How can he lead the war if he has only a "limited mandate"?
Prasanna Mohanty | May 18, 2010
Is the home minister fighting the “biggest internal security threat” with a hand tied to his back? That is the question being raised once again after the latest Dantewada massacre, when the security forces urgently needed quick logistic support both in terms of medical aid for the victims and reinforcements to track down the Maoists.
The main opposition party, the BJP, has posed several uncomfortable questions which the government needs to answer for once and all. Speaking to reporters today, Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said home minister P Chidambaram’s remarks that he had only a “limited mandate” made a telling commentary on the state of affairs. “In the battle against Maoists, the security apparatus should act with full strength. If the government thinks air surveillance is required, we will respect their decision,” he said. He also demanded that the prime minister should clarify the government’s anti-Maoist strategy.
Chidamabaram told NDTV Monday evening that he had sought a “larger mandate” from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) but he was given a “limited mandate”. Though he did not specify what his larger mandate was, by all indications he was referring to the air force support in the fight against the leftwing extremists. He said security forces and chief ministers of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh “want air support”. He also made his intentions clear by saying that the CCS would be approached again “to revisit the mandate”.
It is clear that Chidambaram does not have the full mandate to fight the Maoists. Now, is that how the home minister is supposed to tackle what the prime minister has described as the “biggest internal security threat”? Is he supposed to look back at every crucial moment for guidance from a body not concerned with the nitty-gritty of the battle, even if it were to be the CCS? Shouldn’t the commander be given a free hand, given the nature of the threat?
What is wrong with using the military might against the Maoists? It has happened in the past. And given the fact that the Maoists are waging an “armed struggle” to “capture political power” why shouldn’t the state use its might? There can’t be anything worse than a muddled approach to the issue when the battle is raging.
Not only Congress party apparatchiks like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar, even party president Sonia Gandhi has jumped in to add to the confusion. In her message to party cadres recently, she talked of the need to “address the root causes” and went on to add that “the rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially in our backward tribal districts.”
It is precisely this kind of double-talk that Chidambaram said in the interview was “weakening” the fight against the Maoists. Hasn’t the central government always had a two-pronged approach to the left-wing extremism -- remember the time when it reared its head in the late 1960s -- one of which being “development”? Moreover, aren’t there a large number of civil society groups saying the same thing to dissuade the government from continuing with the security operations against the Maoists?
The latest massacre in Dantewada shows the irony of the situation. While the Maoists on a killing spree, many in the government and the Congress are merrily pontificating about the "root causes." But who is paying the price? Civilians caught in the conflict zone and Chidambaram and his men, who are fighting with one of their hands tied to their backs.
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