Terrorists As Misguided Adventurists

Updated: Oct 5 2003, 05:30am hrs
Terrorism nearly claimed the life of my good friend, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh (AP), Mr Chandrababu Naidu. The attempt on his life deserves to be condemned, and has been rightly condemned, by everyone.

Terrorists are believed to be, wrongly, brave and fearless men and women. They are believed to be, wrongly, motivated by high goals and ideals. They are believed to be, wrongly, selfless and working for the larger good of society. In fact, terrorists are misguided adventurists. Many of them are plain and simple criminals. I discovered this, to my great shock, when we were fighting terrorism in Punjab during 1985 to 1989.

Throughout history, assassination has been a powerful political instrument. Assassinations have altered the course of history, caused change of regime and even triggered a worldwide war. Assassination is still a weapon in the armoury of many nations, notably the US and Israel. Even a mature and stable democracy like Sweden has witnessed two political assassinations in 15 years. In the second half of the twentieth century, South Asia was the theatre of most brutal political assassinations. The list is long and includes Mahatma Gandhi, SWRD Bandaranaike, Mujibur Rahman, Indira Gandhi, Premadasa, Rajiv Gandhi, King Mahendra and many others. Nobody can say that India or Sri Lanka or Bangaldesh was not affected by these acts of terror. India, in particular, has paid a very heavy price. Among political parties, the Congress has paid a very heavy price.

The Naxalite movement owes its origins to an uprising in a non-descript village in West Bengal. Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal were among the leaders who nurtured the movement. They gave legitimacy to the doctrine that power flows from the barrel of a gun. It is possible that, in the initial years, many young men and women were drawn to the movement in the genuine belief that, through an armed revolution, they could bring about a change in the social and political order.

The only armed revolutions that were successful in bringing about regime changes were military coups. More often then not, it was peaceful revolution that is an unarmed revolution that brought about a regime change. Led by students or workers, widespread and prolonged protests have succeeded in changing regimes in South Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia and many Latin American countries. On the other hand, decades-old armed struggles have stagnated as struggles or, at best, provoked civil wars that have devastated countries without resulting in any enduring political change.

The contras continue to struggle in many countries of Latin America. In our own neighbourhood, the LTTE has waged a battle for over 20 years. The Maoists continue to struggle to overthrow the monarchy and the semi-representative government in Nepal. There are armed struggles usually between tribes in many countries of Africa. However, there is no example, in recent memory, of an armed insurrection (unconnected with the armed forces of the country) having succeeded in bringing about a regime change.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, the Naxalite movement is also doomed to failure. It failed in the state of its birth, West Bengal. Firstly, Siddhartha Shankar Ray as chief minister of a Congress government, and later Jyoti Basu as the long serving chief minister of a CPI-M led government, put down the movement through a mixture of force, persuasion, development activities and political co-option. When the futility and the certain failure of an armed struggle became clear, the movement lost its capacity to recruit young men and women.

Surprisingly, the Naxalite movement has survived in AP. It has found sanctuary in the districts of Telangana and in the border districts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is not a coincidence that these are among the most backward, poor and neglected districts in these three states.

Successive chief ministers of AP have tried differet measures to stamp out the movement, but with little success. At one point of time, Vengala Rao seemed to have got the upper hand, but the success was limited and short lived.

In recent years, the Naxalite movement seemed to have lost steam in the Telangana region. Yet the capacity of the Naxalites to strike at random was proved from time to time. A few years ago, they targeted the outspoken home minister, A Madhava Reddy, and killed him by exploding landmines. Now again, using the same method, they nearly succeeded in eliminating Mr Naidu.

Mr Naidu is a committed reformer. In recent years, no political leader has grown in office and acquired a national stature as much as Mr Naidu has. He has a good understanding of economic principles, a firm grip over the administration and a pan-Indian view. He is a trier and a doer. Despite his good intentions, the Telangana region remains backward. It is the story of the chicken and the egg. On the one hand, the region remains backward and neglected because it is torn by strife caused mainly by the Naxalites. On the other, the region is hospitable to the Naxalites because it is backward and neglected.

Someone or something has to break this logjam. The answer does not lie in Pota or more stringent laws. The answer does not lie in police action alone. Perhaps, there may be an answer if the people of that region are empowered in a different way, and new opportunities are created for the disaffected sections to gain political power and a say in the governance of the region. Strange as it may seem, the option of a new state of Telangana may turn out to be the answer to deal with the menace of Naxalite terrorism. Tailpiece

Mr Naidu started his political career as a youth Congress worker and was a minister in the Congress government when the late NT Rama Rao founded the Telugu Desam Party. Mr Chadalavada Krishnamurthy was a prominent Congress leader in Chittoor district, Mr Rajasekhara Reddy was DCC President of Chittoor district, and Mr Gopalakrishna Reddy was the successful Congress candidate in the bye-election from Sri Kalahasti constituency. Is it not stranger than fiction that all four migrated to the TDP and all four were injured in the landmine blast I pray for their recovery.

(The author is a former Union finance minister.)