What is really surprising is the vehemence with which her move has been criticized,both the BJP and the CPM have been vociferous in demanding answer from the government of which Mamta Banerjee is a part,holding the covetous portfolio of Railway Ministry. Coalition dharma prevents the Congress from joining the chorus,it would have loved to take the lead role in the attack on the Bengali firebrand but like all Indian political parties, Congress too loves power. In fact it loves power more than any other party. But the question that begs to be asked,is, did Mamta really commit an unpadonable sin by speaking to a gathering of alleged Maoist supporters ? Or does the current political atmosphere of India reek of McCarthyism that stops us from even thinking if Mamta's act may not exactly be treason.
The primary allegation against her is that the rally she addressed in Lalgarh was organized and attended by Maoist supporters and even prominent Naxalite activists. According to the Left-Right and Centre of India's political class (based in New Delhi and Kolkata),her mere presence and the fact that she made some unorthodox statements there are enough to put her in the dock.
Ironically this episode also reveals the reason why the Naxalites have been going from strength to strength while the administrative machinery along with its agencies of belligerence has been so ineffective. A counter-insurgency campaign that does not aim at regaining the trust of the people in the affected region is doomed to failure,especially, in a society such as ours. Probably this is why the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have advocated a two-pronged approach to the problem but it is aimed at building schools and hospitals rather than bridges to the people's hearts.
To do that it is essential that we distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, leaders and followers. In earlier posts, I have tried to explain that Maoist militants are the rallying front for groups with genuine grievances whose voices are not loud enough to reach New Delhi. It is the Maoist militants that pose a threat to the Indian State,the affiliated groups may not adhere to the Maoist doctrine. And lets not forget that there are criminal elements too that have joined the ranks for selfish reasons. Tarring them all with the same brush may make work easy for those depending on brute force to make reports for their political masters but it only aggravates the existing problem.
Talking to these aggrieved groups and offering them leadership that can speak for them in New Delhi can do what the police and the paramilitary forces have not been able to acheive since decades. Whatever, be her motive, Mamta Banerjee seems to be doing that! Her detractors point to the large number of PCPA activists in the rally as the evidence of Mamta's hand-in-glove relationship with the Maoist militants since PCPA is actively supported by Naxalites. While the Gyaneshwari Express sabotage that lead to the death of hundreds of civilians has been attributed to some PCPA activists,it is not clear if the organization as a whole could be held responsible. Neither the central nor state governments have banned the organization so why the pariah treatment to this and numerous other organizations that are deemed to be aligned with the Naxalites but are not exactly militants themselves. Instead of alienating them further, there should be concerted effort by all political parties to provide able leadership to woo them back in to the fold. There are people who are trying to bridge the psychological divide but the governments, media and even civil society are doing little to strengthen them. In this particular rally speakers besides Mamta included activists of the stature of Medha Patkar, Swami Agnivesh and Mahasweta Devi, all of whom are known human rights activists and social workers. Further, media reports show Mamta asking the Maoists to abjure violence. That is not a speech commonly spoken or heard in the red bastion.
As for the call for a judicial inquiry into killing of Naxalite leader Cherukiri Rajkumar a.k.a Azad, other intellectuals including Swami Agnivesh have been demanding it too. A civil society cannot condone extra-judicial killings or fake encounters, Sohrabuddin murder case hogged the headlines for weeks because of this precise reason. Killing gangsters in staged encounter is different than killing communist guerrilla leaders (though it is equally hienous and evil ) but in case of the latter,leaders killed in such manner become martyrs and heroes that the younger generations eulogize.
Mamta Banerjee may not be a good minister or Parliamentarian and this latest move of hers may be a ploy to secure votes for the next Assembly election but even the harshest of her critics would concede that she has displayed amazing leadership (even if in misguided campaigns) in her political career. Her Lalgarh rally may be a precedence that others can emulate,provided,they are able to see beyond the fiery image and eccentricities of Mamta Banerjee.