Abjure silence

April 6th, 2010

After Mumbai burnt on 26/11, India was hurting. As the dust settled, heads began to roll.

Notably, the dapper Shivraj Patil vacated command of the Home Ministry and the then Finance minister P Chidambaram took over.

That was before the economic slowdown came and went; before the Naxal upturn came and refused to go.

Last December, it was with some pride that Chidambaram stood in West Bengal’s capital city speaking of his unblemished record after taking over as Home Minister.

He claimed that the system had been improved, the sharing of intelligence streamlined and more importantly, the country’s complacency of terrorism had been shaken off. “It has been a terror-free year, so far. I hope it will end this way,” he said.

To the Naxals he said, “We will talk if you abjure violence.”

Two months later, a bakery in Pune was blown to bits.

Incidentally, Chidambaram was in Kolkata’s Writers’ Buildings just days before the terror attack attempting to coordinate the offensive against the Ultra Left rebels, or the now famous ‘Operation Green Hunt’.

It is another matter that two of the four chief ministers who were requested to attend the meeting did not turn up. Of the two who did, one sits in the very building they met in.

But all along, the hinterland burnt, while Chidambaram continued with his stance of ceasefire before conversation.

Subsequently, the telecommunication ping-pong ensued. The Home Ministry made public its public fax number, followed by the Naxals making public some random mobile number.

To believe that both couldn’t connect without the media playing matchmaker is absurd; that they wouldn’t is another matter.

As the situation deteriorated, including the firefight at the Silda camp where two dozen security personnel were killed, the demands for reconciliation increased steadily.

Even the Trinamool Congress’s enfant terrible Kabir Suman put his name down for a possible list of mediators between the Centre and the Naxals.

Last weekend, Chidambaram finally went to Lalgarh: Bengal’s geographical indicator for Naxalism. There, in a supposed spontaneous change in his itinerary, the signifier of the classes went to meet the masses.

“I, too, come from a village like yours, named Sivaganga, in Tamil Nadu,” the Harvard-educated minister is said to have told a villager.

But Sivaganga witnessed the opening of 43 bank branches during his previous tenure in the UPA government as Finance Minister. With it came some semblance of an attachment with India’s economic growth story.

Lalgarh, unfortunately, has none of that. The local police station doesn’t even have a proper rope to hold back over-enthusiastic journalists, reports said.

But the local Block Development Officer can’t be blamed. His office has reportedly been closed down. Now, no one is quite sure where the job cards, or the jobs, are coming from.

Chidambaram, however, stuck to his guns. He asked locals to resist the Naxal rebels and continue supporting the government, despite the latter having delivered next to nothing.

Not that the former have done much either, but thankfully they aren’t elected representatives.

Then, the Home Minister said, “The buck must stop on the chief minister’s table”.

After a night of rumination, the chief minister disapproved of Chidambaram’s analysis as “not good language”.

The Naxals have not said much, even though they are crucial to solving the particular debate and the larger problem.

The Centre, state governments in question and the rebels have to hit the table before one is seriously debilitated, and time is running out.

On Tuesday, over 70 paramilitary troops were killed in a series of ambushes at Dantewada, Chattisgarh.

In all likelihood, the fight will intensify and the body count will rise, unless talks start.

Instead of violence, maybe Chidambaram should considering abjuring silence. As a representative of the state, he has a monopoly over the former.

But the absence of the latter is key to ensuring that it stays that way.

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