DR. CHANDAN YADAV
On a tour of Jharkhand a couple of years ago, I was engaged in a conversation with one of the Naxalite leaders. I tried to convince him of the futility of their fight against the state, and the fact that only a parliamentary democracy would be able to solve issues. He was not convinced and, in fact, confidently asserted: “We will overcome and one day victory will be ours. We will overthrow the state.”
I am reminded of this conversation and the audacity of the Naxalites as they massacred 76 CRPF jawans in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, in April and again 31 people in the latest incident in the same district. The attacks have only reopened the age-old debate on the root cause of the problem — lack of socio-economic development or law and order. The accepted view is to treat it on both these counts. However, there is a third viewpoint that is not getting much of importance — that is, combating the issue ideologically too.
As a political activist working in the NSUI and the Indian Youth Congress (IYC), I have personally had ample opportunity to observe the workings of Naxalites; first in the JNU, later as a national secretary and then as a national general secretary of the Youth Congress in charge of Jharkhand and Orissa. My home district, Khagaria, in Bihar, too has seen a spate of Naxal attacks in recent times. During the period when I was in charge, I travelled to almost every Naxal-affected district in Jharkhand and Orissa. I even stayed in these areas and interacted with a few of the cadre and leaders, from the level of the zonal commander to the common member. What came out of these meetings had a common thread — the lack of basic infrastructure and amenities and the absence of law and order in the area. Also, the administration was not sensitive to their problems.
Consequently, the youth of the area, frustrated and with no opportunity to earn their livelihood, fell easy prey to the Naxal ideology. Taking up arms and becoming part of the ‘cause' takes care of their livelihood issues; they are also brainwashed into believing that only a change of the present political system, which is biased against them, will lead to their dreams being fulfilled. The cadre said they had no choice; even if they wished to give up arms and return to the ‘mainstream', it was made difficult for them. In fact, many of those who wished to return were punished; at times with death. Therefore, for the common members, it is all a question of livelihood and opportunities.
The Naxalites are a strong cadre-based organisation, the members are ideologically committed and well-trained and even the ordinary members are well aware of the party's position on issues. In a nutshell, their members get their strength and motivation from their ideology unlike other political parties, where material motivation and political opportunism seem to be the order. No member can get into decision-making without a proven track record on his commitment and ideology. Membership too is ideologically driven.
Abject poverty and underdevelopment help breed this kind of ideology. New members are given individual attention until they are convinced. Also, comradeship among members means that hierarchy exists only in decision-making; in everything else, they are equal. (In a lighter vein, they even share the same cigarette).
It is interesting to note that a majority of the Naxalite and Maoist leaders and sympathisers are highly educated from reputed institutions across the world and are from well-off families. Their ideological motivation is so strong that their minds are closed to any alternative argument. They live in a trance-like state, to them the present system and its leaders are enemies.
Based on my personal experience in these affected areas, I strongly feel that apart from treating this as a socio-economic and law and order issue, we need to look at ways of combating the Naxalites ideologically. The first two aspects will ensure that there is no chance for the Naxalites/Maoists to breed and multiply their numbers. The last method will help to counter the leaders and their sympathisers. One cannot deny that disparities in development are a major cause for the spread of the Naxalite ideology. However, the developmental approach will succeed only if we believe that disparities in development will be bridged soon.
But to my understanding this will not be the case for two reasons — (a) the disparity and the area for development are huge and (b) other problems and markers of identity such as religion, caste and region. The poor and the Dalits may today have access to the well in a village, but the disparity has now moved down to an issue of access to safe drinking water.
Similarly, the telecom revolution has meant that while even people in rural areas have a mobile phone, the mobile has today become much more than a calling tool for a segment of the population, with Blackberry, 3G and other such services.
Therefore, development and disparity as an issue will continue to exist and, over the years, one can aim at decreasing the gap between the two. The argument that lack of development alone leads to Naxalism cannot be entirely true. In the last 62 years, there has been development and many poor people have benefited from a slew of pro-poor development schemes. However, the parameters of disparity keep changing. It is, therefore, also the ideological bent of the leadership of this movement that has been instrumental in its being able to spread its wings in the years since Independence.
However, it is disheartening to see that politics today has seemingly become a platform for crass opportunism instead of being ideology-driven. Of course, this is not to say that all parties and all leaders are devoid of ideology. Political parties need to revert to ideology-based politics, along with a development agenda. The challenge before all mainstream parties is to rise to the occasion and engage in efforts to humanise society. The idea of an India based on the concept of parliamentary democracy, respect for all religions, unity in diversity, brotherhood, etc. — as dreamt by our forefathers at the time of Independence — needs to be inculcated in the minds of the people, right down to the grass-roots. Only by doing so can they instil faith in the people and ensure the success of the principles of adhering to the Constitution.
(The writer, who got his Ph.D. from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, is a former national general secretary, Indian Youth Congress. Email: chandanjnu@ rediffmail.com)