There is an almost ritualistic feel to the twin hostage crises that the country is witnessing—the kidnapping of Alex Menon in Chhattisgarh and that of Jhina Hikaka, the MLA from Odisha. Maoists have taken taken them hostage, the media is beating the nation’s collective breast, the state is acting like the proverbial headless chicken.
Of course, there are other coarser details that make the picture whole—the appeal, first by the chief ministers, then by an all party meeting, to the hostage takers; the emergence of civil society mediators ready to help organise the final stage of the ritual— the one where the state caves in to the demand of the hostage takers, and their relieved victims appear before the media.
But we should never forget the threat implied in the abduction—that the hostages will be killed if the state does not comply with the demands of the kidnappers. Liberals will say that we need to negotiate, not just the release of the hostages, but the issues which are being posed by the radical group. They refuse to take into account the fact that where one party is threatened with possible death, there is really no negotiation possible. What you are being asked to do is to work out the terms of surrender. And this has a price, which is usually paid by the community or society you live in.
The most vivid example of this was the kidnapping of Rubaiya Saeed. She was held by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front for five days. The Cabinet Committee on Security, which included her father, Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Saeed, agreed to the release of three top JKLF leaders, even though this was vehemently opposed by Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah. The J&K chief minister knew that social pressure was building on the militants to release Rubaiya unconditionally. But the panicked CCS overruled him and forced him to release the three militants. The result, it can be said without any exaggeration, was the Kashmiri militancy that is yet to end.
The Maoists will no doubt argue that their action is not a terrorist act, but a response to the repression of the state. They are bound to get support from their sympathisers who will say that Menon and Hikaka are not innocent bystanders, but symbols and, indeed, instruments of the state. At this point, it should also be made clear that those like Swami Agnivesh, who want the state to negotiate with the Maoists are wasting their time. The Maoists have never shied away from declaring that their intention is to overthrow this state. They may participate in negotiations—such as the ones they are engaged in to free their comrades, or in certain circumstances to buy time and as an act of manoeuvre, but they have no desire, leave alone intention of negotiating with the state with regard to their overall goals, which are to overthrow the present state system and its machinery of governance.
The problem in India’s dealing with Maoists lies with our attitude towards socialism and communist parties. In the eyes of many, the Maoists are a kind of militant socialists, not very different from the Congress or the Communists who serve in our Parliament.
But in 2010, when the movement peaked, as many as 720 non-combatants were killed by the Maoists, in addition to the 285 security force personnel. In the same year, the comparable figures for Jammu & Kashmir were 47 and 69. In contrast to what is happening in J&K, the threat of radical Maoism is actually increasing, compounded by the infirmities of the government in ever larger swathes of our country.
In part the problem is an outcome of the confusion of the Indian state’s policy. One element of this is to promote development and self-government in the long-neglected regions of central India, the other is the use of police force to overawe the Maoists.
Alex Menon can be forgiven if he saw himself as a kind of a government NGO, rather than what he really was—the chief representative of the Indian state in that district, and therefore a prime target of the Maoists. He may have exhibited raw courage in going around with minimal security on a motorbike, but I would call him foolhardy because he has probably brought far heavier consequences on the state than his development activities would have.
There is, of course, the other issue. What do we do now? The options are few. Naveen Patnaik has, of course, already surrendered and Raman Singh is probably headed the same way. But don’t be too hard on them. Confronted with similar dilemmas, tougher men than them have given in. Last year, the Israelis, who have a reputation of sorts, released 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by the Hamas for five years.
Politicians are naturally inclined towards compromise, politics being the art of the possible. And this is not a bad thing. The problem is when your opponents are inflexible, as happened with the LTTE, or the jihadi terrorists and now the Maoists. For them ceasefires and negotiations are merely a means of regrouping and resting, and obtaining tactical gains with a view of achieving their goal, 100 per cent.
Concern for human rights, negotiation, compromise for a human life, is what makes us who we are. So, our tactics must take them into account. This means there cannot be a single rule to determine things, except that the outcome of the two kidnappings should be seen as a lesson of sorts, and we are better prepared the next time around, since we lost the game even as it began this time.
Mail Today April 26, 2012