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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Effective Ways of dealing with Maoist Extremism: Military Force, Development or Both?

Sunday 24 December 2017

by Jayanta Kumar Dab


India has been taken by everybody seriously across the globe because of its respect for democratic principles as well as secular values. These, by and large, have been the greatest factors for establishing its status as a future global leader. It is very vast both in area and population but it has left no stone unturned to maintain an exemplary image of unity amidst diversity—be it of religions, communities, sects, political parties, ideologies and thoughts. But, managing the country’s law and order has always been a huge challenge for the people at the helm of power owing to the size of its population.

India, however, despite being a very large country, has been able to maintain its democratic credentials since independence amid all sorts of threats—both internal and external, whereas its other neighboring countries have hitherto been unable to prove their consistent regard for democratic values. The democratic status of India has been threatened on several occasions in different periods no doubt, but it has succeeded in quelling the disruptive forces from both outside and inside from time to time. Today, nobody can deny the fact that India has done its level best to deal with external threats like Jehadi terrorism and internal threats like Maoism. Whether the Indian state has succeeded in tackling these threats upto a satisfactory level or not is a matter of debate. But, still the Maoists have at present intensified their attacks against politicians, police officers, security forces, civilians, and land as well as business owners.

For the past several years, the problem of Left-wing extremism has emerged as a major internal security challenge for India. The extremists, professing a pro-tribal outlook and with an avowed objective of overthrowing the present system of government through an armed revolution, have been able to pose a serious threat of governance and development. Armed violence by these extremists, predominantly belonging to the CPI-Maoist, peaked in 2009 when intelligence sources informed that they were active in almost 230 districts of the country, amounting to more than one-third of India’s geographical area. Their zone of operation witnessed large scale violence targeting the state and what the Maoists describe as ‘state sympathisers’.

The CPI-Maoist or simply “Maoists” came into limelight as a result of the 2004 merger between two Left-wing extremist organisations —the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), which was active in central India, and the People’s War Group (PWG), which was mostly active in the southern Indian States. The CPI-Maoist continues to remain the most dominant and violent outfit among the various Left-wing extremist groups, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the total Left-wing extremist incidents and 95 per cent of resultant killings. Their capacity to kill and attack, rather massacre, has reached a deadliest high. It may be unwise to understand and approach the problem by linking it only with the Left-wing ideology; rather it is movement for survival, an issue of India versus Bharat; shining versus backward, toiling, half-naked, and malnourished; modernity versus traditionalism; a few versus majority; and at large state versus society.

However, today, every human being wonders: why a human being, the most outstanding creation of God, is compelled to give his life for something or someone. This is not easy to explain. Today, the Maoists are taking others’ lives and in this process they are prepared to give their own lives too. To understand this, there is a need to go beyond the pale of the blame-game. To me, creation of a parallel system is a reaction to the prevailing state of afairs, the outcome of long-term grievances and dissatis-faction with the existing system. In fact, it is a by-product of the vacuum created out of a sense of insecurity and estrangement of common persons from the functioning of the system as a whole. To make the system function a lot of resources has to be spent. Even spending cannot be regarded as a major challenge but the real challenge is to regain the lost confidence of the people.

Moreover, ensuring confidence and retaining it for a longer period is the greatest challenge for good governance. A common person always wants has life to be safe and hassle-free; and his basic requirements to be fulfilled. He surrenders his rights to the state precisely to have an assurance of protection of his life and rights. And any breach in this regard, for whatever reason, is bound to create massive threat for the state and its organisations. By and large, when common persons start to feel insecure, then problems of internal security become intractable. With this assumption, the present study seeks to suggest ways of dealing with the menace. This study will help policy-makers and administrators in taking necessary steps to deal with it effectively. This article provides a useful reading for bureaucrats, politicians, security forces, intelligence agencies, academicians and students of political science.

Suggested Recommendations to tackle the Maoist Problem: Force, Development or Both?

Wide-ranging suggestions for an optional response have been made by analysts, activists and experts. Organisations which the govern-ment considers to be pro-Maoist categorise the official approach to deal with Maoist extremism as a war unleashed by the Indian state on the hapless tribals. They allege that the government is merely interested in the natural resources lying buried in the lands inhabited by tribals and is trying to cleanse the area of tribal presence on behalf of the multinational corpo-rations (MNCs), with whom it has signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). Even the official development initiatives have been termed as ‘soft counter-insurgency’ methods by these activists. They prescribe that the govern-ment should leave the tribal population alone. Apart from the fact that stopping mining and exploration of natural resources is an unviable proposition for India’s growing economy, such suggestions gloss over the fact that the CPI-Maoist has an avowed objective of replacing the current structure of governance with a people’s government. Even though, in real terms, this objective appears grossly unrealistic, the CPI-Maoist’s capacity to pose a major hurdle for official developmental activity in remote areas is a reality.

Another group of experts opines that dialogue with the Maoists and development of the tribal areas, rather than a military solution, is the way out of the current mess. This approach too is untenable, given the fact that Maoists have either resisted attempts at negotiation or have used the peace process to recoup and regroup. Similarly, suggestions have also been made to use land reforms and bring about changes in the laws that secure the rights of the tribal population over forests. Land reforms has remained a contentious issue in many States invoking divergent policies from the govern-ments. While several States have not bothered to take any steps towards land reforms, in some like Andhra Pradesh, where the need for land reforms has been accepted, entrenched stake-holders have slowed down the process consi-derably. The Central Government has initiated several schemes and passed legislations aimed at empowering the tribals. But the growing criminalisation in the Maoist ranks has severely limited the impact of such measures on the level of extremism.

On the other hand, a separate group of experts favouring a security force-led response underline the need to strengthen the State police forces as an effective model of counter-insurgency rather than depending on the Central forces. However, given the poor state of police forces in the affected States, this approach appears to be highly ambitious and may take years to implement. Therefore, an effective approach to deal with the Maoist problem may contain the following:

I. The country has to arrive at a consensus on the kind of approach it wishes to pursue against the extremists. Whether it is purely military, developmental or a judicious mix of both has to be decided by national-level brain-storming. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will have to be at the forefront of building such a consensus. Merely supporting the state governments by providing funds and forces is inadequate.

II. Since problems in formulating a counter-Maoist policy as well as in dealing with the issue on a day-to-day basis are sourced to the lack of Centre-State cooperation, a permanent institutional mechanism in the form of a coordination centre can be established to thrash out emerging differences. A coordination centre does currently exist within the MHA, but requires the active participation of State representatives to ensure smoother coordination.

III. While development is a useful tool against Maoist extremism, it is imperative that a semblance of order precedes injection of resources into the extremist-affected areas. As exemplified by India’s experience in other conflict theatres like the North-East, without some level of security, conflict-ridden areas resemble bottom-less pits. Without local capacities to absorb the available resources and an accom-panying mechanism for accountability, funds simply disappear into the coffers of the extremists, politicians, bureaucrats and the contractors. Here again, careful monitoring is essential.

IV. Maoists have exploited tribal disenchant-ment against government apathy lasting over decades. It is essential that the official approach be based on an effective policy of communication that not just brandishes the extremists as essentially bad, but is also honest about its own honourable intentions.

V. It is not the security forces, State or Central, but local political leadership which will act as a primary resistance force against a cleared area relapsing into extremism. Every step must be taken for the resumption of political activity in the affected areas. Holding elections for institutions of local self-government could be the first step in this regard, followed by the strengthening of these institutions with additional financial and decision-making power. This would ameliorate the reality of alienation among the affected population, thereby making them genuine stakeholders in maintaining peace and promoting development.

VI. According to a veteran police officer, ‘‘unless you give back to the tribals the rights which are legitimately theirs, they will continue to be goaded by the Maoists’’. Inherent in his approach was the endeavour to unveil the political dimension of the problem. Without such a political perspective mere reliance on military means to fight Maoist insurgency will come a cropper.

VII. It must be reiterated that ‘‘more effective’’ (military) strategies to defeat the insurgency cannot succeed unless these are intertwined with the adoption of ‘‘innovative’’ (political) means to handle the problem, means that are fully compatible with the democratic aspirations of the people at the grassroots, the original inhabitants or adivasis who have been kept out of the development process and are now in the firm grip of the Maoists who are using them to realise their political aims.

VIII. The solution of the Maoist problem lies in providing economic security to the people rather than military security to the ruling class. While the police forces need to be well equipped to face the Maoist challenge, special attention is urgently required to accelerate the pace of development and removal of mass poverty of the backward and underdeveloped parts of the States. At the political level special initiatives need to be taken to start dialogues with the rebels to bring them to the mainstream of the society. In this context, it is worth mentioning here that the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, had appointed interlocutors on July 7, 2011, for talks with Maoists. The interlocutors were of the view that in spite of all obstacles, dialogue was the only solution to the issue. Some signs of solution were also visible on November 17, 2011,when two hard-core Maoists, one of whom had been alleged to be actively involved in the Silda Camp killing in 2010, surrendered before the police. They were the Maoist couple, Jagori Baskey and Rajaram Soren. This surrender came at a time when Ms Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to restore peace seemed to be at the crossroads. The truth revealed by the Maoist couple, Jagori and Rajaram, throws some light on the state of Maoist ideology going astray. They had said they surrendered after they realised that the path that they had been coerced and misled into taking was not the right one. According to the couple, Maoists were torturing the very people they were ideologically bound to protect. It was this wrong-doing on their part which led to the return of the couple to the mainstream. Today, this way is more effective to deal with the Maoist problem. Therefore, today, it needs to be followed up as a mission in a dedicated way, making the rebels convinced of their misdeeds.

IX. Whether to talk to the Maoists or not has been a matter of much discussion with and out-side the government. Once a former Home Minister of UPA-II had been on record as saying that there could be no talks unless the Maoists abjured violence. How can they abjure violence when the police and security forces are hunting them? Violence can only be abjured when both sides agree to a ceasefire. Asking them to lay down arms before a deal is signed or the insurgents are defeated is unrealistic. This has not happened anywhere in the world. It is true that talking helps in understanding each other’s views and limitations and assists in finding a peaceful solution. Talks can be held at informal levels through intermediaries and without pre-conditions.

But, the crux of the problem facing the Maoists is how they would really go about the whole process of talks. Even if the State agrees to hold talks without stipulating preconditions like making the Maoists lay down arms (as had actually happened in Andhra Pradesh), the question remains as to what the Maoists would really talk about. Evidently, the Maoists are not in a position of strength where they can force the State to make any strategic concession or agree to a calibrated transition to some new order preferred by them. The talks will invariably have to focus on specific issues like release of political prisoners, implementation of land reforms, issues of rural development, cancellation of specific projects and so on. But even if the Maoists succeed in securing some assurance or agreement from the State, how would they ensure the implementation of what the State promises?

X. A common surrender and rehabilitation policy for surrendering militants is essential. The policy should cover cash incentives for surrendering with different types of arms and surrendering without arms. The policy should also lay down the rehabilitation policy like absorbing them into State Police, paramilitary forces, providing other employment and offering self-employment schemes. Because it must be remembered that the adivasis are unlikely to have any faith in the police or security forces unless there are adequate numbers of them in these forces. It is also desirable that the adivasis are employed in the State administrative services. This may require some relaxation in selection norms but unless there is adequate represen-tation of adivasis in the State administrative services, there will be no bonding between the State administration and its people.

XI. The Maoist insurgency cannot be defeated unless the causes which drive the insurgency can be removed. At the State level, the causes which drive the Maoist insurgency can be removed. At the State level, the causes which drive the insurgency are restoration of land and forest rights of the adivasis, stopping atrocities on the adivasis and Dalits by the upper castes and police. The State governments must publicly adopt these issues as the primary aims of the State. These steps will definitely improve popular support for the governments. In this context, a few actions are suggested to prove intent and increase popular support like: a) allow the village ‘‘sarpanch’’ or headman to issue permits to villagers to go into the forest; b) issue instructions to police and forest officials not to harass adivasis or Dalits and establish helplines to enable complaints to be registered and take exemplary action against the offenders; c) stop acquisition of adivasi land for industrial projects which are resisted by the Maoists and the local population unless two-third of the population approves it. Acquisitions which are in progress should be held in abeyance and fresh environmental studies conducted; d) ensure effective functioning of the Public Distribution System. The rations and kerosene should be distributed from village school in the presence of the ‘‘sarpanch’’. Mobile shops should be set up to distribute those to remote villages.

XII. Providing good governance to the poorer sections of the society is one of the pillars to defeat the Maoists. According to critics, has any political leader ever tried to define what good governance is? Good governance means that the rule of law must prevail, the government must maintain law and order and essential services, people must have access to basic necessities of life like clean drinking water, health care, education, electricity, and livelihood and there must be social justice. Is there any State in India, Maoist-affected or otherwise, where there is good governance? Therefore, the State govern-ments in the Maoist-controlled areas must do the best they can and where they cannot they should hand over the responsibility to the village headmen and panchayats if they are adivasis. This way, the blame will not be on the State governments.

XIII. A compensation policy for security forces personnel, civilians, and Maoists killed or injured in operations is needed. The compensation for the families of Maoists killed is extremely important as it sends out the signal that the government does not consider the Maoists to be enemies but misguided members of the society and provides a healing touch.

XIV. The intellectuals of our country seem to be in favour of the Chief Ministers of all the Maoist-hit States renewing their efforts to counter the menace. They want that the security forces should be given a free hand and allowed to get the rest of the dreaded gang, including CPI-Maoist General Secretary Muppala Laxamana Rao, Prashanta Bose, Katakam Sudarshan, Mallojula Venugopal and Mallarajji Reddy. If the top leaders are eliminated, the so-called ‘‘revolution’’ will wither away.

XV. It must be remembered that the Maoists cannot be defeated by the gun alone. The State Government and security forces must win the confidence of the adivasis and gain their support. In this context, former Prime Minister Dr Monmahan Singh has said that the systematic and prolonged exploitation and harassment of the adivasis must stop. The government must show zero tolerance to such exploitation and punish the guilty. The Central Government should also instruct the States to implement the NREGA schemes in backward adivasi-inhabited areas fully and faithfully. Maoists are not against the NREGA. Ensure all those who want to work under the NREGA. The money should distri-buted in the presence of five educated adivasis who should sign the vouchers.

XVI. Today, it is needed to accept and implement police reforms. According to political analysts, the Indian police is perhaps the most corrupt, inefficient and undisciplined organisation. They are also the subject of constant manipulation by the political leaders. Their ways of functioning are steeped in the arrogance of their colonial predecessors. Unless this changes, law and order cannot improve. And, the way the police functions will not change unless all political parties and their leaders accept police reforms. On the other hand, it is noted that the police has to play a proactive role to win the support of the villagers. In this context, the public relations campaign started by the police in the Maoist-affected districts in West Bengal is noteworthy. At the initiative of Mamata Banerjee’s government, the West Bengal Police is organising rural sports and games, tribal functions, entertainment programmes, magic shows and free medical camps in the Jungle-mahal area in order to win the confidence of the people in the police force and to shed the latter’s image as exploters as viewed by the backward masses. Therefore, the police in the Maoist- affected States should be encouraged to follow the path of the West Bengal Police.

 Nowadays, a few politicians of our country often change their stand on the Maoists dramatically after coming to power. We have many examples of this like N.T. Rama Rao, Janardhan Reddy, Laloo Prasad, Sibhu Soren and so on. Almost every political party, except the BJP, has tried to take advantage of the Maoists presence to win a few more seats and has turned against them after coming to power. But, probably, there is no point in blaming politicians for this, for they don’t have the option of allowing the Maoists to challenge the writ of the state by violent means. However, unless the political parties agree to the policy and action plan for dealing with the Maoist insurgency, they may completely reverse the policy and undo the achievement of the previous government and provide a new lease of life to the Maoist insurgency. Can you imagine a situation where a district is liberated from Maoist control by the security forces after five years of operation and a hundred casualties to the security forces and their collaborators and the forces are withdrawn allowing the Maoists to re-establish control and wreck vengeance on the population just because the next State or Central Government wants to adopt some other approach? This would be an absolute disaster. It will demoralise the police and the security forces who sacrificed their blood and sweat to regain control of the area. It will encourage and reinvigorate the Maoists and increase their will to strike. The population will lose its will to resist. Unless the politicians and political parties can sink their differences on vital aspects of dealing with the Maoist insurgency, India will continue to bleed and anarchy will continue to prevail over the “Red Corridor”. Therefore, the political parties must arrive at a consensus on ways to tackle the problem. The political consensus should be signed by all the political parties, both national and regional, and published in all newspapers as public information.

Side by side, unless the Central and State Council of Ministers understand the funda-mentals of insurgency and counter-insurgency operations and accept that it is not a law and order problem that can be settled by brute force of the security forces, India is unlikely to make any progress against the Maoists. Departing from its traditional carrot-and-stick approach on the Maoist issue, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs should now look for a long-term solution to tackle the radical Communist insurgency and win back the confidence of tribal people in the Maoist strongholds. Otherwise, internationali-sation of the issue will continue to show India in poor light. Therefore, India needs a pragmatic, symbiotic, long-term strategy and action plan to tackle the problem. It has to build a national consensus on the ways to tackle the problem.

Concluding Comments

For decades, adivasis have fought the Government of India and the governments as a last ditch response to socio-political and economic exploi-tation. Very commonly, police, forest guards and officials bully and intimidate adivasis and large numbers of them are routinely arrested and jailed. The government must find ways to empower the marginalised sections of the population as this would provide equitable economic growth which is the best way to deal with the Maoist slogan of “people’s war for people’s government”. But, where the rule of law and social justice does not exist, the Maoists will step in to restore constitutional order with regard to the legal rights of the adivasis and weaker sections of the society. In this context, it is noted that under Article 244 of the Indian Constitution, scheduled areas were established in the Fifth Schedule where all administrative and executive powers were to be in the hands of the native people or adivasis. In view of this, Maoists claim to be fighting for the rights granted to them under the Constitution. Therefore, it is needed to create Autonomous Councils under the Fifth Schedule to ensure political empowerment of the adivasis.

In the ultimate analysis, a policy of reinte-gration of the Maoist people into the mainstream should be seen from an integrated approach and any piecemeal effort is bound to further aggravate the situation. The countrymen are requesting both the policy-makers and imple-menters of law, please don’t take these issues lightly as today it is affecting the common persons, tomorrow it will destroy you and your family: a family for which so many things are being deliberately neglected. The government must remember, the operations are being conducted against those who are our own people, they are very much a part of us; and at the same time the Maoists must realise that they are killing their own people. Every act of violence or killing is condemnable, irrespective of who the perpetrator is. The life of every individual is precious. As we are still in a lower stage of civilisation, we try to impose concepts of legality or morality on the acts of violence. That, in fact, helps both sides, in our case the Maoists and the governments, to justify their acts of violence. Common people remain sandwiched between the Maoists and the State forces, between dreams and harsh realities, between aspirations and indignity.

Today, the Maoists must realise that their efforts could bring about a temporary parallel government but cannot create an alternative to the welfare state in this modern globalised world. And, the Maoists will have to understand that the age of the totalitarian regime they want to establish is long over. If they believe in brute force, they will be answered by brute force. It will be a never-ending war. If the two sides do not understand what compromises they will have to make, the lives of tens of millions will be at stake for, perhaps, many decades.

But it is high-time the Maoists also rethink their politics. Kishenji and Azad’s death should lead them to some serious introspection. They have not achieved much by their over-dependence on arms. They have a large support- base in the central and central-eastern part of the country, but they cannot protect their supporters. The guerrilla war they are waging will kill many of them, many dedicated workers who could be assets in our political system. Therefore, the Maoists should be realistic and try to join the mainstream by giving up their fascination for armed struggle and stop thinking that they will some day succeed in shaking the democratic foundation of the country. On the other hand, the authorities should explore the possibility of accommodating the Maoists as a radical party in the democratic process. And, the Maoists should follow the path of the Left parties which opted for the democratic method and came to power in Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal. Side by side, they should give up day-dreaming about India’s transformation into a Marxist state. It has been and will remain a democratic state.

Last, but not the least, India cannot hope to be a strong and vibrant country when a third of its heartland, which contains 80 per cent of its mineral resources and much of its road and rail communications and about 10 per cent of its population, remains outside government control. The Maoist problem has to be solved. The Central Government and governments of the affected States are beginning to realise the gravity of the situation. But that is not enough. The governments must have the will and wherewithal to deal with the problem, defeat the Maoists and win over the adivasis by treating them as equal citizens of India and putting an end to centuries-old exploitation of adivasis by non-adivasis and giving them their rightful dues.

Finally, it can be said that the Maoist problem cannot be solved by military operations aimed at killing the Maoists. It is essentially a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. It can only be solved by removing the causes of alienation and winning the hearts and minds of the adivasis and Dalits. The problem of Maoist violence should be understood in the proper perspective and handled politically and adminis-tratively rather than by using brute police force and also by implementing the constitutional provisions for Dalits and adivasis that have so far been ignored.


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Dr Jayanta Kumar Dab is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tamralipta Mahavidyalaya, Purba Medinipur (West Bengal). He can be contacted at e-mail: dab.jayanta[at]gmail.com

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