There is only one way out – and it is that the government of India and the Maoists should sit across the table and sort out their differences.
The government has been giving an impression that the Naxal insurrection is going to be vanquished within the next few years. The Union minister of state for home, G. Kishan Reddy, said in the Rajya Sabha on February 10, 2021, that the Left-Wing extremism-related incidents were down by 47 per cent between 2015 and 2020 as compared incidents in the preceding six years from 2009 to 2014, and that the geographical spread of Naxal violence had been contained to 53 districts across 9 states in 2020 as compared to 76 districts across 10 states in 2013.
Home minister Amit Shah, while addressing a meeting of chief ministers of the affected states August 26, 2019, said that government was committed to uprooting Left-wing extremism and urged all the states to adopt a focused, time-bound approach to completely eliminate the problem while also ensuring all-round development of the Naxal-affected areas. It may be recalled that P. Chidambaram as home minister had also asserted in 2010 that “the Centre was confident of overcoming the ultra-Left problem in the next three years through its existing two-pronged policy – development and police action – to deal with the menace in the affected areas”. Later, home minister Rajnath Singh also expressed his optimism that the Naxal problem will be rooted out from the country within the next few years.
The Naxals are definitely down but not out. They retain the capacity to launch lethal attacks on the security forces. This was adequately demonstrated recently when, on March 23, 2021, they blew up a bus carrying security personnel in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh, killing five of them and injuring 15. The Naxal insurrection has survived more than five decades of government onslaught. According to a conservative estimate, about 15,000 lives have been lost in Naxal violence during the last 25 years.
The government must understand that while the Maoist movement can be contained by the security forces, it would be naïve to conclude that it is in the process of crushing the insurrection which has shown a remarkable capacity to reorganize and re-invent itself after any buffetings by the security forces. The death of Charu Mazumdar in 1972 followed by split in the party gave an impression that the movement was as good as over. The formation of the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh in 1980, however, gave a fresh lease of life to the movement and, with Andhra Pradesh as the epicentre, it spread to the adjoining states. The movement again suffered a setback with the arrest of its leader, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, in 1993 and the successful operations undertaken by the police. In 2004, the movement revived again with the merger of the People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), and the formation of CPI (Maoist), which has emerged as the leading Naxal formation wanting to bring about a New Democratic Revolution in India as part of the world proletarian revolution.
The Naxal movement draws its strength from certain socio-economic factors --- large sections of population living below the poverty line, extreme inequalities of income, unemployment on a large scale, neglect of land reforms, rampant corruption, significant groups of tribals feeling disaffected and poor state of governance --- and there are no indications of the aforesaid factors disappearing in the foreseeable future. These problems would continue to haunt the Indian State.
The Naxals, on the other hand, should also understand that they can never achieve their aim of overthrowing the Indian State. The Indian State is no banana republic. It packs enormous strength; it destroyed terrorism in the Punjab, contained the insurgency in Nagaland, and prevailed upon the rebel Mizos to negotiate and agree to be part of the Indian Union. The Maoists can fight for any number of years, but that would only mean loss of precious lives and suffering to the tribals inhabiting central India.
There is only one way out – and it is that the government of India and the Maoists should sit across the table and sort out their differences. Earlier, peace talks were held between the People’s War and state government of Andhra Pradesh in 2002 at the initiative of a Committee of Concerned Citizens. Three rounds of talks were held but there could be no agreement on substantive issues. The People’s War later withdrew from the talks in protest against the alleged brutal repression of Naxals by the state police.
In 2010, the government of India made overtures to bring the Maoists to the negotiating table. The government offered that the security forces operations would be stopped if the Maoists abjure violence and decide to have peace talks. Ganapathy, then general secretary of CPI (Maoists), in a statement released to the Press on November 9, 2010, asked the government to prove it’s bona fide by stopping Operation Greenhunt, withdrawing the paramilitary forces, releasing the Maoist leaders from jail, and lifting the ban on CPI (Maoist) and its mass organisations. The matter ended there.
There are some efforts to revive the peace process now. In Bastar, the tribals have been expressing their desire for peace. An 11-day peace march was organised by Shubhranshu Choudhary, a journalist-turned-activist, from Abujmaad in Narayanpur district on March 12 and, after covering a distance of 222 km, concluding at Raipur on March 22. About 150 tribals from Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Telangana participated in the march where the slogan was ‘Bastar maange hinsa se azadi’ (Bastar demands freedom from violence). On February 23, a meeting called Chaikle Maandi, which in Gondi language means meeting for peace and prosperity, was held in the Press Club of Raipur. Significantly, the gathering included those who had suffered at the hands of Naxals and also those who had suffered at the hands of police. They all unequivocally spoke for peace.
The harsh truth is that the tribals are today sandwiched between the two warring groups of State Police and Central Armed Police Forces on the one hand and the Maoist guerrillas on the other.
The chief minister of Chhattisgarh is on record as having said, soon after his installation in 2018, that the policy of bullet for bullet had failed miserably and that it was time to give a new thought to the problem. He conceded that Naxalism is a socio-economic and political issue and said that there was “need to initiate a dialogue with the affected people, mainly of Bastar, and all other stakeholders on how to bring an end to violence”. However, perhaps for political reasons, he seems to have since modified his stand.
In any case, peace with the Maoists would require the intervention and participation of the government of India. The home ministry should view the problem in a historical perspective and appreciate that it can be resolved only by following the principles of concede, compromise and collaborate. The government of India is today in a position to hold out the olive branch. Such a gesture would not be an admission of weakness. The government today holds the upper hand and, therefore, any such move would be considered magnanimous. There has been much blood-letting. It is time to heal the Naxal wounds, time to usher in a new dawn.
(The writer is author of The Naxalite Movement in India. The book has been translated into French. An abridged version of the book has been published in USA)