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THE PHANTOM ENEMY
- The Maoists are laying their bet on the Union home minister

In their own manner, Indian Maoists have worked out the rationale of what they are doing. The grisly serial murders they are indulging in are, in the first instance, intended to warn god-fearing men and women in the areas they are entrenched in to behave and not act as police informers. Should their instructions be infringed, retribution would be swift and merciless. The brutal killings, specifically of CPI(M) cadre and sympathizers, have a collateral objective: the Maoists want no competition in the tribal belt.

These are, however, minor details in the matrix of the overall Maoist strategy. The Maoists believe revolution to be a feasible proposition in India in the present conjuncture. They have planned, in great secrecy and with some meticulousness, in the course of the past decades. They have targeted the adivasi population of around 100 million, dispersed all over the country, with a slightly heavier concentration in states in the heartland. adivasis have been deprived and dispossessed through the centuries, and are waiting for a miracle, which refuses to happen. The Dalits were fortunate to be gifted a cult figure in Bhimrao Ambedkar. He worked within the system from the Gandhi-Irwin Pact days to ensure a substantial say for his people in the nation’s affairs. He was the main architect of free India’s Constitution too, and availed himself of that opportunity to guard Dalit interests jealously. He still had some grouses and parted company with the powers that be before his death. The left-over discontent of Babasaheb was capital stock on which Kanshi Ram, and later Mayavati, built their aggressive platform. But whatever the intensity of the confrontation they planned, at no stage did the Dalit movement ever breach the contours of the national mainstream. Even today, the controversy over statuary is, at best, the assertion of a mood, at worst, banality. Behenji and her friends have taken the system as given and are trying to milk it as much as they can on behalf of their constituency.

Descendants of India’s original inhabitants have failed to produce an Ambedkar from within their midst. They have been squeezed and squeezed for aeons on end by the superior classes, uprooted from their land, thrown out of their homestead, denied sources of food and water, whiplashed as bonded labour, their women were free goods to satisfy the sensual urges of the gentry, their poultry and pigs were confiscated to cater to the culinary requirements of the same set. Environmentalists and wildlife buffs have worried over matters concerning the preservation of the flora and the fauna; they had little time for the sufferings of the tribal people.

What is now Jharkhand is quintessential adivasi tract. The Tatas built their steel-based empire in the region and have lorded over it for more than a century. There has been no impact of this presence, though, on the life and living of the tribals whose land the Tatas had appropriated; people from elsewhere have come and vastly improved their own lot, while the local tribes have been left out in the cold. The story is repeated, over and over again, in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand. No statistician has even thought of developing a separate time series of gross domestic product for the country’s tribal population. Were such a series constructed, the per capita tribal income growth would conceivably be seen to be barely 0.5 per cent per annum over the entire post-Independence period. And the testimony of a Human Development Index would be even more frightening.

Maoists seem to have done their homework. They have built an organizational network, silently and surreptitiously, across eight or nine states with a significant concentration of tribal stock. They think the revolution they have been itching for is well-nigh near. The foot soldiers of that revolution will be the suppressed and oppressed adivasis now ready for a glorious uprising against the tyrannies of State power. This may sound a pipe dream to most others, but not to the Maoists, for it is their belief that they have pushed India’s State power into a Prisoner’s Dilemma trap.

Of late, the Maoists have increased the tempo of their acts of mayhem. Going on rampage in state after state, they have killed people, disrupted railway tracts, attacked police stations and burnt down power transmission centres. They are, quite explicitly, inviting the authorities to large-scale open warfare. Such warfare, as they have thought it out, will involve heavy deployment in the Maoist-infested areas of State forces of all descriptions: police, paramilitary, military and perhaps the air force as well. And this is where, the Maoists are confident, their opportunity lies.

In search of the phantom enemy, government forces will raid village after village, comb tenement after tenement and shed after shed, look under each cot in each hut, peep into every bush, climb mound after mound and hillock after hillock. They will try to drag out information on the whereabouts of Maoists from simple, honest tribal men and women. It will often be felt necessary to have recourse to selective terrorization. Intimidation will lead to some torture, torture will occasion mass desertion of villages.

Maoists will, here and there, attempt to ambush the forces representing State power. Shooting and counter-shooting will cause more deaths, including of many villagers caught in the crossfire. Reports of killings and acts of torture will spread like wildfire from village to village and region to region. The first flush of panic created by the massive offensive in the countryside will duly abate, but what will take its place is anger and hatred against State power. In case there is strafing from air, so much the better, the number of casualties is bound to rise, huts will get destroyed, fields will catch fire, shops and market will close, it will be a picture of chaos and devastation.

Maoists keep reading hoary tracts on guerrilla warfare in China, Vietnam and possibly Cuba and Bolivia too. They have also heard stories of how aggravated repression by State authorities had swelled the ranks of the revolutionaries in these countries. What happened over there, they are sure, will happen here too; once the State launches a massive punitive operation, death and destruction will take place on a mammoth scale. Since those at the receiving end will be overwhelmingly adivasi men, women and children, tribal rage will transform itself into a ferocious, steely will to take revenge, they will mobilize in their thousands; the revolution will be on.

The authorities in New Delhi are not unaware of the Marxist syllogism, and are caught in two minds. If the total offensive is kept in abeyance, Maoists will indulge in provocative acts of even greater savagery, which is likely to cause public outrage at the passivity of the government. On the other hand, in case the government gathers all its forces and launches a full-scale attack on what are suspected to be Maoist citadels, hundreds of innocent tribal men and women will get killed and many villages lie in ruins. The Maoist cause will thereby get an extra boost. Sentiments that sway the conscience of sections of the urban middle-class may also get stirred.

In this situation, the Maoists are laying their bet on the Union home minister. Were he to succeed in persuading his cabinet colleagues and party bosses that enough was enough and it was time to declare total war on the Maoists, the latter will be delighted beyond measure. They will love the civil war that will ensue, a war where the country’s army will battle against some of their own compatriots who happen to be mostly adivasis. It may even appear to the world as an ethnic war where the usurpers of power are trying to liquidate the remnants of the country’s original inhabitants.

The Union home minister, the Maoists presumably hope, will be the answer to their prayer.

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