Naxals and terrorists - kindreds of discord?

What makes a people's war? And what is terrorism made of? Our columnist ponders....


P P Balachandran | April 7, 2010

When does a local insurgency acquire stripes of a full-blown revolution? When the arc of discontent widens itself and acquires more geography enveloping more people, all equally discontented, and thus turns itself into a circle of fire that is searing enough to burn the system down. That’s all? No. It certainly has to have a strong ideological fibre that would fuel the popular discontent into a fusion and then on to the final explosion. Also necessary is a leadership with an unflagging conviction and an unfaltering vision of the road ahead.

That said, does the ‘people’s war’, being fought in the eastern frontiers of the country qualify itself to become a people’s revolution that can burn the system down? 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his home minister P. Chidambaram think that it does.  

Addressing a media conclave last month in New Delhi, the Home Minister repeated the words of his Prime Minister who had, earlier in September, exhorted a gathering of police chiefs to treat Naxalism as a bigger threat than terrorism. 

On the first read, one would see their prescription to be short on logic and blind to political reality. The Naxalites, after all, are a small band of political drifters, operating within the confines of limited space, with limited resources that include their obsolete weaponry. And as for their leadership, they still haven’t got the spectral presence of a Mao Zedong or a Fidel Castro to inspire them. And certainly not anyone with the talismanic hallow of a Che Guevara. Instead, the unlettered tribesmen of eastern India’s jungles are still led by men who are as homespun as themselves. 

On the other hand, the terrorists, whom the prime minister chose to confine within the borders of a neighbouring country (read Pakistan), do not actually suffer from any space constraints, nor are they short on resources or obsolete on weapons. The world is their theatre and their soldiers are multi-national. Their finances come from some of the wealthiest of nations and they have taken on the mightiest of nations on the planet.

As for inspiration, Osama bin Laden may not exactly fit into a prophetic frame. But he is a good enough messiah for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth drafted across the world for the modern ‘crusades’ they were told would lead to the final victory of God’s ‘chosen’ faith. Osama’s resolve to reclaim the Caliphate may not have resonated across the Muslim world, but his own brand of believers needs no such endorsement. For them, his message has already received reinforced validity, of all people, from a Christian political scientist. 

Samuel Huntington’s taxonomy of a world, where an inevitable clash of its major civilizations must end in the final victory of Islam, may not have greatly added muscle to ‘Islamic’ terrorism, but it has certainly extended considerable cachet to Osama’s vision of the future.

And yet, Manmohan Singh, who is the closest we have got to flaunt as a statesman, and his leather-tough Home Minister see Naxalism as a far greater threat to the country than Jehadi terrorism. Why?

Let us get to the basics of the two ‘scourges’ to get a good read of their logic. 

We all agree that terrorism is a global threat, a threat the whole world must face united, with India being just one of the many trenches in that vast battlefield. The burden of fighting such a global war is spread so thin that a particular country’s sinews need only as much stretched as it’s required to be a part of the whole. In other words, when it comes to a crunch, a government can always summon the resources of foreign flags to come to its rescue. Example: The surrogate war the US and Europe are fighting against Taliban on behalf of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

It’s a fair war where a government needs no elaborate moral equivocation while destroying the enemy. The more pro-aggressive a government gets in its war against terrorism, the more secure its people feel and more and more do they rally around the government.

Hunting down political extremists, though, is a different game. The Naxalites are not Arabs or Pashtuns, but our own people; they may not have vociferous cheerleaders among the citizen class, but there is a groundswell of sympathy and understanding seeping across the society. 

Not just the left-liberal fraternity, but even the apolitical middle class and a section of the ruling elite are beginning to see them as victims of a non-egalitarian social order. 

There are only two ways of achieving social justice, they argue. One is to grant it from above and the other is to grab it from below. In the past six decades, the boon from the rulers apparently never flowed to the millions of India’s unwashed, leaving them no choice but to grab it from the bottom. Violence is de rigueur. 

So, evidently, while the terrorists should be tackled at the global level as they are trying to take over the entire civilized world, the Naxalites are adventurists trying to take over the Indian state – the government, the civil society, the economy, and even the armed forces. 

Vividly put, while the terrorists have the Capitol Hill in their gun sight, Naxalites have Raisina Hill as their target. And, understandably, Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram are more worried about losing the second mount, because that is where they sit. 

The only way for Singh and his government to save their hill is by ensuring speedy social justice - top down, not bottom up. 

If he persists, on the other hand, with the ‘force option’, the prime minister would do well to remember the warning a certain Ho Chi Minh delivered his colonial oppressors: “You will be tired of killing us”, he had said, “much before we will be tired of dying”.



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