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Tackling Naxalism:OFFER CLEAN, UPRIGHT ADMN,by Dharmendra Nath (IAS Retd), 16 December 2009 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 16 December 2009

Tackling Naxalism


By Dharmendra Nath (IAS Retd)

Wars, it is said, arise in the minds of men and so they should properly be fought there. The same can be said about Naxalism. It too arises in the minds of men and so it should properly be fought there. Instead, we are trying to fight it with brute force, inviting further retaliation.

Let us for a moment think how Mahatma Gandhi would have fought it. He fought the might of a colonial empire not with force but the opposite of it. And, here we are fighting our own people with force and having much the worse of it. To say the least our approach is not Gandhian.

But there is a deeper reason favouring the Gandhian approach. Contrary to popular notion, Naxalism does not arise out of income disparities or differences in social status. We always had unequal distribution of wealth and a stratified division of the society but this kind of unrest was not seen.

It is in fact amazing how much of life’s so called injustice is accepted peacefully in India, blaming it on our fate or ‘karma’. Instead of blaming others we blame ourselves. That should act as a great cushion for the society and the nation.

However, what is not tolerated in India is perceived unfairness. That has always given rise to mass movements, be it the events of 1857 or any other regional revolt. People are willing to put up with a lot if they think that the system is fair. That it works. That it treats them equally. If that confidence is shaken unrest manifests itself. Perhaps this is what is causing Naxalism.

Even in the times of the erstwhile ruling States, income disparities as well as social differences were as rife, if not more, but the people, by and large, identified with the rulers and trusted him. ‘Kou nripa hoya, hamai ka hani’ (Whoever be the ruler, what difference does it make to us?) That was not a statement of indifference to state but a statement of confidence in the system. Whoever rules, rules fairly. Why bother?

Why is that identification missing? Today, the public mind is agitated by doubts about fairness of rule. Let us take a hard look at our public life. How much confidence does it inspire? What is our administrative profile? Illegal accumulation of wealth on all sides. Very poor record of punishing those apprehended. Arbitrary use of police and administrative powers to promote selfish interests and to shield the guilty. Equally arbitrary use of the taxpayer’s money for personal convenience of the ruling class.

Indian Airlines awards life-time of free air travel facility to its CMD. A Cabinet Secretary becomes Governor of a state post-retirement before finally being shown the door for foisting personal hospitality expenses on an industrial house. Were there no takers for the jobs or our vigilance mechanism works selectively?

A general impression has been created that cleverness pays and anything can be sorted out if you throw enough money at it. Criminals dominate. All sorts of scams in the works, be it the Bihar fodder case, the Telgi stamp paper theft case (look at its sweep) the Ghaziabad Provident Fund defalcation case or numerous Public Service Commission recruitment scandals. Is that not material enough for creating a lack of confidence in the system?

Add to that thoughtless expropriation of people’s traditional rights over common resources, enjoyed by them for centuries and often recognised even in Mughal sanads and British grants. Appropriation of forests by government’s Forest Department is a running complaint.

Our disastrous experiments with afforestation with the help of eucalyptus every where and with exotic tropical pine in the saal intensive Bastar region tell their own sad tale of indifference to the lot of the forest dweller. He got nothing from these plantations by way of seeds, fruits or leaves towards his sustenance. Eucalyptus soaked up the surrounding moisture and tropical pine proved a dwarf beside the stalwart saal.

Used to deriving their water supply from traditional sources like ponds and rivers, forest people find them polluted due to atrocious mining and manufacturing activities. The waters of Shankhini and Dankini rivers joining together below the highly revered Danteshwari temple in Bastar area’s Dantewara district have been unusable ever since the start of the iron ore mining operations. Nobody has a care. All our attention is taken up with fighting Naxalism mindlessly.

At the other extreme, government regularization of encroached forest lands has given rise to new vested interests like earlier commercialisation of timber interests. We are thus creating a situation where we either do not give anything or give it away for private use. Both ways, the common interest is not served and the dependent community is dislodged. The man looking for basic subsistence is uprooted. Where does he go? Therefore if land is at all to be given away to encroachers in forest lands, it may have to be outside forest areas, otherwise we are establishing a self-defeating wrong trend.

Subsequently trouble makers, criminals and commercial interests have jumped into the fray and taken short-term advantage of a bad situation. They find it a fertile ground. Over the years they have learnt to encash and exploit their nuisance value. They are even levying protection money and overrunning police stations. Look at Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Their nuisance value is acquiring an independent life as another vested interest. For the administration on the ground level matters are getting so mixed up that it is hard to distinguish genuine unrest from a created one. How do we tackle this situation?

To my mind, we have to begin at the beginning. As the seed of Naxalism takes root in the minds of men, so the battle against it should also primarily be fought and won in the hearts and minds of men. The task is of managing and assisting a society in transition in a fast commercializing world. We have a society faced with abrupt and sudden transformation and a crisis of confidence. That is why our Prime Minister does not see them basically as terrorists. Isn’t our own right conduct and understanding behaviour then the correct response?

Our administrative image has to change. We need the image of a more upright, considerate, even-handed and people-friendly administration. Only then will we have taken the first steps towards resolving the problem. Once the fertile ground of discontent ceases to exist other improvements will follow. Neither brute force nor appeasement is an answer. Other suggested remedies of political dialogue and economic development merely skirt the key issue. --INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



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