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Devil's Advocate: Digvijay Singh on Maoists

May 16, 2010 10:04 PM IST Politics Politics

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How should we view the Maoists and how should we respond to them? That is the key issue that I will explore with Congress General Secretary and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister. Mr Digvijay Singh let's start with how you view the Maoists? In your recent Economic Times article you write that Maoists are at the most misguided ideologues who have lost faith in the system. Let me begin by asking you what exactly do you mean? Digvijay Singh: If you go back the history of Communist party in that part of the region which is Telangana, their movement in the 30s and 40s was extremely strong against the Zamindar and the Nizam in old Hyderabad. This thing has continued throughout. Of course the Naxalites draw the name from Naxalbari which came later. Basically these are the people who have sort of formed their opinions and ideological convictions on Communism and on the success of Mao Tse-Tung in China when he says that power flows through the barrel of the gun. At the most these are the people who are convinced that from a democratic system they cannot get anything. Karan Thapar: Let me ask you a few critical questions to understand your question. First of all do you, Digvijay Singh, view the Maoists as enemies of the state of India? Digvijay Singh: Well let me tell you one thing. They certainly do not believe in the democratic system of this country. Karan Thapar: But enemies of India? Digvijay Singh: Well can't say enemies of India, can't say. No, no. Karan Thapar: Do you believe that they are the single biggest security challenge to the Indian state? Digvijay Singh: They certainly are a security threat. But I would not say that they are the first or second. They are definitely a threat to the internal security of this country and we have to tackle them in a way that we win back the people of that area. Ultimately it is the will of the people that matters. In Chhattisgarh if you don't have the people on your side whether Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra or Orissa you won't be able to tackle the Naxals. Karan Thapar: So you are making it clear that although they are a security threat, they are not the single biggest? Digvijay Singh: Well this is an assessment of the Government. I am not a part of the Government, I am in the organisation. I don't really know the threat perception at every level. Karan Thapar: Would you also say that they are in fact a greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East? Digvijay Singh: Well I think this is quite relative. I would not like to comment on that. Karan Thapar: The reason I used those two quotations because those are the terms the Prime Minister uses. Digvijay Singh: The issues are quite different. One is our Indian people who have sort of have their own ideas about democracy, governance; and there are others. In Jammu and Kashmir the people from outside the country have been agitating, have been sort of spearheading cross-border terrorism. Karan Thapar: So it is not fair to compare the Maoists to the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir? Digvijay Singh: Well the issues are quite different. Karan Thapar: The issues are different therefore they are not comparable? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely. Karan Thapar: Let's come to some specific aspects of the Maoists before we come to the question of how we respond and tackle them. How do you respond to their rhetoric? They look upon the Parliament of India as a pig sty. They call India's democracy and elections a sham and most important of all they want to overturn India's political system. Digvijay Singh: Well that it totally unacceptable. Karan Thapar: Totally unacceptable? Digvijay Singh: Yes. Karan Thapar: What about the fact that they are seeking to do this - to change the political system, not by winning elections not by persuading people, but by resort to armed liberation struggle. Digvijay Singh: That is totally unacceptable. Karan Thapar: Thirdly, what about their strategy, they don't just loot banks, they blow up railway lines, they bomb bridges, they demolish telecom towers and sometimes worst of all they believe in what they call annihilation. Digvijay Singh: This is what I am saying, this country cannot tolerate this kind of violence. We cannot succumb to this kind of violence. But the key issue is how you tackle it. I am not a great supporter of Naxalites. Karan Thapar: I will come to the tackling in a moment, but I just want to clarify that in terms of their rhetoric, in terms of their goal of overthrowing the political system, in terms of their strategy - all three for you are unacceptable? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely unacceptable. Karan Thapar: So when incidents like the massacre in cold blood of 76 CRPF jawans in Dantewada happened in April or in fact on 8th of May when eight soldiers were blown up by land mine how do you view those developments? Digvijay Singh: You see the issue is how do you tackle this problem? Today, unfortunately the people living in that area have totally sort of been marginalised and are totally at the mercy of the Naxalites. Karan Thapar: I will come to that in a moment. Let me just press you. How do you view such things as the Dantewada massacre first? Digvijay Singh: Well it is deplorable, condemnable in the highest terms. Karan Thapar: But given that you don't agree with their rhetoric, their goals, their strategies; given that Dantewada is deplorable what do you say to people who turn around and say 'when Digvijay Singh calls Maoists misguided ideologues that is minimising if not whitewashing them'? Digvijay Singh: See I would go back to my article. You see when you have this problem you have to tackle it not in a single-pronged strategy, it has to be multi-pronged. Now we have an experience of Andhra Pradesh where they had peace talks with these people. They sort of flagged the issues which were pro-poor and after that when the talks broke down on the simple issue of laying down the arms, the Congress party government of YSR aggressively implemented the pro-poor polices. At the same time the Congress party took, Keshav Rao the PCC president took out a long padyatra (walkathon) in those areas and then they closely targeted the leadership. Amongst the Naxalites also, among the Maoists also all are not of the single mindset. Karan Thapar: I will come in detail to how to tackle it. But the reason I keep coming back to how you view it is because if you only view them as misguided ideologues, a term that people see as euphemism, a term that people believe actually white washes their crime, then they first question whether you see them as a sufficiently serious enough threat. That is why I am insisting on you definition of them and your view of them. Digvijay Singh: Karan, no one can defend their criminal activities. Karan Thapar: But if you only call them misguided ideologues then you are minimising it? Digvijay Singh: But they are not terrorists. In fact those people who have committed acts of crime which have to be dealt firmly and decisively. At the same time you cannot equate them with cross-border terrorists. Karan Thapar: But you said a moment ago that Maoists are not terrorists but they terrorise and use terror as a means to further their goal and mission. Digvijay Singh: See the image of terrorists in this country is of those who have been coming from the other side of the border. Karan Thapar: But there are other types of terrorists. You don't have to be just a Kashmiri terrorist to be a terrorist. Digvijay Singh: At the same time you have to take into the account that what are the issues. They are demanding greater rights for the people living in those areas. Karan Thapar: So the issues in a sense qualify for you how you view them. In other words because the issues have justification that's why you view them as misguided ideologues, not as terrorists? Digvijay Singh: I have no quarrel as far as their issues are concerned. They are genuine, they are very fine issues, they are relevant issues. Ultimately it is the people who matter. But the point is that their strategy and their method are totally condemnable and not acceptable at all. Karan Thapar: Just to sum up this particular point, you insist on seeing them as misguided ideologues not as terrorists? Digvijay Singh: They are certainly not terrorists. Karan Thapar: Misguided ideologues is your preferred way of seeing them? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely. Karan Thapar: Let's come to the subject you want to talk. How the Maoist problem should be tackled? Once again in your Economic Times article you write "We cannot solve it by ignoring the hopes and aspirations of the people living in these areas". So let me first ask you in what ways are their hopes and aspirations being ignored? Digvijay Singh: See I would go back to this that in the Indian Constitution we start with "We the people". After that in the last 60-65 years the greatest change that Mr Rajiv Gandhi brought in was when he empowered the people with the 73rd and 74th Amendments. Karan Thapar: The Panchayati Raj? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely. The second point when it comes to empowerment it was the Panchayat Extension Schedule Areas that was passed. PESA as they call it. Number three, when Sonia Gandhi brought in the Right to Information Act. Ultimately it is the people who matter. In this case I have in an earlier article in Economic Time listed four issues. Number one, right of the forest to tribals; number two, change in the Mining Regulation Act so that the land oustees get a share of the royalty. Number three amendments in the Land Acquisition Act and number four implementation of Panchayat Extension Schedule Areas. Karan Thapar: When you say that their hopes and inspirations have been ignored, are you suggesting that measures that would give them development, that would give them welfare such as MNREGA, the National Rural Health Mission or forest policies or mining policies are not being implemented, that they are being denied the benefit that would happen if they were implemented. Is that what you are saying? Digvijay Singh: See the four issues that I have listed; the fourth issue can be implemented without any chance in the Act. Karan Thapar: But it is not happening. Digvijay Singh: It is not happening because of the lack of political will of the state governments. Karan Thapar: Does lack of political will also mean that MNREGA or the National Rural health Mission, these are the things that you mentioned in your Economic Times article, are not being implemented? Digvijay Singh: Again I would like to go back to my article. The Government of India schemes are not being implemented earnestly because the money that is going there is being taken away either by the employees or by the Naxalites. Karan Thapar: So the development that should give the poor tribals in these areas is not happening as a result of which you say that their hopes and aspirations are being ignored? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely. Karan Thapar: Is it then in your position that the first step in tackling the Maoists is to tackle the development and welfare of the poor tribals who live in Maoist areas. Digvijay Singh: See it can't bee seen in isolation. All things have to be tackled together. Like I said in the Andhra Pradesh experience, we implemented the proper policies, then the political parties have to go to the people, have to convey to the people. Number three, at the same time you have to then identify all those Maoist leadership who are totally sort of a view of extremism. Therefore, we have to talk to those people who are not really or don't have such extreme views. Karan Thapar: The interesting thing in your priority is that identifying the Maoists in the extremist was put by you at number three. Mr Chidambaram says that militarily defeating the Maoists is the first step otherwise you cannot have access to the areas they control and you can't implement development. Digvijay Singh: I am very happy that honourable Prime Minister and Chidambaramji himself have accepted this that you can't send the army, we can't send the air force and we cannot defeat them militarily. Karan Thapar: But they are talking about sending in the para-military, sending in armed police, and they are saying that defeating the Maoists militarily has to be the first stage, development follows. You've put it the other way around. Digvijay Singh: Karan, I am not saying that one precedes the other. Karan Thapar: It has to be together? Digvijay Singh: It has to be together. Karan Thapar: But they are saying that one precedes the other. Digvijay Singh: No, you are not right. The honourable Prime Minister himself told me that it has to be a multi-pronged strategy that has to be implemented together and so has Chidambaramji told me the same. Karan Thapar: You say Chidambaramji has told you that but in your article you say "I have deferred with his strategy that does not taking into account consideration of the people living in the affected areas which ultimately matters. He is treating it as purely a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals." Digvijay Singh: This is pre-article, I am talking of post-article. Karan Thapar: So after this article was written, in other words after the 14th of April he has given you an assurance that like you he believes the two things - militarily defeating the Maoists, and development and welfare for the tribals who live in those areas both have to happen together. Digvijay Singh: This has been reflected in his speeches later on. Karan Thapar: So have you been influential in changing his position? Digvijay Singh: No, I don't claim that credit. Karan Thapar: You don't claim that credit but do you think you deserve that credit? Digvijay Singh: But I think that there is a perceptible change in thinking now because in Parliament debate also most of the Members of Parliament took this line of that development. Karan Thapar: I want you to repeat that line because it is so important - there is a perceptible change in the thinking of Mr Chidambaram. Digvijay Singh: Well what he has spoken after the debate has come through. Karan Thapar: Would you go so far to say even if you don't want to claim credit, and be immodest that he has at least been influenced by your article and the line of advocacy that you take there. Digvijay Singh: Well, I would not claim that credit again; it is for you to see. Karan Thapar: All right that is sufficient for me. Let me put something else for you. In your article you write that when you first raised with Mr Chidambaram the fact that his strategy was in fact ignoring the development of poor tribals who are living in Maoist-dominated areas, at that time he told you that it was not his responsibility. How surprised were you? Digvijay Singh: When I gave him my earlier article which I wrote in the Economic Times in which I raised the four issues. Karan Thapar: When you gave him the article what did he say? Digvijay Singh: He said for this you will have to talk to the Prime Minister because I can't handle it. Karan Thapar: So at that point in time he said talk to the Prime Minister it is not my responsibility. But since then he has clearly changed his position and he has decided that the two tracks have to go together. Digvijay Singh: Well this is what I have noticed in his speeches later on. Of course the parliamentary debate also and most of the Members of Parliament thought this way. Karan Thapar: In your article you go one step further. You say that to the extent that it is essential to militarily tackle the Maoists you believe that this has to be done by recruiting a battalion of tribals from the area. You say the CRPF cannot be effective in that terrain. Why do you say that? Digvijay Singh: I am very surprised Karan. Why only CRPF is being targeted by the Naxalites? First Dantewada, then Bijapur. Where is the Chhattisgarh Police? Where are they? The intelligence gathering has to be by the local police, the local people. Where is the intelligence coming from? Why CRPF is being led into all this? Karan Thapar: So as outsiders the CRPF is not equipped to have intelligence gathering effectively done? Digvijay Singh: They are trained differently. CRPF is basically a force which has been trained differently. But here policing is quite different from the functions of the CRPF. Karan Thapar: This is why you believe that a locally recruited battalion of tribals themselves is the best way of fighting? Digvijay Singh: Absolutely, by which they will be able to give you the right kind of information. Karan let me tell you the terrain is such that two helicopters crashed last year. One debris was found after 27 days, the other debris was found after 45 days. Karan Thapar: I accept your point. When you put this second suggestion particularly about recruiting a battalion of tribals locally to Mr Chidambaram… Digvijay Singh: No, I have not discussed this with him. Karan Thapar: Don't you think you should? Digvijay Singh: Well this is what they should look at. Karan Thapar: They should look at? So you believe that this is still the right way and Mr Chidambaram should look at it? Digvijay Singh: See until you win over the people in that area, you will neither get intelligence nor would know the terrain and nor would you be able to fight these Naxals. Karan Thapar: So in other words what you are saying and I am summing up this interview with this point that is there is need for fairly substantial need for rethinking of the Home Ministry's approach. Some of that rethinking has already happened as you have indicated, but they need to rethink further in terms of troops and how those troops are recruited for fighting the Maoists. You are nodding. Is that a yes? Digvijay Singh: See I would again go back to Salwa Judum. Salwa Judum was a very honest effort by the tribals who had been victimised by the Naxalites to fight the Naxalites. Unfortunately these people were brought out from their homes and villages and brought to relief camps which was the biggest blunder which the Chhattisgarh government could make. Now they have made them total refugees. They have given away the space to Naxalites. Karan Thapar: So now you need other type of Salwa Judum by recruiting local tribals and creating battalions and then using them? Digvijay Singh: I would not call them Salwa Judum. Karan Thapar: You would call them some other name. Digvijay Singh: What I am trying to say is until and unless you have people in the forces who know the terrain, who know the language, who know the culture it would be very difficult to fight these Naxalites. Karan Thapar: My last point to you. Clearly today there is a greater measure of agreement between your views and Mr Chidambaram's when your articles was written on the 14th of April, although there are some significant differences. In view of that would you like to withdraw or reconsider the comments you made in the article? You said in the article that he is extremely rigid, you also said that he treated you with intellectual arrogance on occasions. Would you like to withdraw or reconsider those. Digvijay Singh: Well, if it has hurt him, I am prepared to say sorry and withdraw my remarks. Karan Thapar: You are actually prepared to use the word sorry? Digvijay Singh: If he is hurt, naturally, he is a friend of mine, we have worked together and I would not like to hurt his feelings. I had made an honest comment which I thought I should. But if it has hurt him deeply, then I am sorry. Karan Thapar: Mr Digvijay Singh a pleasure talking to you. Digvijay Singh: Thanks.