Counter-offensives against the growing Maoist menace in India need to be based on a spirit of conflict resolution, as distinguished from conflict management.
Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, in an article on left-wing extremism (“From Tirupati to Pashupati?” The Hindu, October 14, 2011), observed candidly: “It is not the naxals who have created the ground conditions ripe for their ideology — it is the singular failure of successive governments both in the States and the Centre.”
There lay the main cause of the festering sore of naxalism, often characterised as left-wing extremism. It is no longer a fringe phenomenon — it has marched forward to become an expansive armed movement since the ‘spring thunder' in Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967. The Maoists have since carved out what they call a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ), or Red Corridor, stretching from Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh to Pashupati in Nepal, encompassing parts of seven States: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar. They have their footprint in Madhya Pradesh as well. In all, the area comprises 200 districts, 60 of them labelled hyper-sensitive. This is a large swathe. They are also reported to be networking with insurgent outfits in the northeastern region.
Strong base, ideology
The development of the Maoist movement may be one of the most striking political developments in India's socio-economic ambit. An expert group set up by the Planning Commission in 2008 on ‘Development Challenge in Extremist Areas' observed: “Naxalite movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the poor peasantry and adivasis and though it professed long-term ideology of capturing State power, in its day to day manifestation it was to be looked upon basically as a fight for justice, equity, protection, security and local development.”
Their selection of the ‘theatre of war,' centre of gravity and catchment included geographically backward, isolated, inaccessible, inhospitable and hilly terrain, areas with poor or light or dysfunctional governance, social, economic and infrastructural deficits and deprived, alienated segments of society. No wonder, the Maoists have found a ready-made space to strike an emotional chord with the deprived lot and wear the mantle of Robinhood and benefactor.
Left-wing extremism did not break in out of the blue in the 1960s. The process of social transformation was already on, marked by a disconnect from developmental currents, deficit of basic services and governance, disjunction between policies, programmes and delivery. A political vacuum provided stimulus.
Left-wing extremists have followed the path, ideology and strategies that Mao Zedong enunciated in his ‘Red Book,' ‘Peasants Uprising in 1927' and ‘ Principle of Operation' — all practised during the Chinese Revolution against Chiang Kai-shek. Those doctrines called upon cadres to fight against tyranny, social and economic injustices, poverty, corruption, lack of development, land-related issues and other public issues, and bring about a brief reign of terror in every rural area to fight a wrong, and foment hatred against the establishment and the elites.
Taking a leaf out of Mao's dicta the Maoists in India, in their exposition on ‘ Strategy and Tactic of Indian Revolution,' seek the seizure of power by armed force (through the barrel of the gun) and the settlement of issues by war. Causing damage to state infrastructure was the “central aim and highest form of revolution.” The Maoists have sought to push their agenda through armed struggle, killing, extortion, ransom, arson, sabotage, and attacks on police forces and posts. They have stockpiled arms and ammunition and built up money power and strike power.
The game plan was to capture power ultimately, by overthrowing the democratic government. To give teeth to their struggle, a military formation called the People's Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) was formed. It has become a proficient striking force. The PLGA has army-line command, control, communication, sophisticated weaponry, explosives, skills and guerilla-warfare tactics, combined with motivated, passionate-to-the-cause cadres. They have intimate knowledge of the terrain and territory, and rapport with the local populace, which helps them elude the security forces. The state security forces have yet to achieve a high degree of motivation, involvement and intelligence-backed operations and capture the nuances and dynamics of guerrilla warfare, to be able to match the PLGA.
State-sponsored combat action against the Maoists was inevitable as militant, violent and unconstitutional means were the antithesis of democracy and the “grammar of anarchy.” The Supreme Court, on a writ petition filed by social anthropologist Professor Nandini Sundar and others, ruled: “Notwithstanding the fact that there may be social and economic circumstances and certain policies followed by the state itself, leading to emergence of extremist violence, we cannot condone it. The state necessarily has the obligations, moral and constitutional to combat such extremism and provide security to the people of the country.”
The state has launched many offensives against left-wing extremists. However, these have centred on the mechanics of one-dimensional, hawkish, knee-jerk, militaristic armed offensives, often attracting allegations of excesses and human rights violations. Undeterred by state-sponsored offensives, the Maoists have unleashed a reign of terror, bloodshed and militancy. Far from being contained, they have risen again and again. Counter-offensives against Maoists need to be based on a spirit of conflict resolution, distinguished from conflict management. Also needed are swift developmental thrusts, psychological operations to obliterate negative and warped perceptions about the establishment and the security forces, zero tolerance to the violation of human rights and excesses, confidence-building measures, and healing touches. Also needed are attractive rehabilitation packages for those who surrender, and service-oriented civic action programmes by security forces. Such a framework could bring about an abiding end to the conflict situation — as was tried with tremendous success in Tripura to overcome a three-decade-long insurgency. Just declaring a ‘war,' bluntspeak, provocative challenges, and ruthless, indiscriminate offensives would not be an appropriate or creative response. These tend to be counterproductive and alienate the masses. An obsession with crackdown first and development later will not work. Counter-offensive actions must walk on two legs, go hand in hand with rapid, accelerated developmental interventions and security instrumentalities in a synergetic and symbiotic manner.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar put it perceptively in an interview to Frontline: “Maoists can't be finished off through force alone. When governments fail to deliver, all kind of forces spring up. His government did concretise it in a mechanism of “aapki sarkar aapke dwar (your government at your doorstep”) that helped check the upsurge of Maoists in Bihar to a considerable extent.
The Maoist movement is yet to leave an imprint as a mass uprising, let alone as a revolution. All that it has done is to spin-off terrorism by fomenting local issues and opportunistically and slyly attacking or ambushing security forces. Once the forces swoop down and strike, the Maoists retreat and cede the area, only to resurface off and on. Of late, lumpen elements and criminals have jumped on to the Maoist bandwagon, donning the robes of political recognition and respectability but really to indulge in gory criminal acts. The Maoists were initially inspired and fired by ideology. But over the years they deviated from the ideological currents to take to adventurism and terrorism. This has been reflected in the killing of innocent citizens, small and marginal farmers, women and adolescents, in contrast with the drive for the ‘annihilation of class enemies.'
The critical core of the policy to counter the Maoists should dwell essentially on a pro-poor-centric credo, inclusive growth, a trinity of security interventions, even socio-economic infrastructure dispensation in left out ‘rain shadow' areas. Capturing the hearts and minds of the alienated and disempowered segments is critical. Of crucial significance are well-crafted, integrated and multi-dimensional strategies. A positive mindset, sagacity and clarity of vision and perception of the powers-that-be are essential. There should be active political processes. Political vacuums should not exist. There should be operational coordination among the affected States. Creative responses to challenges, vibrant micro-level governing modules such as gram panchayats and local bodies in Maoist-bound areas are needed. There should be community involvement in the combat against extremism, modulated and humane offensives of State security forces, and zero tolerance to human rights violations and excesses. These should be blended with brainstorming psychological operations to bring about changes in the psyche of turbulent and anguished minds.
(The author is a former Governor of Tripura and Chhattisgarh.)