A furore has been raised about Home Secretary RK Singh’s reported statement to a parliamentary panel that the anti-Naxal forces have been asked to arrest or bump off as many of them as possible.
In a significant statement that is remarkable for its candour, this is what The Times of India reports Singh as telling the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs: “Within the close confines of this room, if I am discussing this with the Director General of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) separately, my preference would be that we arrest or kill as many armed Naxalites as possible. I am not going to say this in the press. That does not mean we do not react."
Singh’s openness is to be commended, even though it did not go down well with some members of the committee, and will surely be used by activists who make a living out of pointing out human rights abuses by state actors to take more potshots at India’s already weak government.
As recent events in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra (Gadchiroli) have demonstrated, the Maoist menace is going from strength to strength, and the state is receding to the background and bowing impotently before their demands.
In Orissa, the Naxal kidnappings have resulted in surrender by the state, and in Chhattisgarh, which has been more aggressive in tackling violent Maoists, we are still awaiting the final outcome in the abduction of Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon. When last heard, the Naxals were demanding the release of 17 people in return for Menon, who seems to have done good work in the area, and has tried to change the image of the bureaucracy among tribals. In Gadchiroli, the Maoists have killed seven people this month, and abducted more than a dozen people and we don’t yet know what they want.
One thing is clear: we have to pull back from the slippery slope of giving in to their demands. And this is where the home secretary’s candid remarks make sense. In this war, which has been declared by the Maoists and not the state, the state has to use unconventional means to destroy the former. If it means giving the forces a freer hand to kill Naxals who can’t be captured, so be it.
Human rights activists may raise an uproar, but they should be ignored. The reason is simple: if the state loses this war, there will be no human rights worth respecting anywhere.
It is a noble idea that the state should be more careful about respecting rights than non-state actors, but all free societies face this paradox: can we allow those who will destroy our human rights to use our own laws to defeat us?
The history of the world is littered with examples of human rights abusers masquerading as crusaders for some higher cause or the other – from Hitler to Stalin and Mao. In our own case, we have seen how the Khalistanis used human rights abuses to take on the state and the common people of Punjab. We have seen the LTTE under V Prabhakaran use Tamil rights as the cover for extraordinary human rights abuses.
The only answer to violent insurgency is “arrest or kill”, as our home secretary so clearly put it.
So will this lead to human rights abuses by state forces? Quite possible, as we have seen in Kashmir and the North-East. But the answer is not to debilitate our forces, who are giving their lives for the country, but to give them better training and have better internal vigilance against gross abuses of this power to shoot and kill.
But more than the right to shoot and kill violent Maoists, we need to kill several myths perpetrated by so-called human sights crusaders.
First, the very fact that they only talk about human rights abuses by the state and not the Naxals shows that this right does not exist in territories controlled by the latter. Why do the human rights people not talk about abuses by the Naxals except in very vague terms (“we condemn all violence by anybody”)? Answer: they know that if they do so, they will be bumped off. So, the reason why we can’t use kid gloves with Naxals is this: there can be no freedom for anybody when one party has the right to murder anyone they don’t like, and the other party is supposed to fight with all the handicaps imposed by a law that is meant to deal with ordinary crimes.
In Punjab, despite the human rights abuses of the police forces under KPS Gill and Julio Ribeiro, the fact is normal political processes and the right to free speech could not be restored till the ultras were eliminated. Till fear is removed from the minds of people, nobody can actually be free. The same applies to the Naxals. Till they are cut to size, nobody will speak against them. Not even the human rights wallahs. So when there is no freedom in Naxal-land, why bind only the state’s forces to observe this right to their detriment?
Second, the primary duty of the state is to establish law and order and control territory. Everything else comes after that. How can this happen when the Naxals won’t allow it? Our soft-hearted human rights wallahs will say that the Naxals have gained ground because they did a better job of delivering justice to tribals than the government. Even assuming this is so, the point is can we deliver better governance without bringing territory under our control? The truth is the Naxals don’t even want you to try to improve governance: this is why they will attack leaders and bureaucrats who are trying to do so. Alex Paul Menon was one such person trying to improve government-tribal relationships in Chhattisgarh. This is why he was targeted (Read Venky Vembu’s story on this here.)
In Orissa, Jhina Hikaka, the BJD MLA who was abducted and released this week, was a popular man among tribals. So why did the Naxals abduct him? Several theories abound, and one of them says he was kidnapped because his popularity was hampering the efficacy of the Chasi Mulia Advisai Sangh, through which the Naxals exert their power. Hence the plot was intended to get him to resign as MLA (Read this story here).
So, it’s clear that the Naxals are no angels with hearts bleeding for tribals. They are thugs adept at using a plausible cause. They are pursuing power, and the work of popular leaders like Hikaka or Alex Paul gets in their way. So the human rights activists who say the answer to Naxalism is better development and governance are wrong: the Naxals don’t want this. They want injustice to persist, so that they get their legitimacy from it. To grab power on their terms they will thwart anyone who tries to get closer to the tribals or tries to deliver justice through the official system.
Three, dialogue is a good idea, but only if there is genuine give and take. In the case of the Maoists, there is only take and take and demand and demand. If you give in to one demand, another is made. The fact is till now the peaceniks have not been able to come up with any genuine half-way house where the state can abandon its coercive actions against the Maoists and the latter can give up arms and start participating in the political process.
One can’t also forget that the security forces have shed a lot of blood on behalf of the nation. So no government should even dream of giving up what they may have won in a game of dice and dialogue with the Maoists.
Fourth, it is a gross error to think this is a war between state and non-state actors. The Maoists control real territory, have armed forces at their command, they collect taxes from local businesses, and they administer “justice” in their core areas of operation. In short, they too are state. They are not hapless amateurs or do-gooders who are being harassed and killed by the Indian state.
When two states are at war, we have to choose between them. If we don’t want to choose, we must treat both as equal. We cannot make an artificial distinction between abuses by the state and abuses by so-called non-state actors – when the Maoists are clearly not non-state actors. So if we are going to have amnesty for the Maoists after a dialogue, we should have amnesty for state forces who may have participated in abuses, too.
One-sided justice and one-sided calls for human rights can only leave bitterness all around.
Recent events in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra suggest that the Maoists are not ready for peace. The only response of the state in this situation ought to be: let’s go get them. No holds barred.