Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call Off Salwa Judum

The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the legal premise of the Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh. Echoing observations of various civil society groups, the court told the Chhattisgarh government that it was illegal to arm civilians and to allow them to kill. The Chhattisgarh government should now stop defending the indefensible and immediately disband private militias it has put together to fight Maoists.

Surveys by civil society groups have indicated that the movement has been a coercive affair and hardly the
voluntary effort the state government claims it to be. It is high time the government recognised the disastrous impact the Salwa Judum has had on the people. Since its inception in 2005, over 50,000 villagers have been displaced from their homes and deprived of livelihoods. Large parts of the state are in a state of civil war.

As the apex court observed, the government cannot abet violence; it is illegal under the Constitution. Maoist violence is a problem that calls for political and administrative solutions. It feeds on social unrest that has resulted from bad governance. Mainstream political parties have failed to stem the rot; instead, these have actively furthered corruption and cornered public funds. Maoist violence is also an outcome of under-policing as authorities simply make up for the lack of professional police by arming private groups. Maoists have attempted to exploit the failures of democratic politics and spread their influence. They have had limited success so far.

Correctives to the failures of democratic politics have to be sought within the constitutional framework. These can't be achieved by curtailing the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to citizens or by promoting vigilantism. What is needed in states like Chhattisgarh is a right mix of public policies that address problems of education, health and employment and democratic institutions to ensure effective delivery of public funds.

Crony capitalism and private militias are not substitutes for genuine market forces or a professional police force.

A strong civil society is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in public administration. Efforts like Salwa Judum and laws like Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act do not help in the formation of a civil society.

The latter especially has become a handy tool for the state government to stifle voices critical of the administration. Dissent and debate are essential features of a democracy and necessary to foster a democratic public culture. Absence of these leads to state-sponsored repression and only benefits anti-democratic forces including Maoists.

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