The confessions of a high-ranking Maoist who was arrested from Kolkata's outskirts make for alarming reading. According to Somen, which is the nom de guerre of this terrorist (all those who indulge in terror tactics to achieve their goals are nothing but terrorists, and let's not call them insurgents or militants or revolutionaries), the Maoists were planning strikes in many urban centres in Bengal and have built up strong bases inside Kolkata. These Left extremists have also infiltrated various educational institutions and are on the threshold of recruiting young men and women from colleges and universities, including premier ones like Presidency and Jadavpur University. All this brings back memories of those dark days of the early 1970s when Naxals had nearly overrun Bengal. They ultimately couldn't achieve anything and the Maoists will also achieve nothing. But like the Naxals before them, the Maoists are leaving behind a trail of death and destruction and have already hampered or even stalled development in many areas of Bengal and a few other states. The state government, and society as a whole, including civil society which seems to show a strange and suicidal tolerance for these Left terrorists, ought to become vigilant immediately and defeat the evil designs of these Maoists to cause chaos in Bengal.
Unfortunately, the Bengal government is shockingly ill-equipped to fight the Maoists. The police know precious little about the terrorist outfit and its leaders, how it functions, its goals and its tactics. No state police officer, it appears, has ever studied the Maoists, leave aside the government raising a special force to fight these terrorists, as states like Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have done. There is no clear strategy to tackle and defeat the Maoists. This is outrageous, considering the fact that the Maoists have been around for many years now and have been gaining in strength steadily. That Somen's confessions (about the extent of the spread of his outfit's tentacles even in Kolkata) have caught the police by surprise and has sent alarm bells ringing in Writers' Building only shows that the police's and the state's intelligence network is useless. The growth of the Maoists would surely have been detected by an efficient and strong intelligence radar. It is high time the state and central intelligence agencies, and the state police's own intelligence-gathering machinery, are revamped and infused with not only fresh blood, but meritorious officers and personnel are posted there and allowed a free hand to do their job. At the same time, a special force to hunt down and exterminate these terrorists needs to be raised immediately and this force be trained in jungle and urban combat. It is only the army that has the resources to impart such training. And this force should be left free to tackle the Maoists instead of being utilized to guard our worthless politicians.
A very hard-fisted approach is required to deal with Maoists, or any terrorist for that matter. The state cannot afford to be soft in tackling terrorism. Yes, the root cause of terrorism--and in this case, it is excruciating poverty caused by abject state neglect of the tribal and rural areas and endemic corruption that causes colossal leakage of developmental funds meant for these areas--must be tackled. But we've seen in the past that Maoists have stalled developmental projects since they know that these projects, aimed at benefiting the poor, would lead to loss of their influence and stranglehold on the poor and the tribals. They want the status quo to continue because they can grow only if the poor and the tribals continue to live in poverty and neglect, without access to healthcare, education and other amenities.
But this should not deter the state machinery from pushing development projects like roads, schools, healthcare facilities and schemes for providing work, housing etc very aggressively in the affected areas. At the same time, a fierce effort should be launched to wipe away the Maoists. And then, a determined endeavour should start to ensure that the ugly blot of Maoism (perhaps I should include communism, too) does not stain impressionable minds. Getting back to the war on Maoists, it ought to be realised that there's no alternative to hunting the Maoistys down and annihilating them. That's the only way terrorism can be, and has been, tackled. All such outfits which were defeated across the world--the Baader-Meinhof in Germany, the Red Army in Japan, Italy's Red Brigade, Punjab's Khalistanis and even the Naxals in Bengal--had to be put down with a heavy hand. Terror has to be fought with terror, like what they teach at the Indian Army's Counter Insurgency & Jungle Warfare School: "Fight the guerilla like a guerilla". Replace 'guerilla' with 'terrorist'.
I was stunned to see a procession by a few score ragged men and women a couple of days ago in our city demanding the release of Somen, the Maoist. Why? They contend he's a political fighter. Were they joking? I found it appalling that these Maoist supporters--and some may have been terrorists themselves--were allowed to march down a street in open support of terrorism. Maoists, the government maintains, are waging a battle against the state. Hence, they're enemies of the state. So how can supporters of the Maoists be allowed to operate freely? Would the government allow some people to march down the streets of Kolkata in support of the Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Tayeba?
It is precisely this kid-glove treatment of Maoists and their supporters that is dangerous and suicidal. Political fighters don't carry guns, loot arms, kill people mercilessly, indulge in abductions and extortions and wage war against the state. Many a Maoist, once caught, demands treatment as a political prisoner. And some in civil society back such demands. Neither the Maoist, nor his or her supporters or sympathizers, ought to be tolerated. It is ironical that after their arrest, these so-called brave and fearless Maoists cower in fear and whiningly demand protection under the Indian Constitution; they demand the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, forgetting that they had not only rejected the Indian Constitution and all the liberal values it enshrines, but also cared little for the rights of their victims.
Getting back to Kolkata, perhaps the most hideous objects that pockmark this city are the lakhs of hoardings. All roads are lined with giant hoardings which also cover many buildings, including heritage structures. Lit up at night, they are not only a major distraction for motorists, but make Kolkata more unattractive. The agencies which put up and own these hoardings are an obnoxious and law-defying lot, as numerous reports in the newspapers about their blatantly illegal acts like trimming, felling and even poisoning trees to death would demonstrate. Half-hearted efforts to control and regulate the agencies and make them abide by the law have proved futile. Putting up huge hoardings all over the city is, they contend, their right. And no, they won't erect hoardings in an aesthetic manner that doesn't appear jarring and repulsive to the eye as in developed countries. Which brings me to the question: do we require hoardings at all? All the ads that appear in hoardings are repeated thousands of time in newspapers and periodicals and on TV. What's the point in having ugly, stare-in-your-face, outrageous hoardings that advertise products and services that most of us know about in any case? Ban hoardings, I say.
Hope For Justice?
The CBI, it is now officially known, has found former Kolkata Police Commissioner Prasun Mukherjee, his trusted lieutenants Gyanwant Singh and Ajoy Kumar (both deputy commissioners), two other police officers, three members of the Todi family and an acquaintance of the Rahman family, Pappu, guilty of driving the young Rizwanur Rahman to commit suicide. The CBI has recommended departmental proceedings against Mukherjee and strong disciplinary action against Gyanwant Singh. The CBI has recommended slapping of serious criminal charges (one carries a life term) against the others. The Calcutta High Court seems to have accepted the CBI report and hopes are running high that the entire obnoxious lot of police officers and Todis will ultimately be brought to justice and made to pay for their crimes. And when that happens, it'll only serve to strengthen people's faith in the judicial machinery. Here's hoping that justice will prevail and the widespread protests by citizens in this case last year would not go in vain.