Sympathy for the devil? Maoist supporters get flak
Hours after Maoist rebels detonated a landmine under a bus in central India on Monday, killing about 35 people including policemen, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was unapologetic in his criticism of civil society organisations that he said were getting in the way of the state’s efforts to contain the rebels.
It is “almost fashionable” to be sympathetic to the Maoist cause, Chidambaram said in an interview to NDTV news channel.
In defending the rebels and questioning the motives of the government — and not of the rebels — they were weakening the apparatus of the state, he said.
Maoist rebels have been romanticised by some writers and filmmakers, portrayed as modern-day Robin Hoods fighting the establishment and corporate greed to protect the rights of the poor and the marginalised.
Rights activists, some NGOs and writers, including Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, have slammed the government for failing to address what they say is the root cause of the Maoists’ fight: isolation from India’s economic growth party.
The government offensive has brought charges of excessive force and human rights abuses. This is set to grow with Chidambaram indicating there was broad support for the use of air strikes against the rebels.
The government, in turn, has argued rebels, who control vast swathes of some of the most resource-rich but desperately poor areas in the country, are keeping the fruits of development from reaching the very people it claims to protect.
A healthy debate is the hallmark of a robust democracy; stifling criticism is no way to win hearts and minds. If, as Chidambaram claims, the government is ready to accept responsibility, then it should not shy away from scrutiny from rights groups who question the government’s methods or motives.
Questioning the government or its tactics should not be cause for condemnation.
Or are the battle lines so clearly drawn here that there is no room for debate?