Since the Naxals are not going to tell us why they think the dastardly attack on Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh two days back – including PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son – was justified, we have to use the concept of Occam's Razor to arrive at a conclusion: when in doubt opt for the simplest and most obvious explanations.
The Naxals benefit from these murders for some very basic reasons.
One, given the sheer animosity between Congress and BJP politicians, they hope that the resultant blame-game – which has partly begun, and could get worse in the run-up to the next assembly elections – will weaken the state’s fight against them further. The only thing the Naxals fear is state and centre acting in unison.
Two, the assassination of former Salwa Judum chief Mahendra Karma was clearly intended to send a chilling message down the spines of both their own supporters and the state’s backers – opposing the Naxals means death. The tribals who are forced to join the Naxals now know they can’t defect to the other side; the state police and politicians who foolishly adopted bravado as a policy in dealing with extremism will now be more circumspect.
Three, the Naxals want development activities stopped – for the lack of development is their reason for existence. Both Congress and BJP have been focusing a bit on tribal development – with the Congress trying to campaign in Naxal areas and the BJP trying to extend food security. This does not suit the Naxals’ purpose. They wouldn’t want any effort by politicians to entice tribals away from extremism to succeed since it would make their own cause illegitimate. They would no longer be able to justify their murderous ways.
Four, the targeting of Congress leaders flows from two lines of Naxal reasoning: since it is the Congress party leadership that has been soft on tackling Naxalism, killing local leaders would make the BJP look complicit. This will exacerbate political animosity. The killings allow the Congress to take advantage of the sympathy factor in the next elections. Targeting BJP politicians would have served to spread more fear, but currently security for them is tighter as they are in government.
Five, the mere fact that the Naxals have shifted from attacking security personnel to softer targets such as bureaucrats (Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon and Malkangiri Collector Vineel Krishna in 2012), politicians (the Congress leaders killed in Chhatisgarh now) and even foreign trekkers (Paulo Bosusco in Orissa last year) shows that the Maoists are keen to provoke state action. Only then can their pleaders in civil society – the human rights activists – get into the act and claim state-created atrocities.
Hopefully, the state and centre will not fall into the trap, but whatever the response, one thing is clear: they are in a catch-22 situation.
To bring development back to the Naxal-infested tribal areas, these areas must first be retaken from the Naxals. Use of force is unavoidable since the Naxals are clear that they don’t want the state to improve its legitimacy by correcting old wrongs.
But the use of force is going to bring back the same human rights concerns that the NGOs love talking about.
There are no easy options. The state – meaning both the Naxal-affected states and the centre – must act forcefully against the Naxals first and move the development agenda forward after that.
Force comes before development in this case. There is no escaping that.
The only way to tackle the crisis is for both Congress and BJP to talk in one voice. The Naxals are betting that this won’t happen when elections are due. They have chosen the timing of their killings after a lot of thought.
The writer is editor-in-chief, digital and publishing, Network18 Group