When the state responds to political violence in an indiscriminately heavy-handed manner, members of extremist groups will only harden their positions and hesitate to join the democratic mainstream. Whether the surrender of Maoist leader G. Venkatakrishna Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, and his wife Santhoshi Markom, marks the beginning of a welcome new trend or is just a one-off event depends a lot on the rehabilitation of the couple who have been active with the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI-Maoist. Mr. Prasad, who was the spokesperson for the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, was wanted by the police for his direct involvement in major acts of violence, including the killing of Congress leaders in Bastar last year. Whether it was ill-health or disgust with the politics of violence that prompted him to surrender before the police in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Prasad is entitled to the rehabilitation scheme already in place for reformed Naxalites. Governments are wont to seek the media spotlight and a bit of political triumphalism is inevitable when Maoists surrender, given the deadly and inherently anti-social nature of their activities. It is important to ensure that the reformative approach to these former extremists succeeds in transforming their mindset. Some of the Maoists return to collaborating with the extremist group, and some others spend the rest of their life in penury. A few are even hunted down by their former colleagues for being police informers and betrayers of the movement. The safety of these persons who have chosen to step out of the shadow of extremist politics must be guaranteed by governments.
There are many Maoists who feel trapped in the movement and the cycle of attacks and reprisals, but who are unable to gather the courage to make the transition from the fringe to the mainstream. However, rehabilitation of lapsed militants can only be a small part of the larger strategy of containing extremist violence. The administrative response of deploying specially trained security personnel in the violence-affected areas should be accompanied by a developmental strategy to enhance livelihood opportunities in tribal and forest regions. When rural wages remain low, the youth in India’s deprived interior areas can easily be lured into believing that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. If it is not to be an isolated instance, the surrender should not be projected as a vindication of harsh measures in the face of extremist threat but should prompt a reworking of the strategy of countering political violence, and the putting in place of a comprehensive, equitable development programme for India’s tribal areas.