, it’s not as easy as you think. Naxalites don’t carry red beacons on their heads. They don’t carry any other identification marks clearly visible from a distance. Nobody loves innocent people getting trapped in the crossfire between us and the Naxals but how do you tell a Naxalite from a tribal during a tense, war-like situation? Since you are so concerned about tribals being killed, why don’t you ask the Naxals to wear florescent jackets. It would make the task so much easier for us.’’
The sarcasm in the voice of the acquaintance, a personnel in a para-military force operating in the Maoist-hit region on the Andhra-Orissa border, was difficult to ignore. The conversation took place some years ago when one was not disillusioned with the Maoists and still believed they were doing a job in empowering tribals and fighting a legitimate war for a just cause. The friend was responding to a question on the alleged killing of tribals during anti-Maoist operations — it’s the kind of question Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram are busy fending off after the Silgeri incident.
He was not done yet. “We are not out there hunting rabbits, as most of you journalists love to believe. They are very well-trained people with sophisticated weapons and clear knowledge of the terrain. You never know where and how they would strike and whether there’s a bomb planted close to you. Sometimes it scares the sh*t out of you. We put our lives at great risk… And yes, we also have families to feed back home. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.’’
Was he putting up a defence for the excesses of the forces in the Maoist-affected areas? Was he trying to draw sympathy for himself and his ilk? The questions about his intent were instant and spontaneous then. One had some problem accepting that the security forces with the might of the state behind them could be in any position of disadvantage. In the battle between the good and the evil in the forested areas, didn’t they represent the evil?
Seven years down the line, with more perspective on the Maoist menace, one would have liked to apologise to the friend for being dismissive of his ‘lame excuse’. But he is dead now. He wasn’t felled by a Naxal bullet or a bomb hurled at him from the thickets. It was stress that killed him, his colleagues confirmed. Of course, it didn’t make it to the headlines of newspapers. He was neither a tribal nor a Maoist. He deserved no sympathy.
This is a battle that has to end, the quicker the better. It has claimed too many tribals and innocent people and left the tranquility in the tribal regions shattered. The longer it stretches the bigger will be the number of victims. Since the Maoists, egged on by their sympathisers in the intellectual circles, would have no negotiated peaceful settlement, the government has no option but to go for all-out war.
It is heartening that Raman Singh, unlike other chief ministers in the neighbouring states such as Odisha, where the government is happy declaring one district after the other ‘Maoist affected’, is bent on firm and decisive action. He is not deterred by the allegation that many of the 19 killed in the encounter at Bijapur district of his state were innocent tribals and children.
“Naxals use jan militia (people’s army), sympathisers, innocent villagers and children as human shields as a part of their military strategy… The (police) record of jan militia, Naxal sympathisers are often not found…Operations will continue with the same pace…. I am of the firm belief that there is no alternative but a strong and firm response to the Maoist violence. This is one issue which should be above politics,” he told The Indian Express. He deserves applause for not appearing confused about Maoists and for his steely determination.
For once, politics has not come in the way. Chidambaram and Raman Singh are on the same page on the subject of handling the Maoist menace. The Leftist ultra resistance would be over sooner than expected if other chief ministers rose beyond petty politics and joined in too.
Yes, there would be allegations of innocent people getting killed. The Maoist sympathisers would raise the issue of human rights violation. The intellectuals in premier educational institutions would shed copious tears and come up with flowing, heart-rending prose. But taking the Maoists head-on is something the governments must do — if not for the country’s interest, at least for the dead acquaintance of mine and his friends who are still trapped in the inhospitable terrains, waging a difficult, thankless war.