Never Say Never

article

The basic issue of lack of development, land alienation, cultural intrusion into tribal areas and growing inequality in India will see the maoist movement reviving itself from time to time

Prakash Singh

Prakash Singh

Prakash Singh is a retired Indian Police Service officer, who rose to the highest rank of Director General of Police. He has served as Chief of the Border Security Force, Uttar Pradesh Police and Assam Police

It was in 1967 that there were stirrings in a small village called Naxalbari at the tri-junction of India, Nepal and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Three persons shaped the course of events – Charu Mazumdar, the ideologue, Kanu Sanyal, the organisational mastermind, and Jangal Santhal, who mobilised the tribals. The movement was crushed by the West Bengal police, but the sparks flew to different parts of the country. The idea that there should be a revolutionary struggle with bases in the rural areas and that these should be expanded to encircle the urban centres and a people’s liberation army organized to bring about a democratic revolution in the country, had caught on.

Charu Mazumdar was arrested in 1972 and he died soon after, but the movement spread in ever widening circles to different parts of the country. During the last fifty years, the movement had its ups and downs, but the trajectory of violence remained at a fairly high level and, according to an estimate, about 12,000 lives were lost during the last twenty years.

A stage came when Naxalism was regarded by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as the greatest threat to the internal security of the country. In 2010, the movement touched a peak, when a total of 2,213 incidents of Naxal violence were reported in which more than a thousand people were killed. More than 200 districts were affected, particularly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal.

Development Dilemma

It is not that the government was wanting in efforts to contain the movement. The law and order approach had its most brutal manifestation when P Chidambaram, then Home Minister of India, sent battalions of Central Armed Police Forces to all the Naxal-affected states in early 2010. His strategy was summed up in three graphic words: Clear, Hold and Develop. It implied that the Naxals should first be cleared out of their swamps by undertaking counter-insurgency operations and, in the second stage, the civil administration should establish itself in the areas cleared and finally, in the third stage, economic development should be undertaken in those regions.

The sheer presence of security forces in strength and the operations undertaken by them brought the level of violence down. A number of the politburo and central committee members were also accounted for. The NDA government has been continuing with the same policy and the Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, while addressing a conference of Directors General of Police on November 25, 2016, expressed his optimism that the threat of Maoist violence in the country shall be eliminated within the next five years.

Tactical Retreat

It is true that there has been considerable shrinkage in the geographical area under the Maoist influence. From a peak of 223 districts in 20 states in 2010, the figure has now come down to 106 districts in 13 states of the country. The Maoists are in some kind of a tactical retreat. It would, however, be naïve to conclude that we are in the process of vanquishing the Naxal movement, which has shown a remarkable capacity to reorganise and reinvent itself after any buffetings by the security forces.

The death of Charu Mazumdar followed by a split in the party gave an impression that the movement was as good as over. The formation of the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh in 1980 gave a fresh lease of life to the movement. With Andhra Pradesh as the epicentre, it spread to the adjoining states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, and also to Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The movement again suffered a setback with the arrest of its leader, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, and the successful operations undertaken by the police. The movement had its second revival in 2004 with the merger of the People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the formation of a new party known as CPI (Maoist), which has emerged as the leading Naxal formation wanting to bring about a New Democratic Revolution in India as part of the world proletarian revolution.

The party has suffered reverses but nevertheless, retains the capacity to launch lethal strikes on the security forces. In the last major attacks, the Maoists annihilated a total of 37 CRPF personnel in two different incidents on March 11 and April 24, 2017, in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.

Traumatised Tribals

The government may be able to blunt the edge of Maoist movement but it is unlikely that the movement would die down. It always resurrects in a new avatar every time it is put down by the security forces for the simple reason that the basic socio-economic reasons which gave rise to the movement and continue to sustain it, remain largely unaddressed.

The tribals, who constitute the backbone of the movement, are today a disaffected lot. Two factors – land alienation and their displacement – have mainly contributed to their disillusionment with the establishment. An Expert Group constituted by the Ministry of Rural Development of Government of India which studied the problem in depth (2004) concluded that land alienation was rampant in all the states, and it noted with anguish that such alienation was taking place “despite the existence of an umbrella of protective legislation since the 19th century”.

The Expert Group went on to observe that in the process of alienating land from the tribals, it seemed “as if private individuals, derelict revenue officers including Deputy Commissioners, unscrupulous lawyers, ignorant civil courts and even the better-off tribals themselves have all joined hands, as it were, to deprive the tribal communities of their land”. The tribals, as a result, were feeling “totally exhausted, impoverished and traumatised”.

A large population of tribals has also been displaced from their habitat because of development projects – irrigation dams, power plants, industrial and mining projects, declaration of sanctuaries and national parks, etc., undertaken in the area.

There are no official figures of the total number of tribals displaced. However, some unofficial studies, particularly by Dr Walter Fernandes, peg this figure at around 60 million for the period from 1947 to 2004. Tribals constitute only about 8 per cent of the country’s population, but they are 40 per cent of the total displaced persons by the projects. The rehabilitation and resettlement of these tribals has been very inadequate. No wonder, they harbour a genuine grouse against the government.

The Eleventh Five Year Plan document admitted that the tribals are alienated on account of slipping economic resources like land, forests, common property resources, the displacement and dispossession of life support systems, general apathy of official machinery, growing clout of market forces, and meagre advancement through planned development efforts.

Glaring Inequities

There are a number of other factors also which would ensure that Naxalism survives in some form or the other. Poverty continues to be a huge problem. According to the expert group headed by C. Rangarajan, 29.5 per cent of the population was still below the poverty line in 2011-12. We have, according to the Forbes’ 2015 list, the fourth highest numbers of billionaires after the US, China and Germany, but there are glaring inequalities. According to a World Bank report (2015), the net worth of the top 10 percent of the population is 380 times that of the bottom 10 percent. Land reforms are not on the agenda of any state government. The employment scenario is bleak and, according to a survey conducting by the Labour Bureau, over a third of working people are employed for less than a year. Corruption at higher levels has been checked somewhat but continues to be rampant at lower levels. There is an inexplicable delay in the appointment of Lok Pal.

Development has not been much of an issue with the aggrieved sections, particularly of the tribals, who constitute the bulk of the Naxal ranks. The author’s experience, while travelling in the most interior areas, was that they are keen only on two things: basic education for their children and primary health centres in the far-flung areas.

There is no demand or keenness to have sophisticated development. What is of far greater concern to them is that their way of life should not be disturbed, that outsiders should not exploit them, that government should respect their forest rights, and that their grievances should be promptly redressed. It is in these areas that the tribal has been hurt.

Experts Opine

An Expert Group appointed by the Planning Commission (2008), of which the author was also a member, was of the view that our approach to development had some basic flaws. It observed as follows:

“The development paradigm pursued since independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among marginalised sections of society. This is because the development paradigm as conceived by the policy makers has always been imposed on these communities, and therefore it has remained insensitive to their needs and concerns, causing irreparable damage to these sections. The benefits of this paradigm of development have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expense of the poor, who have borne most of the costs. Development which is insensitive to the needs of these communities has invariably caused displacement and reduced them to a sub-human existence. In the case of tribes, in particular, it has ended up in destroying their social organisation, cultural identity, and resource base and generated multiple conflicts, undermining their communal solidarity, which cumulatively makes them increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.”

Governance Grievances

Governance is also a major factor. There are areas which are poorly governed, there are areas which are badly governed, and there are areas which are not governed at all. The result of bad governance is seen in the multiple insurgencies that we see in different parts of the country, particularly in the north-east and on our northern borders.

According to the Expert Group (2008), areas in Central India where there is unrest are “minimally administered” and that state intervention both for development and law and order had been fairly low. As a result, there is a kind of administrative vacuum in these areas which is exploited by the armed insurgent groups. In Chhattisgarh State, there is an area called Abujmarh in Narayanpur district which has been beyond the pale of administration even seventy years after independence. It is a 4,000 sq km area comprising 260 villages inhabited by tribals, particularly of Maria group.

The terrain is no doubt difficult, but there could be no justification for the area not having been surveyed to date and the absence of any regular revenue or police administration in the region. No wonder, the Maoists established a ‘liberated zone’ in Abujmarh.

As long as these factors continue – large sections of population living below the poverty line, extreme inequalities of income, unemployment on a large scale, neglect of land reforms, rampant corruption, significant groups of

tribals feeling disaffected, poor state of governance – and there being no indication yet of the aforesaid factors disappearing in the foreseeable future, the Naxal movement would continue to

haunt the Indian State and pose a formidable challenge to the law enforcement agencies.

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