The Naxals and the Press

BY sevanti ninan| IN Regional Media | 24/05/2002
The Naxals and the Press

The Naxals and the Press

 

Their image-building strategy is carefully calibrated. They issue press notes, send letters to the editors of newspapers, respond to articles that appear in the press, and sometimes explain their position and apologise for excesses.

 

By Sevanti Ninan

Naxalites in Chattisgarh surface regularly to interact with the press

The less than two year old state of Chattisgarh is under siege in some areas from Naxalites. The country`s armed forces are deployed in Bastar, and the state government is spending around Rs 50 crores per annum on anti Naxal operations. Road building in those areas is done not by the public works department, but by the Border Roads Organisation.

The state government is having to reckon with the reality that this movement far from being dissipated, is gaining strength and becoming a continuous ribbon of armed extremism that now runs from Northern Andhra Pradesh to the border of Nepal. Chief Minister Ajit Jogi says that it has to be viewed as a socio economic problem and a national problem because the ideology of the Naxalites is not confined to any one state.

But even as pressure on them mounts, the Naxals are turning to the media to clarify their position and promote their cause. "They liase with the press just as multinationals do," says the resident editor of the Dainik Bhaskar here, Deopriya Avasthi. He is talking about the fact that the People`s War have in the last two years have begun to factor the media into their operations strategy in the state of Chattisgarh.

Their image-building strategy is carefully calibrated. They issue press notes, send letters to the editors of newspapers, respond to articles that appear in the press, and sometimes explain their position and apologise for excesses. Their press notes are hand written but come on the printed letter head of People`s War. "Group" has been dropped from their name. They want to be seen as a political party, says the Deshbandhu`s resident editor Ruchir Garg who has been taken to their dalams by the Naxals.

Press releases are issued by different levels of the organisation, both the special zonal committees as well as the Central Committee. And they have designated spokespeople at different levels. Communications are usually mailed. Journalists who hear from them regularly can tell whether or not these handwritten notes are genuine. And as their attacks on the state intensify, the media is perhaps the only community who have not been targeted by the Naxals who otherwise plant mines and bombs and conduct summary executions with impunity.

The more than two decade old infiltration from across the Andhra border is now becoming a growing encirclement of the state. People`s War are moving upwards, and are spread along the Southern and Western border, and are linking up with the Maoist Communist Centre on the Jharkhand and Bihar borders which are to the North and North East. The two groups were earlier opposed to each other but local journalists say they have lately been building bridges. Their presence is there in the urban areas as well: in Bhilai their organisers work among industrial labour, and penetrate people`s movements.

Local journalists have been taken on "press tours" such as they are, to be acquainted with the parallel administration that these extremists are running in South Bastar. They take journalists whom they trust to show them their training programmes, as well as the proceedings of the people`s courts they conduct. And this has been done not just in Bastar but also in Sarguja district. Journalists jokingly refers to these as sponsored Naxalite trips. They have no objections to going along, it makes good copy.

How does the press deal with the threat of Naxalism which shadows the state? Ramesh Nayyar, editorial advisor of the Bhaskar says the papers have largely taken a firm editorial stand in condemning violence. When he wrote an article on the editorial page of his newspaper on an issue concerning the problem, they sent a rejoinder to the article. Letters to the editor from People`s War are sent quite frequently to several newspapers.

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