What The Maoists Need Is Justice ~ v mahalingam
DESPITE the Prime Minister declaring that the Maoists pose the most serious threat to national security, the country doesn’t seem to be coming to grips with the challenge posed by the CPI (Maoist). As of now, 83 districts in central India are said to be affected by the menace. Ever since 2010, the country has been witnessing a spate of major Naxal attacks in Chhattisgarh, among the latest being the Darbha massacre on 25 May, killing over 27 people including several Congress leaders.
After every Naxal attack, a plethora of fancy suggestions and remedies are offered by politicians, bureaucrats and arm-chair intelligentsia exposing their mistaken understanding of the conflict. With truth having been given a go-by, assessments of the basic issues involved and the remedies suggested are often flawed. The creation of the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, the liberalization of the mining policy in 2003, and the enactment of the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005, provided the impetus to the leaders of the fledgling states to go ahead with industrialization, without considering the plight of the local Scheduled Tribes. Industrialization in an area replete with large mineral and forest wealth suited the corporate class as well as the politicians. The general public, who were craving for growth and employment opportunities, ignored the motives behind the move and its almost inevitable impact on the lives of tribals. The Government believed that the locals could be browbeaten.
Somewhere down the line, the Government seems to have lost sight of the fact that governance and administration are relevant only as long as they safeguard the interests of the people who they are supposed to govern. When the government is biased in favour of land-grabbers and moneyed industrialists, it becomes irrelevant. Those who sympathize with the poor, their sufferings and support them become germane. This is exactly what has happened at the cost of the Maoists becoming the Robin Hoods.
The authorities signed a number of MoUs with industrial houses and the details of the deals were not disclosed to the people. Large tracts of tribal land were handed over to mining companies. The concerns of the people as well as the protests by the Gram Panchayats were ignored. No worthwhile rehabilitation measures to compensate those affected or to alleviate the hardships thus created were put in place. Given the widespread corruption across the country, the hush-hush agreements raised suspicions in the minds of the people. The corruption case involving Madhu Koda, the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, said it all. The large mineral and forest wealth together with the land which provided a living to these tribes were at stake.
Forced eviction from the land to accommodate the industries coupled with the highhanded arrogance of the administration caused resentment and widespread protests. The net result was violent clashes between the tribals and the police.
Apart from the question of land, the violence unleashed by the security forces to force the poor to vacate their land and dwellings provided the Maoists the much- needed grounds to exploit the tribal sentiments to their advantage. The situation was further ruined by the Government creating the Salwa Judum and launching major security operations such as Operation Green Hunt. The tribals found the Maoists ~ and not the Government ~ to be sympathetic, and the Adivasis joined the ranks of the extremists. The Maoists constitute an underground political group, which aims to overthrow the elected government through what they call a "people&’s war". The party leaders and ideologues are outsiders and non-tribals, while their cadres have been recruited from amongst the locals. The situation created by the Government has provoked the Maoists to recruit the locals for the fight against the State and its forces. The locals have thus been made to fight for the Maoist cause without realising their true intent. Keeping the area under-developed, poverty and sufferings of the people suits them. The discontent simmers to their advantage.
The Maoists have established their own system of governance in the area that they claim is under their control. Protection money from industries and politicians provides the funds to sustain the movement. The money and the power of the gun that the Maoists have acquired are the primary sources of strength.
Is this a law and order issue? Has the Naxal problem come about because of lack of development, infrastructure, education and health-care facilities? Yes, these are important issues but they are not pivotal to the conflict.
As per available empirical data, most under-developed areas are not Maoist strongholds. In their 2007 study on measuring regional backwardness in India, Vani Borooah and Amresh Dubey found that out of the 100 districts with highest poverty rates, only 26 are Maoist-affected. Similarly, out of the 100 districts with highest infant mortality ratios, only nine are Maoist-affected. And out of the 100 districts where households do not have enough food, only 15 are Maoist-affected.
Common sense would suggest that the loss of land and forcible eviction from their traditional hearth and home are central to the phenomenon of Left radicalism. What the Maoists need is justice. Until this issue is addressed squarely, nothing else is likely to work. The areas hit by Maoist activity are governed by the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees land and tribal forest rights to the Adivasis. Accordingly, tribal land and forests cannot be bartered away or its rights traded without their approval.
Assurances are unlikely to work. The Government ought to be candid enough and take the first step to reveal the details of the MoUs signed with various industrial organisations. The deals ought to be suspended pending consultations with the tribals. That will improve the credibility of the Government. On the other hand, it is likely to upset the Maoists and they may resort to violent means to oppose any reconciliation or understanding with the people.
It is here that the security forces will come into play. Meaningful follow-up dialogue, governance and development work are not possible under the threat of violence. To control violence, the security forces will have to be deployed with a view to isolate the people from the Maoists. The aim is to prevent the militants from harassing, collecting taxes or recruiting people for their cause. The locals, who have joined the Maoist cadres, will have to be weaned away through political action, village elders and their own family. The security forces will have to make a clear distinction between the people and the Maoists. They need to be categorically told that they are there to protect the people and not to harass them. The task of the security forces will be limited to containing the violence to enable the Government to repair the damage. Specifically, the build-up of arsenal and the killing of militants must end.
The Government needs to revamp its administration which will have to shed its arrogance and corrupt practices. Every attempt must be made to choke the flow of funds. Political parties and industrial houses should stop funding and supporting the Maoists. As the process of reconciliation with the people takes shape, the Maoists are likely to target civilians as well as security forces to assert their presence and boost the morale of their own cadres. The security forces need to be extremely vigilant to deny such opportunities to the Maoists.
Should the Army be inducted to control the situation? Considering the prevailing situation, the military ~ if deployed ~ will be in collision with the politician/ bureaucrat/industrialist nexus. The situation, such as it is, may even politicize and corrupt the force.
The writer is a retired Brigadier