Calling the Maoists “cowards, Union home minister P. Chidambaram launched a direct attack on the ultra-left rebels and their front organisations during his first visit to their bastion at Lalgarh, in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district, on Sunday. “Why do they live in the forests? If they have courage, they should take part in democratic processes and face elections. Who is stopping them from winning elections?” ( source)
Of course, as Arundhati Roy would love to point out (and she has in a recent 32-page essay in Outlook, after spending some time in the forests, walking with the comrades), perspectives can vary. For the Maoists, living inside their forest may be a way of life. Why should they accept the Home Minister’s notion of courage – that of taking part in democratic processes and elections?
The Maoists can ask the question: “ Why is P.Chidambaram such a coward? Why can’t he step into the forests here, without his sten-gun toting Black-cats and settle things with a man-to-man fight?
In any case, why describe the Maoists as ‘cowards” of all things? You can call them anti-national, immoral, unlawful, unresponsive, unrepentant, etc but how can they fit the description of coward?
To quote Paul Krugman for the third time (earlier quoted here and here) from a column in which he was discussing President Bush's description of 9/11 as an act of cowardice.
“In truth, notions of "cowardice" and "bravery" are entirely irrelevant when we contemplate the horrors of terrorism. To call a terrorist “cowardly” is to substitute testosterone for morality. Somehow it isn’t enough to abhor an act of terrorism or even to promise to make the terrorist pay dearly. The rules demand that the terrorist be branded a sissy. This is not only a childish reflex, but one that weakens the moral force of the condemnation and thereby dishonors terrorism’s victims. After all, we don’t want brave people to slaughter innocent people any more than we want cowardly people to do so. Still, the public seems to demand that our presidents call terrorists cowards, and our presidents are too–well, cowardly–to deny them.”
Update 07/04/10: The post rather flippantly got into the semantics, but reading about the tragic event involving the killing of 74 CRPF men yesterday, made me reflect a bit.
“Bravery’ and ‘cowardice’ were traits that were part of a Code of Honour in the past. If one was labeled a coward, and therefore ‘unbrave’, that was the ultimate insult as per the Code of Honour. This code of honour was deeply implanted into the collective psyche and therefore was accepted unquestioningly. Whether it was the Samurai warriors fighting each other or the Kuruskshetra battle, the Code of Honour provided the coward-to-bravery scale to judge soldiers with. Even the thought that one was going to be described as ‘brave’ posthumously was enough motivation to take on the risk of dying .
Cut to today. How do you get people to sign up for the Army, when there is no Code of Honour that is held sacred by all? With money? No way. When you consider the high risk of being killed in the prime of one’s youth, soldiers get a pittance. And there are options of less-riskier and better-paying professions. So when you can’t lure them with money, you need to appeal to their sense of glory and fame- a modern day equivalent of the Code of Honour. And the glorification of military acts must be done relentlessly. Genuine acts of bravery do become part of legends and folklore. At the same time, a Commando-officer who meets his end at the Taj Hotel has to be called a ‘braveheart”, even if he did nothing spectacular in military terms. A Police officer who merely put on his bullet-proof vest and got shot after removing it must be spoken about in glowing terms. Vir Chakra and other awards will have to be bestowed too. The ‘brave’ image of the Army and the Police force must be kept alive.
To enhance the ‘brave’ shine of the Army, the ‘enemy’ must necessarily be branded a coward. The ‘terrorist’ who might have shown extraordinary daring to blow up a plane must be described as a pusillanimous poop. Maoists who carry out attacks with precision and with solid planning must be dismissed as cowards. This is the ‘done’ thing and the tradition must continue.