The Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution (NMCPCR) organised a two-day national conference on “Central India: Towards Conflict Resolution” at the Mir Taqi Mir Building on Wednesday, Sept. 26, and at the Edward Said Hall on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.
Guest speakers on Day 1 included K Srinivas Reddy of The Hindu; Dr PV Ramana, Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA); Jaideep Saikia, a Guwahati based journalist; Lt Gen (Retd) Prakash Menon; Dr PM Nair, Director General, National Disaster Response Force and Civil Defence; Dr Ali Ahmed, Assistant Professor, NMCPCR; Col (Retd) Vivek Chadha, IDSA; Devyani Srivastav, CHRI; Pupul Dutta Prasad, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), among others.
Day 2 naturally drew a wider audience for Swami Agnivesh, Dr Binayak Sen and Gautam Navlakha, all men who need no introduction, as the cliché goes, were to give their take on the theme of the conference. Nitin Pai of the Takshashila Institution also joined them on the panel. Nitin Pai spoke of the challenges the state faced from Naxals in Central India and stressed on the need to engage in capacity building to thwart the growth of the insurgency movement. He largely made his presentation from a realist standpoint and reiterated the prime minister’s description of Naxalism as the “biggest threat to internal security”. Swami Agnivesh, dressed in his trademark saffron robes, made known his disenchantment with the Indian State by blaming it for prolonging the conflict with the Naxals. According to him, a former Home Minister with the Central Government deliberately scotched attempts at engaging in dialogue with the Naxals after he had played the role of a mediator and tried bringing both the state and the said insurgents to the discussion table. The Naxals had expressed agreement to the request for a ceasefire but the Indian State didn’t return the gesture. The swami insisted that the important point to make was the rebel outfit’s willingness to enter into talks with the state even after having been let down, not once but twice. They also ended up losing two of their top leaders in the process.
Dr Binayak Sen received a warm welcome as he made his way to the lectern for his presentation. His was an empirical take on the state of affairs in Central India, replete with facts and figures. Instead of focusing on the ‘war’ between the Naxals and the Indian State, he stuck to the sociological aspects of everyday life in the region. Who better to add to this important, though often neglected facet of the discourse on Central India than Dr Sen, having lived in Raipur, Chhattisgarh for a long long time now. Being a doctor by qualification, he made full use of World Health Reports (WHO) and used statistic after statistic to drive home the point that Central India was reeling under genocidal circumstances for, by creating conditions for the deprivation of an already neglected people, the state was directly responsible for the hundreds of victims its serial disregard was churning out week after week. Gautam Navlakha went so far as to say that the Indian State would be better off legitimising the Naxals, that is, looking at them not as criminals but as political aspirants. He was of the opinion that the troubles in the Northeast, Kashmir and Central India were not distinct problems but all part of the same process of people challenging either an overbearing or a neglectful state, depending on their geographical location. Navlakha, unlike the previous three speakers, also repeatedly launched diatribes at the state that at times seemed to reflect just plain anger and little else.
Professor G Haragopal, Centre for Human Rights (School Of Social Sciences), University of Hyderabad, was the last guest speaker at the two-day conference. Like Swami Agnivesh he too had previously acted as mediator in talks with Naxals. He lectured on the theme for over an hour and was by far one of the most engaging speakers at the conference. His presentation looked at the economics and politics of modern-day Naxalism and its implications for the state and was punctuated with a healthy dose of humour. Quite naturally, he received a rousing applause at the end of his talk.