Friday, March 1, 2024

Pro-militancy stance: a Defeatist Strategy

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Undemocratic behaviour of representative government

By Phrangsngi Pyrtuh

The Supreme Court recently pronounced a landmark judgment in the Nandini Sundar vs Chhattisgarh and Ram Jethmalani vs Union of India asking the Chhattisgarh Government and the Central government to disband special police officials (SPOs) where ordinary tribals are recruited to counter militancy and extremism (Maoist and Naxals) as unconstitutional. The apex court immediately directed the state to withdraw all arms and ammunitions from the SPOs and asked the centre to stop funding states recruiting such personnel. The Chhattisgarh government’s claim that it has a constitutional sanction to perpetrate a regime of gross violation of human rights by adopting the same method/model as done by the Maoists/ Naxalites was pronounced unconstitutional. In other words the cost (read chaos, confusion and endangering ordinary lives) nullified the strategic advantage that such an exercise possessed.

The salwa judum or an armed civil vigilante group which has translated to tribals killing tribals was initiated during the same time that Operation Green Hunt was launched by the UPA government to curtail extremism in the Red Corridor, though the former is a precursor to the latter. A leak draft government paper stating that salwa judum was first funded by Tata and Essor Steel created an outburst and this part was subsequently edited out of the final version. Recruitment was mostly forcibly initiated, thousands were arrested and the displaced thousands were forced to live in Vietnam-style strategic hamlets. Villagers who refused to leave their homes and move to these hamlets were considered Maoists by the authorities. Independent reporters and intellectuals who tried to report on these atrocities were beaten, jailed or prevented from investigating Salwa Judum’s anti-militant actions (Binayak Sen and others). It is no wonder then that the Supreme court considers the whole exercise as unconstitutional.

This corridor spread across eight Indian states is ironically settled by backward Adivasi tribals. This region possesses one of the richest mineral resources in the country valued at trillions of dollars if exploited earnestly to fuel the country’s target growth rate of 9%. Gross undermining of law and oppression of tribal opposing the mining has resulted in a mass movement in these corridors against lumpen capitalism and unbridled corporate greed.

The people have no choice but to resort to their basic human nature which is to protect their land and forests – the basis of their survival – by picking up arms. It is in this region that both the central and state government collude to exterminate the “other voice” in the name of security. But as any historian will tell you it is not so easy to suppress popular dissent. Reactionary policies such as the one adopted by the Chhattisgarh government has only resulted in mayhem where unqualified young tribal youths (mostly minors) became cannonballs to fight the people’s war. This is nothing but a psychological warfare, running roughshod over the law of the land and against democratic norms and practices. In fact a PIL filed by Nandini Sundar with the Supreme Court earlier argued that there has been an exponential increase of Maoist activities post Salwa Judum.

I am no obscurantist but I still feel the idea of militant vs militant scene smacks of a mockery on the police force and could only come from Bollywood potboilers. But sadly it is not, since the very idea that the government was juggling and entertaining such a proposal from the ANVC highlights a loophole in the government’s agenda in fighting militancy in the state and of course reveals an opportunistic element which is dangerous for the state as whole. We do not want to see a wrestling match between two outlawed groups lest we enter a chapter where the government is seen as actually harboring a mafia culture in which it uses anti-social element to fight anti-social activities becomes the order of the day- in this case tribals killing tribals. The sectarian clashes will undoubtedly be a vignette of the Salwa Judum case. If the government is short of ideas on how to combat militancy they should send the officials of the Home department to some foreign trip (as they do quite often these days) to find ways and means of improving law and order situation in the state. This model of an elected government arming a group of people to fight an adversary has failed miserably and even exacerbated the situation beyond control. Look at the US experience in Afghanistan during its struggle with the Soviet Union where the former enlisted the local Afghanis by arming them to defeat the Soviet forces. Eventually this alliance was the reason that the Al Qaeda and other extremist groups which became such a potent force and a major threat to world peace.

We were so close to becoming a mafia state but the heavens heard our prayers and the government awoke from its slumber with the Home Minister finally confirming that such an idea (which was feasible before the uproar) is now implausible. Militancy in the state is a clear and present danger to the society at large and requires protracted efforts from the government. The function of the law is to not only bring order but to ensure protection without discrimination. To endorse the ANVC’s offer is to dangerously play into their hands inexplicably undermining the law of the land by treating (favoring) them as partners. Then there is the question on the jurisdiction in the event that it does materialize. Can the state guarantee that innocent Garos do not become scapegoats to what will probably be a bloody war between two factional groups? In the light of the Apex court ruling, the government’s machination will definitely be scrutinized from the legal prism. The cost will definitely outweigh the advantages (if any). This is a job for the government and its machinery; why else do we need a government for? Let it remain at that. Period.

(The author is a research scholar at JNU, New Delhi)

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