Today's Editorial

27 May 2017

Crimson anniversary



Source: By DN Sahaya: The Statesman



24 May, marks the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. On that day in 1967, a police inspector was killed by an arrow that came from a crowd of farmers. The police retaliated the next day, fire on another crowd, killing eleven people, including eight women and two infants. At a recent meeting with the Chief Ministers, District Magistrates, and SPs of 35 sensitive districts, Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for a ‘smart and aggressive strategy’ to tackle Maoist activity. His concern was genuine as Maoism is now the biggest threat to internal security.


The awesome phenomenon began as a peasant movement called ‘Spring Thunder’ in Naxalbari in May 1967. Within 50 years, left-wing extremism has graduated to an armed movement, affecting 106 districts across the country, against 50 in the 1990s. It has surged from Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh) to Nepal spanning the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar... and to a lesser extent West Bengal. The Red Corridor extremists targeted the regions that were in a geographical trap, inhospitable forested hilly terrain, remote habitations, the poverty belt with socio-economic-physical deficiencies, dysfunctional governance, rampant corruption, exploitative, asymetrical social order, disconnect between policy and delivery, alienation of the tribals from their lands and denial of forest rights. This explains the energence of leftwing extremism (LWE) in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha (KBK ~ Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput), Jharkhand and Bihar.


The Centre and the governments in these states are yet to contain LWE although the counter-offensive may have been partially effective. Deaths in LWE action and counter-action between 2005 and 2017 (up to April) totalled 7477 civilians, 1910 security forces, and 2572 Maoists. The trend in the current year is not particularly reassuring.


Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division, the hub of LWE, continues to be on the boil despite the presence of central and state security forces, numbering 70,000. Between 2005 and 2017 (till April) the break-up of casualties was: civilians 753, security forces 954 and Maoists 919 (total 2626). Bastar was on the radar of LWE since the 1980s, but till 2003 it was fully under control with just one company of CRPF and six busloads of state armed policemen. The Maoists were subdued for a while. The situation deteriorated after 2004 and it reached a flashpoint in 2005 with the emergence of the state-backed Salwa Judum. To launch a dubious outfit in the periphery of liberated zones was in itself a misadventure. It was like the proverbial red rag to the bull and Maoists struck in a big way. Matters have only aggravated since then.


Jharkhand was another focal point of LWE violence. But in recent months the security forces have tightened their grip. LWE activists have surrendered and explosives have been seized. There has been a marked improvement in the situation. Odisha contends with Maoist violence in predominantly tribal areas as the tribals have lost their land, which has been acquired for industrial and mining projects. The trend is distressing.


Bihar, which was the first state in the country to fall in line with Charu Mazumdar’s Naxalite movement in 1967, has been able to keep Maoist violence under control through effective raids, arrests and recovery of arms. The state, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at the helm, has initiated a raft of development schemes. The intervention covers governance of Maoistaffected areas, modulated counter-offensives, zero tolerance to violation of human rights, and a human face of the security forces. Nitish Kumar’s visionary and innovative micro-level governance ~ Apki Sarkar, Apke Dwar ~ has helped curb Maoist violence. As he told a national magazine, “Maoists cannot be finished off through force alone, when the government fails to deliver all kinds of force.”


The Maoist armed struggle reflected the philosophy of the ‘Red Book’ which expounded the start of a revolution and a fight against social and economic injustices, land-related issues, damage to infrastructure, to foment hatred against the establishment, attack the enemy forces and seize power. Violence was thus at the core of the Maoist doctrine. The objective was to create a vacuum in politics and governance and thus coerce the local population to join the movement. Maoists sought to achieve their objective through the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) or Jan Militia (estimated strength around 4000). PLGA was a structured entity, well-trained, equipped with the latest weapons, gadgets, explosives and an effective communication system. The “killer instinct” was of course the dominant compulsion. The activists were familiar with the local dialect and terrain, were efficient in the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and were able to forge an emotional bond with the local populace. In contrast, the Central forces and the state police have not been able to familiarise themselves with local conditions. They tend to get stressed out in course of prolonged deputation. This has largely accounted for setbacks against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Andhra Pradesh has overcome the deficiencies with its motivated and highly skilled force called ‘Grey Hound’.


Counter-offensives generally took the form of conflict management with a law and order orientation in order to achieve immediate gains, which were neither enduring nor sustainable as the extremists retreated temporarily, resurfaced before long, and were back in action. Arguably, a better method would be conflict resolution which was evolved in a spirit of goodwill and understanding and would, therefore, be lasting and sustainable. Conflict resolution subsumed confidence-building measures, an aggressive and accelerated impetus towards development, its trickle-down effect, and most importantly, the psychological interventions aimed at correcting the negative perception of the state. The dynamics could involve the media, intellectuals, seminars, educational institutions, interaction with the community and civil organizations, and civic action programmes of the central forces. Tripura in its fight against insurgency tried this mechanism with success.


The crackdown on LWE or insurgents ought not to be an obsession with ‘crackdown first, development later syndrome’ and must of necessity proceed in a synergetic relationship. The dynamics must also involve a modulated counter operation and obtrusive watch over the conduct of forces against any excesses in course of the operation. Chhattisgarh was accused of blatant violation of human rights. Tripura, while containing the three-decade-old insurgency, ensured that no excess was committed. This also helped to prevent any negative perception of the state.

A bullish, hawkish, trigger happy, indiscriminate and militaristic counter-offensive proved unproductive as it alienated the people. A positive mindset, the right vision, sincere intent, nuanced multidimensional strategy, modulated combat operations blended with an aggressive and accelerated development push, governance, grievance redressal mechanism, confidence building measures, backroom channel for dialogue with Maoists, psychological interventions to change the psyche of turbulent minds and, last but not least, a paradigm shift from hawkishness to a thrust on socio-economic infrastructure could be the script to douse the fire of Maoism.

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