A large section of Indian voters appear distinctly uncomfortable with the way the Indian state deals with issues of internal security, particularly the issue of the Maoist insurgency. While they recognise it as the ‘greatest threat’, there is a clear disapproval for an approach based on deploying only security forces in large numbers.
The CNN IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), throws up striking findings about the best way to approach the issue of Naxalism. It also challenges assumptions about how different social groups, and people in different states affected by the insurgency, view the problem.
45 percent of the voters surveyed agreed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that Naxalism constituted the ‘greatest threat to India’s internal security’.
This view was, unsurprisingly, high in states affected by the Naxalite insurgency. Forty-three per cent in Chhattisgarh, 51 per cent in Jharkhand, 65 per cent of the respondents in Maharashtra’s Vidharbha region shared the PM’s view. Strikingly, only 34 per cent of the Scheduled Tribes in affected-states agreed, while 51 per cent chose not to offer an opinion. While unaffected directly, 64 per cent of the urban rich too felt Naxalism constituted the ‘greatest’ threat to internal security.
When asked for what prescription would be most apt to deal with the Naxal challenge, responses varied.
21 per cent support an approach that rests on deploying security forces, while 50 per cent respondents believe in either addressing tribal grievances or initiating talks.
In Chhattisgarh, a state that has witnessed some of the most ferocious battles between the Maoists and security forces, and killings of innocent civilians, 24 per cent of the respondents believed that ‘maximum force’ should be used to deal with the rebels. In contrast, 46 per cent believed that tribal grievances ought to be addressed, and justice be provided, while 15 per cent favored the idea of a ceasefire and talks with Maoists. This adds up to 61 per cent of the state’s population believing in an approach that de-prioritises security offensives.
The picture in Jharkhand is somewhat different, with 40 per cent of the respondents favouring an approach of ‘deploying security forces in large numbers’. This could be a reflection of the indiscriminate violence by the rebels, as well as the increasing criminalisation of the insurgency which is understood to have eroded the popular support enjoyed by Maoists. But even here, 47 per cent favour the ‘justice approach’, and 13 per cent push for a dialogue. The results are more mixed in Maharashtra with 28 per cent here for a security approach; 35 per cent emphasised the need to address grievances, while only 10 per cent favored talks.
The survey asked two diametrically opposite segments of the population about their views, with surprising findings.
From Scheduled Tribes in Naxal-affected states, 26 per cent of the respondents supported using maximum force to deal with the Maoists. Only a little more, 27 per cent, favored a ‘justice approach’, while 15 per cent batted for talks. Once again, a substantial proportion of tribals – 33 per cent – chose not to offer an opinion, either indicating they did not have views on the matter or more likely, felt expressing a view in a conflict-zone would add to their vulnerabilities.
The survey asked the urban rich for their views. Only 15 per cent supported a security offensive, while 55 per cent said that tribal grievances should be addressed. Another 17 per cent favoured talks, indicating that 72 per cent respondents among India’s rich do not think Naxalism can be solved by a security-based approach.