Centre may challenge ‘political prisoner’ status to Maoists

The Union government is likely to challenge a Kolkata court’s declaration that nine suspected Naxalites arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in an illegal arms manufacturing case as “political prisoners.”

Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the government had no option but to challenge the verdict as more arrested Maoists would now seek the same status.

The judgment was also a big letdown for the security forces, who were living in difficult conditions and in inhospitable terrain while fighting armed revolutionaries, the sources said.

The status of “political prisoner” entitles an inmate several privileges over other prisoners as he will get to live in a separate cell and enjoy greater freedom inside jail, besides getting access to home made-food, newspapers, books and other reading material. There will be relaxation in meeting relatives and advocates.

Significantly, in August, the Kolkata High Court had declared eight suspected Maoists, including Communist Party of India (Maoist)-backed leader Chhatradhar Mahato, as “political prisoners.”

The MHA is deeply worried over granting of “political prisoner” status to those arrested by the NIA for their alleged involvement in killings or supplying arms, which includes CPI (Maoist) technical committee head Sadula Ramakrishna alias RK. The NIA might be asked to challenge the order soon.

Wrong precedent

“According such a status to a hardened criminal who is waging war against the state is unacceptable… it will set a wrong precedent. Already a few suspected Maoists are on hunger strike in Maharashtra jail demanding that they also be declared political prisoners. It will also severely affect the morale of our security forces who sacrifice their lives fighting these anti-national elements,” said a senior MHA official.

However, public opinion is divided over the court ruling. While social activist Swami Agnivesh, who in the past has negotiated with Maoists for the government, said it would help the government in its peace efforts, the former Border Security Force (BSF) Director General Prakash Singh said the government should immediately challenge the order as it would only strengthen left-wing extremism.

“Challenging the order will be a mistake… here is an opportunity for the government to tell Maoists that they too would be treated with dignity inside jails. This move will let Maoists trust the Constitution and Indian laws. They are also part of our society and all efforts should be made to bring them back to the national mainstream. The government should accord the same status to all Maoists lodged in various jails across India,” said Swami Agnivesh.

‘Will encourage Maoism’

However, ex-BSF chief Prakash Singh warned that if the government failed to stop the trend, it would be an invitation to other Maoists to take up arms and intensify their movement. “We cannot generalise the situation… those who support Maoists ideologically through their write-ups and peaceful protests can be treated as political prisoners, but how can a person responsible for killing security personnel and innocent people be given special status inside jails,” he said.

Mr. Singh further said if the government did not challenge this “theoretical order,” it would be yet another step backwards in its fight against terrorism. “We cannot ignore harsh ground realities… Maoists are engaged in guerrilla warfare, in fighting the Indian state. Even the Prime Minister recently referred to Maoists as the biggest threat to our internal security. The government needs to wake up before more Maoists demand the same status,” he said. Notably, since the CPI (Maoist) was formed, over 5,291 security personnel and civilians have lost their lives to Maoist violence.

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