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Dealing With Maoist Challenge:NOT BY FORCE & DEVELOPMENT ALONE, by Insaf, 9 July, 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 9 July 2010

Dealing With Maoist Challenge



By Balraj Puri

(Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs)

“Army Headquarters have drawn up a plan to keep about 50,000 soldiers in readiness to help civilian authorities deal with the growing Naxal threat,” reported a newspaper on 18 June. Initially, the Army and the Air Chiefs were opposed to any intervention despite the massacre of 76 security forces in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. But the game and thinking changed when 148 innocent people were slaughter by Maoists in the Jnaneshwari Express in West Bengal’s Midnapur district.  After meeting the Union Home Minister Chidambaram on 28 May, the Army and Air Chiefs finalised their action plan “to meet any emergency in anti-Naxalite operation beyond the present training, surveillance and logistical support”.


Originally, the emphasis of anti-Maoist operations was on strengthening security forces—adequate training, particularly in jungle warfare of the CRPF jawans, to equip them with better weapons, improve their knowledge about local terrain and better intelligence. Particularly, as Maoists influence has expanded in 220 tribal districts from Andhra to Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal constituting as the Prime Minister said, “the greatest security threat”. They have established contacts with ULFA and other insurgents in North-East.


Importantly, the rapid expansion of the area and influence of the Maoists is due to the increasing alienation of the tribals. Thus, more than use of technology and arms in the war against the Maoists, the State has to enjoy popular support.


In her essay “Working with the Comrades” Arundati Roy, described the large scale devastation and displacement caused by multinationals companies on land leased for mining and other projects. She averred, “How a Government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the 50 million people displaced by what it called development was able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 special economic zones.”

These include mineral projects with high quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, $4 trillion worth bauxite in Orissa and 28 others in various parts of the tribal belt called the Maoists’ corridor. Add to this, power plants, steel and cement factories, dams, highways and infrastructure projects. Leading the displaced tribals’ desperately asserting, “jaan denge per zameen nahin denge.”


Specially, as the three tribal-dominated States account for 70% of India’s coal reserves, 80% of high grade iron ore and almost 100% of its chromate reserves. Of the 50 mineral producing districts almost half are tribal. Taking note of this, the Prime Minister stated recently, “We cannot overlook the fact that many areas in which extremism flourishes are under-developed and tribals have not shared the benefits of development”. His advice: fight Naxals with development.


The Ramchandran report, too has recommended the Government refrain from signing more MoUs with corporates for ventures in the tribal areas. It impressed that the Centre and States respect tribal rights and desist from rampant industrialization.
According to a Planning Commission task force report which covers 33 Maoist-hit districts the expenditure for rural development, road connectivity and health is a measly 30-40% of the allocated funds in these districts. Adding, “Not a single claim of the tribals over land has been entertained under the Forest Rights Act in Dantewada and the entire district had just three doctors.”


However, the tribal woes don’t end there. Drawing a distinction between development and exploitation, former Bastar SC/ST Commissioner B D Sharma, in an open letter to the President wrote, “To call the tribals poor, hurts the simple people to the core as they are super-sensitive about their “honour”. They are deprived and disinherited in their own domain….have no place for their community and its customs and tradition, its unwritten laws of their village Republics.”

Sharma insisted the Government accept that the resources belong to the tribals. This is underscored by the Constitution’s Fifth Schedule which reads: Resources in Tribal areas belong to the tribals. The 1995 Bhuria Commission also recommended that for industries in tribal areas, 50% of the ownership remain with the community, 20% with the landowner and only 30% with the investor.

Alongside, is the question of tribal identity, their ethnicity, culture and way of life. Importantly, development at the cost of cultural and ethnic identity becomes counter- productive. It is no substitute for the joy tribals get in their music, dances and fairs which needs to be preserved from the threat of films and other modern entertainment. In fact, the process of modernisation should incorporate tribal culture and thus help in preserving them.

Already a fierce debate is going on between orthodox Marxists, mainly belonging to Andhra’s People’s War Group which pioneered the Maoist movement (now declining) and the more pragmatic cadres in Central and East India on class vs. caste/ethnicity. The lesson of West Bengal is particularly relevant in this context.

Recall, the Left Front, led by late CPM leader Jyoti Basu, came to power and maintained its popular base for over three decades on the basis of its progressive programme on radical land reform and appeal of Bengali nationalism and identity vis-à-vis authority of Indian nationalism. Notwithstanding, being a Bhadralok Bengali front.


However, gradually, the momentum of radical land reforms started declining and the lower castes, Dalits, Muslims, tribals and other non-Bengalis began started asserting themselves. The regimented system, where local bodies were instruments in the hands of the State Government controlled by CPM cadres rather than instruments of local self- Government, blocked avenues of dissent.

At the same time on cannot ignore the fact that Maoist activities were not only confined to brutal violence. At some places they had not only undertaken relief and welfare work but also opened dispensaries and schools where none existed. In Bankura, for instance, they are running a school.

In addition, the role of interlocutors should not be dismissed. Not to reach an agreement between the Government and the Maoists but to understand them.  The extremists are willing to talk with Trimamool MP Kabir Suman, Arundati Roy, and Sharma. Ramachandran, who enquired into the security aspect of the Dantewada tragedy, has welcomed the role of civil rights activists in dealing with the Maoists.

Recently the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Sarvodya Mandal and Harijan Sevak Samaj leaders led a 540 km cycle yatra through Jhargram, Binpur, Lalgarh, Devda, Panskura, Barkhpur in West Bengal. The Chancellor of Gandhi Vidya Peath Gujarat Narayan Desai along-with other Gandhian leaders, academicians, social activists, journalists and advocates held a Peace March in Bastar.


In sum, it is not a question of being pro or anti-Maoists. It is an issue of understanding all the aspects of the Maoist phenomenon, the threat it entails and all possible means of dealing with it.  


Let us explore the possibility of accommodating Maoists as a radical Party. Given that, India is the first country in the world where a Communist Party opted for the Parliamentary form of governance and came to power through election in West Bengal and Kerala. The door should be kept open to accommodate the CPI (Maoist) as another Communist Party, like the CPI, CPM and CPI (M-L).  Albeit taking all precautions that it does not threaten the basis of Indian democracy. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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