Kishenji calling Chidambaram?

By T S Sudhir

The last two weeks, has P Chidambaram been looking a tad too eager at the sheaf of faxes that are brought to him everyday? Ever since the country’s home minister gave his ministry’s fax number `100′-like publicity, one wonders if Chidambaram feels like Farhan Akhtar in `Karthik calling Karthik’ who waits for a phone call at 5 am everyday from someone mysteriously called Karthik. In this case, Chidambaram is waiting for his fax machine to whirr with a fax from Kishenji, the Maoist supremo in West Bengal.

But unlike Farhan, Chidambaram is not looking to be told how to manage his `home’. The suave lawyer-turned-politician has in fact conveyed to Kishenji, that all he wants is an one-line message in a fax, stating `we will abjure violence’. Not a comma more, not a full stop less.

The streetsmart Kishenji played the techno card by making public one of the many mobile numbers he uses (this one taken from a policeman) and fixed the time of 5 pm on a given day. And ever since, India has been waiting for a real-life `Karthik calling Karthik’ in Chidambaram calling Kishenji. Neither did PC call nor did he text Kishenji, saying `I will call later’. But several journalists and intelligence officers did, only to find the phone switched off.

Doesn’t all this seem as dramatic as Big B’s Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in `Agneepath’ pointing to his pocket diary and affirming “Aaj sham 6 bajay mauth ke saath apna appoinment hai. Appointment, Englees bolta hai.”

Even as everyone was looking, wondering who will blink first, the mobile phone or the fax machine, another Telugu bidda spoilt the party. The dramatic arrest of Telugu Deepak, considered a prize catch, has turned the militant Reds a shade pale.

Because it brought out into the public domain fissures within the Maoist camp. Contradictory statements seem to indicate a difference of opinion on whether the Maoists should sit across the table with the Union government. If they do, it would mean a return to 2004, when the naxals led by Andhra strongman Ramakrishna engaged in polemics with the Rajasekhara Reddy government, after significantly leaving their weapons inside the Nallamalla forest in the glare of TV cameras.

But why would the Maoists want to talk? A policeman’s logic says it is because they are facing the heat and therefore want a breather, that would allow them a reprieve, to recuperate, consolidate and even expand. That was one of the objectives with which the naxals readily accepted YSR’s offer of peace talks six years ago. They had scored a major hit by daring to target chief minister Chandrababu Naidu in October 2003 and demonstrated that they could hit any big fish, irrespective of his X, Y or Z category security.

The naxal assessment was that a more `friendly’ YSR will give them the space to recruit and collect funds, so necessary for an underground outfit whose recurring expenditure on arms and ammunition was high.

But YSR was not called a tiger for nothing. A tiger by instinct knows how to hunt and go for the kill. So while the government laid out the red carpet welcome for the naxals, the intelligence guys did their homework well, putting a face to many of the undergound guys, infiltrating the ranks and the courier network of the top guns.

So by the time the olive branch held out by YSR dried up, the state police had the blueprint ready to hit where it hurts most. The strategy was clearly to go for the top leaders because once the leadership in Andhra Pradesh was annihilated, the cadre would be rendered toothless. Everything went according to plan. That’s why ground zero of naxal violence is no longer Andhra Pradesh but Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and the land of Naxalbari, West Bengal.

Which is why it is critical that any future interface with the Maoists takes its lessons from the Andhra experience. If YSR was able to effectively do away with the Maoists, so can Buddhadev, Patnaik, Raman Singh and Soren. The only problem is the Maoists have also learnt its lessons from Battlefield Andhra Pradesh.

Which is why abductions as a strategy to armtwist the state has become a part of the naxal armoury once again. It is being employed with unfailing regularity in Jharkhand and West Bengal, where the state seems to find defending its babus and men in uniform more of a challenge than the unarmed populace.

Given how much a kidnap can dent the morale of the babudom, Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren chose to barter maoists in custody for a Block Development Officer. It may not be in sync with the tough-nut-to-crack approach of Chidambaram but the ground realities are very different. No doubt the barbaric beheading of a Francis Induvar would have sent a cold chill down the spine of many a man in khaki.

And once the system, both political and administrative, goes weak in the knees, it will be next to impossible to curb the naxal menace. The home ministry does realise this is virtually an internal war and would do better not to fall into the booby traps of a mobile phone call or a fax. And with Kishenji upping the ante with threat of a takeover of the state before 2050, it is obvious the battle with India is taking place at several levels.

The first step the government of India needs to do is to dump turf wars. Training local police will take just too long. So deploy the best Greyhounds and Cobra commandos in West Bengal and Jharkhand, use the best officers from Andhra Pradesh with a proven track record of tackling naxal extremism, along with local talent.

Get the most competent in the business to track down Kishenji’s cellphone signals. It would seem a shame that in an India of 2010, a government is befuddled by a naxal leader who gives phone-in interviews by the hour to television channels but cannot be hunted down by the police.

Simultaneously involve the political leadership in all the states in the operation so that everyone is on the same page. The police approach is only part of the solution. The bigger and more important work has to be done by the political and administrative establishment, by weaning away the support network the Maoists rely on in the villages.

It is okay for Chidambaram and television anchors to sit in airconditioned studios and rave and rant about how civil society intellectuals should condemn “mindless naxal violence”, even as all that is happening in Chattisgarh in the name of Operation Green Hunt in Chattisgarh is blacked out of any discussions or debate.

The law of the jungle is when you are threatened, you retaliate. The State cannot afford to be seen either as the hunter or the hunted. If the State is perceived as a predator, it will receive brickbats and more. The State has to adhere by the principles of transparency, respect for human rights and due process of law. You can’t correct a wrong with another wrong. Because the real victory is in winning the war, not just a bloody battle.

Enough blood has been shed on both sides. It is time now to ensure more blood does not boil.

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About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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