The battle has an ideological dimension, but there is no need to overstate it or counter it with right-wing political groups.
The recent setback to anti-Naxal operations (ANO) in Chhattisgarh, where 22 personnel of Central para-military forces (CPMFs) were killed in an encounter with Maoists in the Dandakaranya forest of Bastar region, is undoubtedly a grim reminder of our security forces’ repeated failure to measure up to the challenges posed by the guerrillas. It must force the ANO strategists, particularly in Chhattisgarh, to rethink their approach to the battle.
As rightly said by senior RSS leader Ram Madhav (‘Meet the doctrinal challenge’, IE, April 13), the battle doesn’t have only a military solution but a counter-ideological one. There is no denying that the Maoists indoctrinate their captive audience, mostly poor and illiterate tribals who have remained on the fringes of socio-economic changes and are hardly able to make informed choices about their worldview. Madhav, however, doesn’t stop at this claim and suggests that the government should involve civil society, that is Gandhians and the RSS, to free the Maoist supporters from the clutches of their ideological masters. Involving civil society is a good idea but to suggest in the same breath involvement of two diametrically opposite ideologies to woo the people in Maoist influence areas not only defies logic but is also deeply problematic.
Let’s first get our basic ideas clear. The Maoist insurgency is more of a law and order problem than an ideological one. It is always so in areas in the throes of insurgency of any kind. We shouldn’t overstate the tribal support for Maoists being ideological rather than being a largely forced one or one that has to do with their daily struggles of life during which the state hardly plays an assuaging role. On the contrary, the state inflicts or tends to inflict what many non-Maoist and even anti-Maoist activists call state violence. The tribals still feel unsafe when the police enter their villages during ANOs. Clearly, support for the Maoists, forced or voluntary, is a product of state’s failure to reach out to them rather than being one born out of some commitment to the Maoist ideology. Interviews by journalists, including this writer, with several former high-ranking Maoist cadres have underscored their naive understanding about the basic tenets of Communist or Maoist thought. It always comes across as some kind of rote learning that struggles to respond to posers they were never exposed to.
Once varied choices of world views are made available to them, the so-called Maoist indoctrination will start wearing thin. That their perceived commitment to Maoists is more existential than ideological has been proven time and again with tribal youths queueing up by hundreds during police recruitment drives in Naxal-affected districts.
Thus, although the ideological factor does play a role in swelling the Maoist ranks, there is no need to overstate it and no urgency for a counter-ideological blitz, least of it from the religious right. Actually, involving organisations like the RSS will only complicate matters. Reasons are not far to seek. The RSS is focused on religious revivalism. It insists that tribals are Hindus. Concerns of people in the so-called Red Corridor have, however, have nothing to do with religion. We don’t have anything to offer to them in terms of religion as they do have their pristine religious practices that have more to do with tribal culture than with mainstream Hindu culture.
The real concerns of the captive populations under Maoist control are of bread and butter on one hand and the existential crisis engendered by being torn between Maoists and civic and police administration on the other. Caught between the proverbial devil-and-deep-sea, they are nobody’s people.
So, let’s be clear that if we must put an end to the violent Maoist movement, we must go by the time-tested “clear and hold” strategy.
The government must keep penetrating deeper into Dandakaranya, which arguably is the last bastion of Maoists. There is no reason to believe that the Maoists power hasn’t depleted and they are still a force to reckon with. It is a well documented fact that they have been marginalised in various states, thanks to intensive ANOs carried out by a determined and competent police force like the greyhounds in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. Dandakaranya is their last bastion but there, too, the security forces have made deep inroads. Of course that has come at a huge cost with thousands of common men, security personnel and political leaders being killed. But for that, repeated mistakes and errors of judgement by strategists and security forces are responsible. These failures, too, have often been well-documented to merit any repetition here. It’s just that it will take a bit longer to defeat the Maoists in their stronghold in a war that’s so heavily asymmetrical.
Having said that any attempt to introduce forces like the RSS into the Maoist hinterland to counter insurgents is fraught with dangers of only invigorating the trouble. Maoists are ideologically opposed to even Gandhian philosophy and their hatred for the RSS-BJP is well known. The Gandhian ideology at least believes in non-violence and can potentially be an antidote to Maoist violence. But the RSS believes in reactionary violence that is now threatening to blow up into full-scale proactive violence against all its adversaries. This proactive violence has already acquired forms of vigilantism as witnessed in several cases of anti-minority violence in the country during the past seven years. Clearly, putting one vigilante force against the other is never likely to succeed as has been proved by the infamous Salva Judum movement in Chhattisgarh, which had resulted in a terrible fratricide among tribals. It’s too well-known a fact that Salva Judum only strengthened the Maoist hands with hundreds of its victims joining the Naxal ranks. It is also pertinent to note that Salva Judum was actively sponsored by a BJP government in Chhattisgarh.
Forget defeating the Maoists in a field war in Dandkaranya, right-wing vigilantism will also hugely strengthen their urban bases. Right-wing violence invariably alienates affected sections of the society, who need some refuge somewhere for their defence. The Maoists offer it like no one else in the present circumstances when the mainstream political opposition has failed to provide them any security against the vigilante groups supported by the powers that be. So, far from introducing the RSS as a counter to the Maoists, we need to rein in the right-wing zealots first if we are serious about neutralising Maoism