Naxals and India: Cry for the dead, but do this too

Last Updated: Mon, May 27, 2013 06:17 hrs

It would seem that they don't understand the language of blood.

The first responses after the Naxal attack on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh suggest just that: We might be going deaf.

In terms of information, till 2pm on Sunday, 25 persons were declared killed in the Naxal attack. The Chhattisgarh Congress head and his son, a former Congress minister opposition leader, a driver, some more Congressmen and some policemen – these were among the dead until 2pm on 26 May.

Not a single Naxal died in the attack and, brief, response from the security posse.

It should tell us a lot, if we seek to listen.

Chhattisgarh Congressmen said it was strange how there hasn't been a Naxal attack on Chief Minister Raman Singh or the BJP.
Seniors in the Chhattisgarh Congress said the security provided to the Congress was deliberately inadequate.
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said a way would have to be devised in the high-level conference on internal security, scheduled in the first week of June in New Delhi.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said the Congress wouldn't be stopped by this and would move forward.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it was a black day.

Grief is a process and responses under sorrow are not to be judged.

But the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi have been pondering over the Naxal issue for years.

In the summer of 2010, about 300 Maoists massacred a half-awake lot of 76 Indian paramilitary forces in Chhattisgarh who were not on a mission to kill Naxals.

In October 2003, the then Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu barely survived a meticulous Naxal attack on him near Tirupati.

Naidu had ribs and a collar bone fractured. He survived but has never again been what he was before the attack.
In March 2000, the then Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj and Rural Development minister Madhava Reddy was blown to death in a Naxal hit in Telangana area.

Madhava Reddy had moved from the home ministry [where he oversaw anti-Naxal operations] to rural development just six months before the attack.

Government officials, including district collectors, have been abducted, held and released.

And there have been many more Maoist strikes.

By now, the narrative on the Naxal issue ought to have been deeper: more movies, books, songs and deeper national thought. It ought to be something more than news.

Now too, after this extraordinary attack from the trees, the polity may be banking on old responses.
If these indications are anything to go by, they might be tempted to spend more time, men and money trying to exterminate the Naxals.

It won't work. The Naxals are from among us. You can't keep killing your own and solve a problem.
India needs a fresh, simple and honest approach. Else, this war won't stop.

Here is a plan that could help.

1) The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left Front, and others if they wish to, must form an all-India joint Peace and Works Corps.

2) The only job of the Corps: to liaise between the government and the villagers on development and other burning issues in select Naxal-dominated areas of India.

3) The Peace and Works Corps will monitor targets of building roads, schools, hospitals and homes. The local administration must be mandated to work with the Corps wherever they function.

4) The Peace and Works Corps must number about 1 lakh people; half from the Congress, a third from the BJP and the rest from the others. Say, 50,000 from the Congress, 30,000 from the BJP and so on.

5) The Corps must have at least 35,000 women.

6) The Corps must have at least 30,000 Adivasis. This is the only way to show we mean business.

7) The Peace and Works Corps can draw its members from anywhere in India although it might be better if there are more people from Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha. Bihar and Maharashtra.

8) Members of the Peace and Works Corps must be between 20 and 50 years of age.

9) They must be paid salaries into their bank accounts by the 1st of each month. The respective political parties they belong to must pay the salaries. Those without bank accounts may be encouraged to open one and be paid in cash until then. 

10) The salary could be uniform; say, Rs 35,000 tax-free a month. The union and state governments must make this tax-free to show that this is a special assignment. 

11) The Corps shall be paid expenses in the field: travel, food, phone bills, Internet, and housing rentals where applicable. This is apart from the salary.

12) Each member of the Peace and Works Corps could have a three-year contract. There's no point in making this perpetual. It needs to be urgent, with deadlines.

13) The Corps could wear white and green to identify them. They will live in the villages. A way needs to be found to prevent fake members wearing the dress and creating problems. Maybe electronic chips with GPS. They shouldn't be sitting ducks. They are meant to be warriors of peace and goodwill.

14) Their contracts should provide for insurance in case of death on duty, to be paid in three months to the next of kin. More compensation, apart from insurance, may be paid if death occurs in the line of duty.

15) In effect, the Corps will monitor the reconstruction of the nation.

16) Money for this ought to come from a Special Fund, to be maintained and monitored by a panel of officers from the central and state finance ministries, and civil society members.

17) Such a monitoring panel could have five members in each state: one each from the union and state finance ministries and three from the civil society.

18) They could put everything on a website: in Hindi, English and the local language if different from Hindi.

19) All work could have three-year targets with three-month audits until the three-year period is over.

20) If possible, there must be a three-year ceasefire between the Maoists and the state and union governments to allow full and unhindered progress by the Peace and Works Corps.

21) Both sides must give public undertakings, in the media, over YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, not to kill or otherwise target members of the Peace and Works Corps. In the villages, this must be conveyed clearly to every resident by drums, one-on-one meetings, or whatever means of communication is effective.

22) The only mandate for the Peace and Works Corps is to speed up the mainstreaming of backward, neglected, Naxal-dominated areas. High quality roads, cell phone connectivity, high speed Internet, jobs with wages, doctors on call in hospitals and teachers in schools are mandatory.

23) After this winter's Chhattisgarh assembly poll and the 2014 General Election, no election of any kind must be held in Naxal-affected areas for three year anywhere in India. These electoral areas must be clearly demarcated and announced in public forums. The Election Commission needs to be part of this.

24) The state-wise Special Funds could have ₹5,000 crore to start with. They could have an additional ₹5,000 crore every year. This figure needs to be amended according to need.

25) Other works in other parts of the country must not suffer because of this plan. The Peace and Works Corps is an immediate need, not the only one.
These are some of my thoughts. I was born in Andhra Pradesh and have visited Chhattisgarh professionally.

A few years ago I spent some time with Mahendra Karma, the man who had founded the Salwa Judum and who was apparently the principal target of the Naxal attack on the Congress convoy.

When I was with him, Karma was always surrounded by about 60 men. They had machine guns and pistols but were dressed in civilian clothes. When I asked why, they said a uniform would help spot them from miles away.

They didn't want to be chicken feed for the Naxals.

Karma had plenty of swagger and money. He seemed to live off confidence. Everywhere he went, he gave the locals wads of cash. 

Mostly, he handed the money from his kurta pockets. At times, an assistant gave him more from a suitcase.

The locals knew him and they all took the money he offered.

But there was always deep silence. In the jungles of south Chhattisgarh, even a convoy likes to move without noise. They simply wanted to do execute their tasks; they didn't want attention.

From what the locals told me then, they hated the way they were treated. They were poor, their lives were being intruded on and their land was coveted.

The Naxals are the only ones the locals see around them in the interiors of India, definitely in Chhattisgarh. Even if they don't like the Naxals, they will still support them.

The Salwa Judum died much before Mahendra Karma.

I saw hundreds of locals who were members of the Judum huddled in camps. There were about 18-20 camps if I remember correctly.

They were surrounded by barbed wire, with layers of security checks. Armed sentinels kept vigil all around. It was like a war zone.
There was no way out for the Judum members. They were caged. If they were free, there was fear that the Naxals would kill them.

Children were growing in the camps as prisoners of war. 

There was no concept of evenings in these camps. Every sundown, people had to hurry to get back into the camps before curfew time. Once in, they brooded. It is a life out of hell.

In the villages, the locals not with the Judum were seen as Naxal supporters. They lived in doubt, suspicion and ill will.
Thus separated and labelled, the locals of Naxal-dominated Chhattisgarh ceased to be human. It's the same in every Maoist-run area of India.
If the horror has to stop, I think the Peace and Works Corps is urgent. If readers can think of better options, do write in.

Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and

He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.

Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at

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