|Interview with Union Minister for Home Shivraj Patil.|
In the third week of September, the Union government convened the first meeting of the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of States affected by naxalism. A new term, two-track response, was evolved to describe the measures needed to be taken with regard to areas under the growing influence of naxalism or Maoism. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi on the understanding within the government on this issue. Excerpts from the interview:
The recent meeting of Chief Ministers of some of the States affected by naxalism shows that there is an urgency and a willingness to deal with the problem differently. Some quarters have expressed a need to look at the issue holistically to relate it with the socio-economic plight of the people whose cause the naxalite groups claim to espouse. How does the Centre view this two-track response?
This problem has been there for some years and from the beginning we have been trying to solve it by adopting certain methods. We do not think it can be solved by adopting only one method. That is why from the beginning we have been saying that the issue should be treated as something that relates to economic development and social and political justice, and that the people who are involved in it must be persuaded to believe that guns are not going to help solve the problem. What will help is the understanding. But if some people are bent upon using only violent methods, the state is bound to protect innocent people's property and lives. That was being done in the past and that is why we thought that once again we could meet and discuss these issues in greater detail to bring about better cooperation and coordination between the activities of the States. This is not a two-track approach but a multi-track approach - discussing issues, development of the economy, doing political and social justice - and if necessary as a last resort, doing one's duty and controlling the violent activities of some people against innocent persons.
Given the regrouping of outfits such as the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre and the renewed activities of naxalites in certain States, what exactly does the Centre have in mind in terms of dealing with the situation? It also appears that there has been an escalation in the scale of activities of these groups. Is a ban one of the options?
We are not stopping at a ban. We are developing the economy as well. If regrouping is taking place, we shall have to put in all effort to see that violence is not allowed to continue. No, there has not been a manifold increase in the scale of activities. In some States, the activities have come down; the killings have also come down. In some States these have increased. If one takes the sum total of all the incidents and killings in the affected areas or the affected States, it will be noticed that they have actually come down. The killings may show an increase and that is because of the improved kind of explosives being used.
Dialogue is known to be the best political option, but as the Andhra Pradesh experience has shown, talks have not borne much result. The failure of the talks drew criticism from certain sections that the Andhra Pradesh government was going soft on these groups.
We are talking to people in Pakistan and other countries; should we not talk to our own people? Why should we treat talking to our own people as a soft approach? We are expected to persuade them, remove their grievances, and if necessary take action as per the law.
What is failure? If the killings have come down, it is not a failure. Why should we say that it has been a soft approach? It is a fair and just approach. If total success has not been achieved, to that extent one can say that we have not been as successful as we should have been. We have to remove the problems faced by people. We have to help them develop themselves, develop the areas where they live in, and give them amenities as are available in the advanced regions. We have to give them economic, political and social justice. We have to convince naxalites that by killing others they will not get anything, but by cooperating and by understanding the real situation, they will be able to get their grievances solved. That is the approach they should take.
Naxalites claim to enjoy considerable support among the poor. How would the Centre view their extremist actions, in comparison with other forms of extremism threatening the country?
If economic grievances are there and if someone is angry, we should understand that. If separatists are trying to be violent, we can come to the conclusion that either they have wrong conceptions about the situation prevailing in the country or that they have been instigated by some people across the border or that they have a narrow and parochial approach to problems.
So is it primarily an economic question?
It is not only economic. There is no one way; it has to be a multi-pronged approach to [address] their real grievances - economic and social justice and unemployment.