It came as a yorker to the LDF government as Kerala chief secretary Tom Jose, in a newspaper article, justified the police slaying of Maoists even as chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, citing propriety, did not go into the details on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) and his government’s action against armed combatants in jungles in the state’s north.
Mr Jose penned the piece in the wake of the public outcry against the state special force of Thunderbolts gunning down four Maoists at Agali near Attappadi in Palakkad on the border with Tamil Nadu on October 28-29 and the subsequent arrests of two CPI(M) activists for alleged Maoist links.
A fact-finding team of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the second-biggest LDF Constituent, reported to the government that the deaths were part of fake encounters. This has been the CPI stand on all seven Maoist slayings since the LDF has come to power.
First, the salient points of Mr Jose’s article, which appeared on November 5:
According to the UN’s definition, people who use violence to achieve political objectives and put civilians in harm’s way are terrorists.
State intelligence has identified 16 organisations having sympathisers in urban areas: They are the human face of terrorists, benign but malignant and vicious, plotting terror against innocents.
Security forces carried out their duty to protect citizens from terrorists.
No rationale in arguing Maoists, indulging in armed conflict, have the same human rights as normal citizens.
Kill or be killed: Security forces fight an asymmetrical war with Maoists. Soldiers on the border get applause while cops protecting innocent citizens get all the blame for it.
The article had come as a counter, mainly to the CPI’s criticism and the Congress-led Opposition’s campaign of “police lynching”.
It is incontestable that the article, without the usual caveat of “views are personal”, is a breach of propriety as he had spoken out of turn. The CM, being the top political executive, is yet to make any policy elucidation, not because the government lacks it, but not to influence the litigation and the outcome of ongoing probes.
There are two opinions on whether the chief secretary had broken the all-India service conduct rules 1968. Apparently, he runs afoul of Rule 6 and violates the spirit of Rule 7 respectively — for not marking his views as personal and indirectly touting an opinion that would embarrass the government.
There is an argument that the chief secretary is entitled to explain the government’s stand but Mr Vijayan nailed it in the Assembly by saying that Mr Jose did not have the government’s mandate and that whatever mentioned were his personal views and they would not influence the government.
Again, the chief secretary is also the secretary to the Cabinet. He is on oath not to disclose without the council’s mandate what may have transpired in Cabinet discussions, either directly or indirectly. This is the convention and the set pattern in parliamentary democracy.
Discussions on the anti-Maoist operations were possibly discussed in the state Cabinet post-October 29. The chief secretary, who is privy to the Cabinet discussions, generally refrains from making any public statement that can be presumed to reflect such discussions. In this case, a perception is strong that he justified the killings possibly because there was such a view among ministers.
The written piece has been unprecedented, either by a chief secretary or a Cabinet Secretary. But a minuscule section of bureaucrats justifies the well-intentioned article in the face of a real Maoist menace, which the chief secretary reviews every quarter in districts concerned.
Even the Election Commission designated 162 locations in Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad and the high-profile Wayanad (Rahul Gandhi’s seat) as “LWE-affected” ahead of the April 23 Lok Sabha polls.
What Mr Jose says may be in concord with the Centre’s stand and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft-heard “terrorists do not have human rights”. But he breached his brief as the top officer of a state government headed by the LDF, whose approach to tackling LWE on the fringes of the southern state is different. Elsewhere, security forces’ encounters may not attract as much criticism given the gory trail of killings. Here, the consensus is to trace terror elements and bring them to book.
It was also sub-judice for the bureaucrat to comment on matters pending in the courts because his stance could prejudice the trial and probe. A junior civil servant tasked with the magisterial probe may not want to earn the displeasure of the boss and botch his annual confidential report. What if the officer tones down the truth, in case it runs counter to assertions and findings by the chief secretary?
Further, the article tends to create a scary situation. Unlike the north, Kerala does not experience tribal extremism. The article refers to war. Mr Jose asserts, quoting Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
The fact is that the court has ruled it is no crime to be a Maoist sympathiser. It has laid down a 16-point guideline for arrests/terror hunts.
But lost in the debate is the state’s preparedness to tackle the Maoist menace. The state intelligence has to brace ahead for proactive action against potential troublemakers. Countering terror with terror, employing the savage tactic, does not suit a civilised society: It can lead to a police state.
On the political front is a persistent challenge for the LDF, which takes the high ground on human rights but has to ensure protection for the life and property of its people from perpetrators of violence. In the 1970s, the Naxal menace loomed over Kerala. One morning, residents at Nagarur-Kummil on the Kollam-Thiruvananthapuram border were greeted by the severed head of a landlord in the middle of the road.
The threat looms. The CPI (Maoists) believe in “the immediate aim and programme to carry on and complete the already ongoing and advancing New Democratic Revolution... protracted people’s war with the armed seizure of power remaining as its central and principal task, encircling the cities from the countryside and thereby finally capturing them”.
Kerala had asked the Centre to include the Maoist-affected districts in the Security Related Expenditure Scheme to tackle LWE. A unified command was formed under the CM’s chairmanship to review the situation. However, the government’s view is to confront “ideology with ideology”....