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The red terror

 | May 31, 2013

The Naxalite war is against the unequal distribution of wealth and land, but an armed conflict may not be the best means to achieve this.

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India has a new terror. The Red Terror of Naxalites, a movement which began in the late 1960s in a small town called Naxalbari, close to Kolkata.

Naxalites waged a war against the establishment, which they felt was pro-rich and pro-landed gentry. So, they began annihilating members of the establishment and all those who safeguarded their interests, policemen included.

The Naxalite movement went for a dip after its top leaders died or were killed in police encounters. However, it never completely vanished. In recent years, it has again surfaced with terrible vengeance.

Last week, at least 29 people, including Congress Party leaders, were massacred by Naxalites in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The leaders were in a convoy of vehicles returning from an election campaign, when one of the cars hit a landmine before some 1000 Naxalites began firing from a hill that ran along the road. The leaders who escaped the bullets were rounded up and taken to the nearby bushes/trees and shot.

Nobody quite knows why the convoy had taken this route, infested as it was by Naxalites. On top of this, there were hardly any policemen guarding the convoy in a State ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress is in opposition there, though it is part of the ruling coalition in New Delhi.

Was it complacency on incompetence that led to this ghastly bloodshed?

Some week ago, Naxalites had distributed leaflets in the area opposing the Congress campaign for the coming election. Yet, the Congress and BJP – which rules the state and is in charge of security — had taken this lightly. Or, so it appears.

Unfortunately, a lot of civilians died in the firing, though the main target of the Naxalites was Mahendra Karma. He was a Communist in his youth, but became a Congress parliamentarian later. He was accused of promoting and earning huge kickbacks from firms which plundered forest wealth, driving the tribals who depended on this for their livelihood, to despair.

Karma played another role, more notorious than pilfering money. He set up a vigilante force, Salwa Judum, made up of tribals. They were given arms and asked to destroy Naxalites.

The force led to the evacuation and displacement of hundreds of villagers, who were abused by the police and Naxalites. The villagers were suspected by both. The Salwa Judum itself degenerated into a brute force, which murdered, raped and looted villagers. Obviously, the architect of this force, Karma, was despised by the Naxalites and others.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the disbandment of Salwa Judum, a foolhardy experiment which proved that Naxalite insurgency could not be fought this way.

The Salwa Judum provoked even greater anger among the Naxalites. The fact that they did not even spare other Congress leaders in the convoy who were, strictly speaking, not Naxalite targets, indicates that the insurgents are now a dangerous lot, baying for blood, and in Chhattisgarh, this tragically included that of innocent, unarmed civilians.

And, given India’s state of rampant corruption in which some of the poorest of poor tribals are now finding themselves homeless and starving, the Naxalite movement may well get a new fillip with these people aligning themselves with extremist methods to regain what is legitimately theirs.

Essentially, the Naxalite war is against the unequal distribution of wealth and land, but an armed conflict may not be the best means to achieve this.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]
[Cartoon by EP Unny, Courtesy The Indian Express]


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