India’s best-performing Union Cabinet minister is P Chidambaram, in charge of the Home portfolio. Yet he’s currently under pressure from the threat posed to the country by left-wing extremism (namely Naxalism), and the mood of the ruling class is slowing turning against his anti-Naxal policies.
Naxalites, insurgent in almost two dozen districts across twenty states, some 40 percent of the country’s geographical area, killed almost 100 CRPF paramilitary soldiers in two attacks in Dantewada in the past couple of months. Chidambaram’s plea for military operations against Naxals has been rejected, while civil rights activists and NGOs have carried out a high-powered campaign stating that Naxalism has been provoked by the denial of land and forest rights to tribals and their eviction from mineral-rich ancestral territories (claims which happen to be completely true).
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Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party president, appears to have come out on the side of the tribals, although she hasn’t outlawed police action against Naxalites. Now, to Chidambaram’s probable embarrassment, the former head of the BSF paramilitary force, EN Rammohan, who probed the first Dantewada massacre for the government, has also spoken out in support of the tribals and opposes use of all-out force against the Naxals.
At a recent lecture, Rammohan focussed on the ‘root causes’ of Naxalism and demanded land reforms and forest rights for tribals. He quoted the example of Kerala, where such reforms had prevented the establishment of Naxalism. Chidambaram, who was present at the lecture, left before Rammohan spoke.