Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tackling Maoist terror

The Jehanabad raid involving a virtual army of Maoists that took over the prison freed all inmates, including their comrades who were detained, and killed and kidnapped several upper caste Ranvir Sena activists has, once again, highlighted the failure of the administration to tackle the menace. The war-like siege revealed meticulous planning and smacked of colossal intelligence failure as 1,000 - odd guerillas took control of the town for several hours and conducted their daring operating without being effectively challenged by the police, which had been deployed elsewhere for election purposes. The fury of the attack on the upper caste army, often blamed for committing excesses on lower castes, raised fears of counter retaliation, which has been prevented by rushing Central paramilitary forces to the area. Pamphlets left at the site of the attack spoke of social justice, atrocities on the poor, many of whom are rotting inside jails while the big criminals are going scot free.
Following an earlier attack near Raipur in September, in which 24 security personnel were killed, the Centre had decided, in consultation with the home ministers of states, to work out an action plan to tackle the menace. It was agreed that, side by side with police measures, action would also be taken to improve the socio-economic conditions of the under-privileged. But, there is no evidence yet of a coordinated strategy having been evolved at the national level to persuade the Maoists-Naxals to lay down arms and join the mainstream and action being initiated to remove the cause of injustice to the under-privileged.

Local resistance groups are also being organized to fight the guerillas but the upper caste activists have used them to raise their own armies to perpetuate their feudal hold on the countryside.

The problem has assumed alarming dimensions, with the government having brought 21 more affected districts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa under the Security Related Expenditure Scheme. The Naxals and Maoists have been expanding their operations gradually and now 167 districts in 12 states are affected. Starting from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the so called red corridor runs through several states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. Parliament's Standing Committee had urged the Centre to take the initiative to hold a comprehensive and meaningful dialogue with extremist organizations that abjure violence.

Unfortunately the recommendations of the Committee have not been acted upon and the states are being left free to use their own devices to deal with the problem, which is growing, instead of being controlled. The Centre faces difficulties in dealing with the states ruled by the BJP and its allies and the Communists, who advocate a hard line against the Maoists for their own reasons. The Congress Party too has advocated strong arm measures to curb the insurgents' violent activities, while keeping the doors open for dialogue within the ambit of the Constitution and the law.

Chattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh wants the Centre to come out with a plan for the development of the backward areas to counter extremism in an integrated manner. The governments in the affected states are trying out different strategies and there is no coordinated approach to the problem which had acquired national dimensions. There are complaints about weak intelligence and lack of machinery for redressal of grievances of the poor farmers and landless labour and to tackle violence by upper castes on members of the under-privileged classes who demand a fair deal.

The ban imposed by the Centre on People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre has had no effect on the activities of these outfits. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil insists if regrouping is taking place, efforts would be intensified to ensure violence does not occur. He is not opposed to a dialogue with the rebels to solve the problems and insists there should be no hesitation about it as India was talking to Pakistan also. "Why should we treat talking to out own people as a soft approach? We are prepared to persuade them, remove their grievances and take action as per the law". He admits it is necessary to develop the affected areas and give their people economic, political and social justice. The Naxalites need to be convinced that by killing others they would not achieve anything, but by cooperating in understanding the real situation and proving remedies, they would achieve their objective.

Naxal-Maoist violence has been accentuated by the caste factor. The upper, landed castes in most parts of the country resent when members of the lower castes demand better wages for working on farms, access to village facilities such as, drinking water and schools and equality of opportunity want to acquire land and pursue professions hitherto reserved for the upper castes. In most cases the aggrieved lower castes have no access to justice wether at the hands of the administrators or the lower judiciary. Therefore, they fall an easy prey to the call of the Maoists to take to arms and bring about a socio-economic revolution through violent means. The Maoists manage to control area, redress the grievances of the underprivileged by dispensing ready justice and eliminate members of the upper castes who do not obey their orders.

Broadly speaking the various Naxal and Maoist organizations have a similar set of demands. They blame the police for faking encounters to kill them and get rewarded by the state for miscarriage of justice. They want an end to such encounters, judicial probes into them and stopping police promotions for killing them without provocation. They want land reforms to be implemented speedily, strict implementation of the land ceiling laws and distribution of surplus lands among the landless. All pending irrigation projects should be completed speedily so that farmers get adequate irrigation facilities; all private loans taken by farmers, whose crops fail, should be waived to prevent suicides among them and permanent and integrated plans for tackling drought situations should be drafted. The scores of upper caste armies which justify their existence on the plea of fighting the guerillas should be disbanded because they are committing excesses on the under-privileged classes. They also want setting up of small industries in rural areas to provide employment to the unemployment youth and protect such industries against competition from multinationals. The tribals people's rights on forest land should be recognized, alienation of their land and settling of non-tribals in reserved areas should be stopped. Another demand is to probe the illegal assets and wealth acquired by corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen and make the rich pay their taxes to finances development.

While the methods to enforce these demands may be questionable, there is little to object to in them in the face of a stone-walled bureaucracy and politicians who are influenced more by the affluent and the privileged classes in devising policies which increase rural poverty and indebtedness. The guerillas also seem to realize the futility of continuing violence, but want an honourable settlement based on speedy implementation of their socio-economic demands. Their leaders insist that it is violence by the police in the first instance that leads to counter violence by the Maoists. "Let the repression go and there will be no violence", said one of them, but they would continue to demand strict implementation of the land reforms, which had been sabotaged by powerful vested landed interests in collusion, with obliging politicians, and solutions to a host of their pressing problems and righting the injustices committed on them.

When it is conceded by the Union Home Minister and the Maoist leaders both that the root cause of violence is socio-economic inequality and denial of justice to the rural poor and of their legitimate demands and rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, then where is the scope for conflict? Police measure under way in most states have failed to solve the problem. Actually, the government has played into the hands of anti-national forces by relying solely on police methods and putting other measures on the back-burnet. The result is more violence on both sides, more security personnel getting killed as also Maoists and their sympathisers. Indiscriminate arrests of sympathizers leads to massive harassment and resentment against the administration and strengthens the Naxal movement. This is happening all over, particularly, in the North eastern states where problems have compounded and insurgent outfits proliferated.

It is necessary to separate the problem of externally - sponsored and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism from the indigenous Naxal-Maoist movement; while the former needs to be firmly tackled with all of the resources at the command of the state; the latter must be dealt with sympathetically, because the grievances articulated are regarded genuine by all and must be addressed by a democratic state that relies on people's support. The problem calls for a socio-political approach and principally democratic solutions. Instead of creating more problems for itself, which become chronic and insoluble, a democratic state should go about earnestly and systematically solving them.

MK Dhar, NPA

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