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  Wordy wars
  Needed consensus against Maoists  
  THE war on Maoists, launched by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram with much media fanfare not long ago, may take a while to be waged in a concerted manner. But it has already led to several wars of words, all on the avowedly anti-Maoist side.

The loudest of these wars has been the one that erupted between the Communist Party India (Marxist), particularly the party-led government of West Bengal, and the Trinamoool Congress of Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee. It goes back to the Nandigram agitation against land acquisition for an Indonesian conglomerate's chemical hub. It continued through the long offensive against the ultra-left in Lalgarh. The slanging match got shriller over the swap of pro-Maoist prisoners for an abducted policeman. The verbal hostilities have now reached a new high in virulence after the Maoist hijack of a super-fast Rajdhani Express.

The Marxists have alleged a Mamta-Maoist conspiracy and collusion behind the drama of the train's detention by tribal rebels. Chidambaram has jumped into the fray, predictably to make common cause with his Cabinet colleague.

Earlier, the Home Minister had his own verbal duel with human rights activists. He taunted them about their tears for the violent and lawless Maoists (though the extremists are still not officially tarred as "terrorists"). The activists have hit back by harking back to the state terrorism unleashed on tribal communities in the name of curbing Maoists. They have also charged that the objective of the announced operation is to drive tribals away from their traditional homes in the name of development, to clear tribal land for corporate loot of its rich resources with only a token compensation for the uprooted.

All this underlines the need for a national consensus on combating Maoists. The consensus must be based on a belief in democracy, in the preferability of peaceful dialogue over other political systems or "solutions" to the people's problems. In the polity of India's adoption, armed groups cannot be allowed to "liberate" territories and lord it over them, however legitimate the grievances of those whom they claim to represent.

If this indeed is the basis for the consensus, there is no reason why diverse political camps, even those as distrustful otherwise of each other as Mamta and the Marxists, cannot share it. The issue is important enough to deserve serious discussion in an all-party meeting and to call for similar other, concrete initiatives. Party politics of a petty kind can make a mockery of the war on Maoism.

The rulers at the Centre and in the States will do well to refrain from laughing human rights out of court. Officially, of course, the police and the paramilitary agencies will only be pressed into anti-extremist action, but the common Indian knows what cruel excesses against the poor can result in the process. To disown official responsibility in this regard is to defeat the very rationale of the anti-Maoist exercise.

Last but not the least, the consensus must include steps to address the problem of development-induced displacement and distress. The tribal people cannot be won over by just a one-time compensation for the land, livelihood and the way of life he is called upon to lose, often only for corporate profits.
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