Criminalisation of Maoist movement in Jharkhand

Maoists have always been claiming to adhere and, by and large, are adhering to basic human right norms while waging a protracted armed struggle against the state. They have desisted from mutilating the bodies of slain security forces and thus observed the Geneva Convention of paying respect to the bodies of dead soldiers. But the recent incident of sewing up an improvised explosive device (IED) in the stomach of a dead jawan in Latehar district of Jharkhand is an indication of the emergence of a new trend in the movement. This is a sign of increasing criminalisation of Maoist insurgency and major shift in the movement from grievance to greed.

Maoists made their presence felt in the early 1990s in south Bihar — Jharkhand since 2000. The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) was the most dominant Naxal group but the Party Unity, the CPI(ML) Liberation, etc, were also active. They split into several groups but this division was mainly on ideological issues. That is no longer the case. Caste and ethnic identity have replaced ideology, and collection of levies, extortion and kidnapping for ransom have taken the place of resistance to the atrocities of Zamindars and forest officials in a bid to protect helpless poor peasants and Adivasis.

Around a dozen Naxal groups are active in different parts of Jharkhand. However, only four of these are major groups, — the CPI (Maoist), the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), the Jharkhand Liberation Front (JLT) and the Peoples Liberation Front of India (PLFI). The CPI (Maoist) and the TPC are probably groups which are committed to ideology. The ideological commitment of the others is suspect. However, they all wear Maoist uniforms and offer Lal Salam (Red Salute) and call themselves Naxalites. They are engaged in a turf war with one another. All have their own spheres of influence and violently resist any encroachment by other groups. This usually results in bloodletting among the Maoists themselves.

The CPI (Maoist) called a Jharkhand bandh on December 28, 2012 to protest against Operation Anaconda-II in the Saranda forest by the security forces against the Naxals but this was opposed by the JLT in its area of influence. There are also allegations that some Naxal outfits are working for the Jharkhand police and targeting CPI (Maoists) cadres at the instigation of police. In a quid pro quo, police turn a blind eye to their criminal activities such as kidnapping and collection of levies. One senior Jharkhand police officer admitted that in a majority of the cases, violence was committed by non-CPI (Maoist) Naxal outfits.

Because of criminalisation of the movement, the popularity of Naxals has eroded among the masses. A member of civil society groups, affiliated to a missionary and working in Jharkhand since 1973, claimed that in the 1990s, more than 90 per cent of poor people had been extending enthusiastic support to Naxalites but because of their criminal activities, they now lost faith in Maoists and were backing them only out of fear. Bandhs, rallies and other forms of protests organised by Naxalites are still successful but this is achieved mainly through coercion.

Any political movement is basically a battle for winning the hearts and minds of the people. In this battle, the criminal activities of Maoists are alienating the common people. Mao Zedong has likened guerillas to fish and the masses to water but criminalisation of the Maoist movement in Jharkhand is poisoning the water where the very survival of insurgents is increasingly becoming difficult. No civilised society can condone planting of bombs in the body of a soldier.

Even while waging a war both the Maoists and the state should observe the basic civilised norms laid down by the Geneva Convention.

(The writer is Professor, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. Email: tejpratapbhu@gmail.com)

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