State needs a new manual to counter Maoists, but backed by proven wisdom: hard power first, soft later
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh says the time for talks with Maoists is over. He is both right and wrong. Right, because the latest ambush of the Congress convoy is an inflection point that usually closes the state’s options in an insurgency. And wrong, because the time for talks in an internal conflict is never over. There is no final solution to any violent conflict in a democracy other than through talks, and a final accommodation. There is no such thing as a final military solution, just as there is no such thing, ever, as a victorious insurgency.
Raman Singh should, therefore, have rephrased his statement as something like, there will eventually be a time for talks, but it is not now. India’s history of armed rebellions tells us that they follow a pattern, a bell curve that we have talked about in the past (‘The buck starts here’, National Interest, IE, April 10, 2010, goo.gl/0SNjN). Rising rebellions are met with stronger state response till a point is reached when they are convinced that they can’t win, no matter how heady the odd success in some ambush. That is the peak of the bell curve. That is where they become amenable to a negotiated settlement. Amnesties, rehabilitation and a share in power then follow. The bell curve declines steeply. The latest attack tells us the Maoists are far from reaching that point. Whatever the history, and howsoever genuine the grievances, nothing justifies taking up arms in a constitutional democracy. A constitutional state does not launch a war on its own people. Nor can it finish it on its own. That call is to be ultimately made by the rebels. But the state has to use force to convince them first, and then show the flexibility to de-escalate, forgive and accommodate. It is now a successful doctrine, proved in the Northeast and Punjab. In each case, ultimately, the soft power of a flexible, big-hearted state worked. But only when it followed a period of unrelenting, uncompromising use of strength. The Maoists only reminded us earlier this month that they are in no mood for talks right now. But ultimately, they will be, and how soon depends on the resolve and focus that both the affected states and Central government display now.