P Chidambaram had a public appearance in Delhi last week that was both an opportunity and a challenge for the feisty Home Minister, best known for his tough talk against the Naxals. He interacted with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a known fortress of the Left parties whom the minister has frequently attacked. The visit offered Chidambaram a valuable platform from which to tell the highly politically aware students of JNU what the government is doing to tackle the Naxal menace, how and why. But there was a potential for problems also, as many JNU students are self-proclaimed sympathizers of the Naxalites, also known as Maoists. Besides, he has had to face the music within his own party, as senior Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh have hauled him over coals for using force against the Naxals.
As was expected, Chidambaram faced protests outside the auditorium from Left-oriented as well as Rightist students. The Leftists shouted slogans against the government’s ‘Operation Green Hunt’, a security operation against the Maoists that Chidambaram is directly supervising. The BJP’s student wing, ABVP, used their lung power to protest against the minister for the opposite reason: they argued the minister was being soft on the Maoists.
Needless to say, a huge posse of police was deployed to ensure that the Home Minister was safe and his interaction with the students went off smoothly. As a result, only about 100 students were inside the auditorium, a very small number considering that JNU has over 5000 students.
The wily politician made the most of the opportunity in putting across his government’s strategy in dealing with the Maoists. He struck positive chords with a sizable section of the audience as he explained the broad tenets of his policy toward the Naxals.
He is reported as having said: ‘It’s a law and order problem with socio-economic problem. The government is willing to relook at the mining contracts. I am the first minister in this government who said abjure violence, don’t have to give up weapons…and that we are willing to talk.’