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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 9, February 20, 2010

Terror Strikes at Pune and Silda

Editorial

Monday 22 February 2010, by SC

The return of terror after a gap of 15 months (following the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008) has naturally caused consternation across the country: on February 13 a bomb blast ripped through Pune’s popular German Bakery, close to the Osho Ashram and diagonally across the Jewish Chabad House (which 26/11 suspect David Coleman Headley had earlier recced), initially killing nine persons, including three foreigners, and injuring 45 (among whom four were foreign nationals); subsequently the number of those dead has risen to 11. This was the first terror assault in India since Mumbai 26/11.

While investigations into the Pune blast are still continuing, two obscure groups—Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Alami from Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal northwest and Indian Mujahideen Kashmir—have claimed responsibility for it. However, top security officials in New Delhi have, after verifying the relevant details, made it clear that the claims had “no value”. According to them, the ongoing investigations hint at the role of groups initially suspected for the terror incident at German Bakery: the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)-Indian Mujahideen (IM) combination “with American jihadi David Coleman Headley’s footprints under their ‘Karachi Project’ plot”. The ISI-sponsored ‘Karachi Project’ had been aimed at involving Indian jihadis and serving as well as retired officers of the Pakistan Army for carrying out attacks against India, and the Indian intelligence officials believe the Pune incident was part of the same design, executed by the LeT through the IM comprising local people.

The India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks, slated for the month-end, have not been affected by this incident but the scope of dialogue has yet to be decided with India interested in focusing only on terrorism while Pakistan desires a more expanded agenda.

Meanwhile the Maoists in the tribal heartland, now facing the ‘Operation Green Hunt’ offensive launched by the Central paramilitary forces in conjunction with the police in the respective concerned States, have struck by ambushing the security forces at Silda (30 km from Midnapore town and 10 km from Jhargram) on February 15, killing 21 Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) jawans and abducting several injured soldiers; the figure of those dead has since risen to 24. This is undoubtedly the biggest, most devastating and daring Maoist attack in West Bengal, and the State Government has been forced to admit its failure in intelligence gathering while lack of coordination among top West Bengal officials has been exposed from their own pronouncements to the deep embarrassment of those in power.

The Maoist counter-attack, in retaliation to the offensive of the Centre and the concerned States that has witnessed manifold atrocities being committed on the tribal populace in Chhattisgarh in particular besides the torture, harassment and repression in West Bengal’s Lalgarh, clearly brings out the persisting capacity of the Maoists not only to resist state terror but also hit back. It also testifies to the failure of the paramilitary offensive that has been traced to both the Union Home Minister’s resolve to “flush out” the Maoists from the affected areas so as to hand over the land to corporate interests and the determination of the CMs of Chhattisgarh and West Bengal for a military solution of the Maoist “problem” that is nothing short of a mirage. (Of course, the CMs of Bihar and Jharkhand are taking a distinctly different position on the issue, and that is doubtless noteworthy).

Without holding any brief for the Maoists or extending support to Leftwing extremist violence, one feels duty-bound to reiterate, in response to Chidambaram’s contemptuous observations about the “bleeding-heart intellectuals” opposing Operation Green Hunt, that unless the basic problems of the tribal areas are addressed at the earliest, the Maoist phenomenon will not vanish into thin air simply by such offensives which tend to reduce the Maoist upsurge into a mere law-and-order issue which it is not. It is essentially a political question and has to be tackled politically through political negotiations on the fundamental problems of destitution, deprivation, poverty, lack of development in the entire tribal belt. These are the factors which have facilitated the growth of Maoism in the region and till the time these factors are taken into consideration and remedial measures explored, the “problem” will persist as a festering sore that would get aggravated with any attempt to impose a “military solution”. While decrying Maoist violence one cannot be oblivious of the state’s responsibility behind the attempt to perpetuate violence in the affected zone.

Precisely because one is conscious of the fact that violence begets violence, it is necessary to end the cycle of violence and work towards a ceasefire as well as political dialogue on the essential issues afflicting the tribal people as a whole.

Nevertheless, the political class being what it is today these words would, in all probability, fall on deaf ears.

The Budget session of Parliament, which begins on February 22, is expected to experience fireworks on such issues as terror in general, mounting prices of essential commodities as also several non-issues but the problems of the tribals as the genesis of the Maoist movement would barely be touched.

However, despite our parliamentarians’ myopic approach on this score, Chidambaram and his colleagues should know that the civil society would continue to project those problems, because those constitute the root cause of the present turmoil in our tribal heartland and only through their successful resolution can we hope to end that turmoil and unveil the vista of genuine peace and progress in that vast region.

February 18 S.C.

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