Maoists must do more for their apology to count

Around the same time that Maoists killed a journalist in Sukma for being a "police informer", they killed a sarpanch in Bijapur on similar charges. If Nemichand Jain was the first scribe they killed in Bastar, the Bijapur incident was the first time when presumably young Maoist recruits came in school uniforms to conceal their identity and killed the sarpanch. Days later, schoolchildren held a rally in Bijapur condemning the incident and urging Maoists not to "smear our uniforms with bloodstains".
The Maoist victims in Bastar, except policemen, have in fact mostly been suspected police informers — the flimsiest of charges on which to kill someone. Almost all of those killed have been poor and illiterate tribals.
Maoists have been demanding, and rightly so, an end to police atrocities and a dignified life for Bastar tribals. However, before that, they need to rein in own junior cadres from killing tribals on frivolous grounds.
After all, who knows it better than a guerrilla fighter that a tribal lives on a dagger's edge in a conflict zone. Squeezed between the police and Maoists, their sole instinct is to survive, even if that is by leaking "information" after either group confronts him.
Would the Maoists realise that it is easier to give guns to teenagers, almost impossible to discipline them with the trigger — as witnessed with state-sponsored Salwa Judum fighters? In fact, as was the case in Jain's murder, senior Naxal leaders often remain unaware about the doings of fresh cadres who, relishing the power of the gun, indulge in arbitrary killings.
Now that the Maoists have shown heart in apologising for Jain's murder, perhaps they could make a similar gesture towards countless Bastar tribals killed in the past three decades.
Not only would Bastar regain some of its peace then, so would the rebels their credibility.
Ashutosh is a principal correspondent based in Raipur



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