Monday, June 24, 2024

Mamata still ready to wait


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Little headway in disarming Maoists

By Ashis Biswas

As feared , the much-publicised political dialogue between the West Bengal Government and the CPI(Maoist) party has failed to progress beyond mutual threats and recriminations.

As the exchanges between the two warring parties get more acrimonious, the two mediators whose job was to bring the two sides colder , eventually across a table, have cut very sorry figures in the pre-talk exercise. It is clear that they do not enjoy the trust or confidence either of the state government or the Maoists. This is not entirely surprising, many had reservations about their choice as mediators in the first place. The more senior mediator’s known anti-India bias is common knowledge. He is on record having said that India’s, “interference” in the 1970-71 Bangladesh war of independence was wrong and is supportive of the plebiscite demand in Kashmir.

The Maoists have finally sent an ultimatum through the media at the weekend, obviously unsure as to whether the mediators were relying their messages accurately enough to the state government. They wanted the state government to declare its position on the proposed talks” in writing,” to avoid confusion. They pointed out that such negotiations did not mean that the Maoists were “surrendering”. They also criticised the tenor and tone of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s vituperative attacks against their party.

On the face if it, few would argue against the Maoist stand. Much confusion has resulted during the pre-dialogue. It has been assumed, officially and otherwise, that during a ceasefire, the Maoists would suspend all political activities. Given their political programme and ideology, this could never happen with any party believing in armed revolution, such as the CPI (Maoist). They may not resort to shooting war against security forces. But surely it is naïve of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) or the state government to believe that armed cadres would simply sit quietly at home or in the jungle. It is therefore ironic to hear the TMC and the CPI(M) alleging that the Maoists had increased their network into new areas . Of course they would. The Maoist party is not exactly run like the Forward Bloc or the RSP— don’t the TMC or the CPI(M) know the difference between Maoists and others ?

It is also common knowledge that the Maoists usually use up the time spent in negotiations building up their reserves, replenishing their armoury, etc, from the experience of other states. Why should it be any different in West Bengal? The indignation expressed by parties like the CPI(M) and the TMC over these issues, accusing the Maoists of bad faith and treachery, expose their ignorance of developments in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand.

Where more tact and patience was needed, Ms Banerjee made things worse by her direct attack on the Maoists during her visit to Lalgarh some days ago. She challenged them to wage a civil war publicly. She gave them a warning to surrender or else, in seven days!

It was the worst possible message that a Chief Minister could send. Even during her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s tenure, the Maoists had always responded to each and every challenge thrown at them by the former chief Minister, usually in terms of a raid or explosion. This not only exposed the weakness of the state security machinery, but brought untold grief on the poorest of the people whom the government could not protect.

There is no reason to believe that the Maoists would not hit back in the same way against Ms Banerjee. This would again involve much loss of lives and property in an area which is already desperately poor! As expected, despite a slew of new “projects” announced for the region, there has been some progress only on the distribution of free bicycles and the recruitment of policemen. Other development must wait, as there is simply no infrastructure for official machinery to reach the target areas.

For the state administration, .the only sign of hope is that common people are now responding more to official initiatives. They are attending meetings and rallies called by other parties opposing the Maoists and expressing interest in police jobs. The hunger for development is obvious. The bandhs called by Maoists too, do not evoke the kind of total response they used to earlier.

For the moment, a tense, uneasy lull prevails in the insurgency-affected Lalgarh area—one can only wonder, for how long. There seems to be no possibility of the pre-dialogue exercises succeeding as the pre-poll honeymoon of convenience between Ms Banerjee and the Maoists seems headed for a bitter divorce. (IPA)

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