Will the Maoists lose the support of the middle-class and urban intelligentsia by continuing to use kidnapping as a propaganda tool? Dr P V Ramana offers his views.
Activists of the Communist Party of India-Maoist seem to have renewed their tactic of abducting high-profile targets. In March and April 2012 they abducted two Italians and a Schedule Tribe member of the legislative assembly in Odisha, and, on April 21, 2012, the District Collector of Sukma, Alex Paul Menon, in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. They finally set Menon free on Thursday.
Their objectives in abducting high-profile targets, apparently, seem to be four-fold. One, they wanted to gauge the nerve of the government; two, divert the attention of the security forces from some important development; three, impede, if not halt, development activities in their bastions; and four, hamper operations by the security forces.
The agreement, signed between mediators of the rebels and the Chhattisgarh government, for the safety and release of Menon presents a mixed bag for both the sides.
Menon, would be released first. Thereafter, within an hour of Menon returning from captivity, the government would convene the first meeting of a 'high powered committee', which would function as the standing committee, to expedite the release of under-trial persons, i.e., in effect, Maoist leaders/cadres/sympathisers.
The wording of the agreement is nuanced, but leaves little for imagination. "(The) standing committee (shall) regularly review all cases of persons in respect of whom investigation/prosecution is pending. This includes Maoist related cases In such review, the lists of cases received by the mediators in respect of tribals of Bastar and surrounding areas shall be given priority."
Moreover, the government would give priority to 'cases' forwarded by the Maoists through the mediators.
All along, the Maoists have contended that such persons are 'political prisoners' and have been demanding that they should be assigned such a status and set free. In fact, the Maoists have some years back formed a front organisation known as Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, which makes occasional noises, but has met with no success in getting its demands met.
The armed 'underground', with its blackmail tactic hopes to achieve what the 'over-ground could not.
Such a tactic might merely yield partial, immediate-term results. There is also the apprehension among security force leaders that the rebels might seek to exploit the unenviable position of the state government.
"Perhaps, a few more abductions could take place, especially because the government is willing to set free jailed comrades," Giridharii Nayak, additional director general of police, Chhattisgarh said in an interview to this author on May 3, 2012.
"Possibly, within a few months, jails in the state would be emptied of all arrested Maoists", he lamented, underscoring the dilemma and disappointment of security force officials, who take immense risk to life and toil hard to secure their arrest.
He added, "In the immediate-term they could show-case their so-called strength and (deceptive) success and use it as a propaganda tool with the masses and try to enhance their support base. But, this is where the Maoists would make a serious error of judgement.
"In the long-term this tactic would miserably backfire. The Maoists would lose the sympathy of the middle-class, urban intelligentsia", a former director general of police told this author in an interview, on May 2 in Hyderabad.
This was unambiguously witnessed in Andhra Pradesh, in the past, after which the Maoists realised their folly and abandoned this tactic. At that time they had held hostage and or murdered their hostages in cold-blood, because they miscalculated public sentiment.
A former speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, D Sripada Rao, a highly respected political leader, Ragya Nayak, a Schedule Tribe MLA, Malhar Rao and Sankaranna, popular local-level public representatives, M Subbirami Reddy, member of Parliament and business magnet, all lost their lives to mindless rebel violence.
One likely serious fallout of the abduction of the district collector is that it could considerably hamper the implementation of ongoing development schemes and programmes.
Dissuaded by the fear of becoming victims of Maoist high-handedness, revenue officials might become reluctant to venture into the interior areas to implement/monitor development schemes and programmes and also run the routine administration. This is exactly what the Maoists want.
They do not want the fruits of various government programmes to reach the people.
This would severely erode their popular base. Development programmes such as the Integrated Action Plan, an important Planning Commission initiative, which is aimed at rapidly filling-in critical gaps in infrastructure, are showing good results.
According to statistics officially made available by the Planning Commission, already 33,928 works involving an expenditure of Rs 1,751.75 crore have been completed across eight states in districts selected under the IAP.
Surely, the Maoists are unable to digest this success. Hence, they are wickedly seeking to impede development programmes.
Moreover, the security forces would feel hamstrung and are unlikely to undertake vigorous operations in the immediate-term. Thus, in effect, the Maoists have taken advantage of the nature of a 'democratic government'.
Dr P V Ramana is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi