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Imperatives of Justice


For decades, India’s leadership has floundered in a miasma of sentimentality, of a false, confused and disastrous rhetoric that has enormously empowered the enemies of the law, of the state, and of civilization. Worse, it has yielded policies that have directly undermined the capacities of enforcement agencies to effectively confront a wide range of extremely violent political actors who have persistently employed the methods of terrorism – repeatedly targeting innocent civilians and non-combatants, including women, children and the poorest of the poor. Vast areas of the country have, consequently and progressively, been surrendered to lawlessness and disorder.

Finally, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke out with exemplary clarity on the issue of terrorism at the Chief Minister’s Conference at New Delhi on April 15, 2005, raising hopes – indeed, creating a measure of conviction – that the confusion and vacillation of the past was finally to be expelled from the national policy-framework.

Within ten days, however, the Prime Minister’s perspective and position came under challenge from his own Minister of Home Affairs, exposing the incoherence of the present regime and making a mockery of the idea of collective Cabinet responsibility. It is useful to analyse the conflicting positions that are presently being projected from these two sources at the highest level of the Government.

Leaving no room for ambiguity, the Prime Minister had stated, "There can be no political compromise with terror. No inch conceded. No compassion shown… There are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. There is no cause, root or branch, that can ever justify the killing of innocent people. No democratic Government can tolerate the use of violence against innocent people and against the functionaries of a duly established democratic Government." He added, further, that "there is no place for violence and extremism of any kind in a democratic, rule-based society." Specifically referring to the tendency to underplay the growing dangers of Left Wing extremism (Naxalism), he emphasized the "inter-State and external dimension to Naxalism today. This requires greater coordination between State Governments and between the Centre and States. We have to take a comprehensive approach in dealing with Naxalism given the emerging linkages between groups within and outside the country…" And while he did state that the option of negotiations "should always be welcomed", he made it clear that this avenue could be pursued only with groups that abjured violence: "…the basic issues regarding violence and the state’s obligation to curb it should be clarified at the outset, so that there are no misunderstandings or a feeling of being let down at later stages. In our country, symbols and gestures matter. Nothing should be done which detracts from the authority of the Indian state and its primary role as an upholder of public order. The state should not even remotely be seen to back away in the face of threats of armed violence."

In sharp contrast, on April 24, 2005, at a high level meeting with Ministers, Government officials, Opposition leaders and intellectuals at Bangalore, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil stated: "The Government is not interested in using weapons. They (the Naxalites) are our brothers and sisters and we know that this is a socio-economic problem rather than one of law and order. We can solve these problems through dialogue and discussions… Whatever the political difficulties, force should be used only if nothing else works and only to protect innocents. Let us deal with Naxalism as a socio-economic problem, not a law and order problem…" He did, of course, concede a secondary role to ‘policing’, declaring, "good policing is… important for development", but his general orientation was squarely located in the ‘root causes’ approach to terrorism that his Prime Minister had explicitly rejected.

It is evident that both these postulations have been stated with obvious sincerity, but are clearly irreconcilable within a coherent policy framework. Those who are familiar with the dynamics of governance would recognize immediately how devastating this can be; all administrative organisations – including the senior police leadership – operate within a political and policy framework, and any ambivalence, confusion, contradiction or muddleheadedness at the top of the policy pyramid impacts directly on their functioning.

In addressing them as ‘our brothers and sisters’, and in an earlier speech, as ‘our children’ the Home Minister has sought to establish an entirely specious distinction between ‘Naxalites’ and other ‘terrorists’. The truth is, all criminals – and this includes terrorists and others engaged in political crime – are at some level ‘our children’ and ‘our brothers and sisters’. They cannot, on this account, escape the imperatives of the justice system. Crucially, moreover, the victims of such terrorists and criminals are also ‘our children’ and ‘brothers and sisters’, and it is the state’s primary duty to protect these vulnerable groups, rather than to seek to circumvent the law and extend extraordinary indulgences on those who torture, maim, murder and otherwise terrorize helpless citizens – citizens who continue to abide by the law, and expect the state to protect their lives and properties. To the Naxalites’ victims, it matters little whether his Government is negotiating with those who terrorize him, or whether it regards them as a ‘law and order’ or a ‘social’ problem; their primary concern is the terror that is inflicted on them.

Worse, what is not understood by those who treat the Naxalites – or ‘Maoists’, as they now style themselves – as a ‘special case’ and seek a negotiated solution with them, is just how irreducibly opposed to our constitutional democracy these groups are, and how integral terrorism is to their strategy. Terror is not just an accidental element of their political strategy or military tactics; it is an essential, dictated by the ideological vision they have embraced. Mao Tse Tung declared explicitly, "To put it bluntly, it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries in the countryside or overthrow the authority of the gentry. Proper limits have to be exceeded in order to right a wrong, or else the wrong cannot be righted." The truth is, even if the traditional ‘class enemies’ of the Maoists were all eliminated, they would continue to invent them, in order to inflict their terror. Even today, it is not the rich and the powerful who fall victim to ‘Maoist’ violence – these can always, with rare exception, successfully bribe both the Naxalites and the politicians, each of whom is quite happy with the absence of effective administration that gives them a free run in vast areas. It is, overwhelmingly and in all theatres of such conflict, the poorest of the poor who are maimed, tortured and killed.

Policy makers are ordinarily told whatever they want to hear. But India’s leaders should visit the sites of history where terrorists have – however briefly – prevailed, and should have the writings of extremist ideologues translated into a language comprehensible to our policy community, so that they can learn from the awful experience of other societies, instead of inviting comparable misfortunes on the people of this country.

Finally, it is the primary and overarching duty of the state to protect its citizens from the depredations and violence of those who refuse to accept the authority of its laws. It is time the Indian state and its Home Minister stopped fabricating excuses for those who use violence against the state and its vulnerable citizens, and fulfilled their fundamental obligation to their people.

(Published in The Pioneer, April 30, 2005)






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