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Mainstream, VOL L No 27, June 23, 2012

Does the State resolve the Maoist ‘threat’?

Wednesday 27 June 2012


This article is about contextualising the People’s Court decision to release Chhattisgrah MLA Jhina Hikaka in a democratic process. The nature and process of trial are unknown to the public; however, it creates a public perception that the movement has some democratic values to impart. There is absolutely no clarity on the government response as well.

The MLA was later released and the Maoists reported as saying that he has undergone trial under the Public Court of the tribals. This could theoretically fit into the process of a functional democracy. In a larger political debate, this public trial is a democratic process and it has been reported that the MLA agreed to resign as per the People’s Court verdict on poor development. There is no report on the Maoist demand for release the tribals who have been detained under multiple cases. What are the charges registered against them? What are the consequences of the abduction and later release? This issue sends a message to the general public that many tribal people are facing sedition charges. Moreover, this is perhaps the first time in the country that a movement demanded the release of tribals from the state’s legal action. The People’s Court could be a the first step towards this; at least it can send a message to the state that Adivasis have the capacity to determine what they want and what democracy according to them is. However, the MLA has not yet resigned; according to him, “I have left it (matter of resignation) to the Chief Minister whether to continue as the MLA of Laxmipur. I have not taken any decision on my own in this regard so far”. ( His resignation on this issue could be political; if the state accepts the reason, he would mention it in the resignation letter.

The MLA is not the only person who is responsible for poor development; and the system to which he belongs does not have an institutional mechanism to look into tribal affairs. Both the MLA and District Collector are part of the government on which the Maoists have no faith.

Armed struggle is not always wrong. History itself has proved the inevitability of armed movements. The Indian freedom movement too was not just Gandhian all the time. There were many who had sacrificed their lives, of course they were not successful, but the effort and values they had put in the freedom movement were unparalleled. This argument is not sufficient to justify the Maoists’ proclaimed armed struggle against the state and the anti-Maoist operations of the state are also not justifiable under any circumstances. The state is fighting for protecting an unequal democratic value and in that context the Maoists’ fight has an ideological base to discuss

GOVERNMENT documents always tell that Maoists are mobilising the tribals against the state. It means there are problems in democratic institu-tions reaching out to the tribes. Besides, the Maoist literature talks about land reform, which has completely disappeared from the mainstream political discourse including of the Left parties. Both Right and Left parties have a number of reasons to say no to land reform. Some of these are seen ‘pragmatic’ with reference to the new economic value of surplus/undistributed land. Another set of issues which has equally disappeared from the mainstream discourse relate ‘caste’ and ‘caste-based violence’.

Maoists’ argument against democratic institutions in the country is also valid. We have fundamental rights protected and freedom of speech allowed by the Constitution. However, 65 years of parliamentary democratic experience have not made any substantial change in the quality of life of the majority. Of course this statement seems a bit ‘overstated’; however, it could be articulated in another perspective: that the presence of the state as a democratic institution has not yet reached all sections of the general public. The people’s court, upheld by the Maoists, is an odd concept in a democracy like India; nonetheless, the decision which was taken in order to release the abducted MLA was not an odd one. The mainstream political parties have no ideological lens to look at these issues. In fact nobody is referring the provision of self-rule envisaged in the Indian Constitution in the tribal areas.

All of them are depending upon the functional rationality of contemporary development for solutions. The structural limitations of current development practices seldom get due notice in these debates. Political rights and ‘development’ are moving in different directions. The philosophy of state intervention in development is being de-focused. The maximum support the state can extend to the society is to ensure minimum support for sustenance. For instance, the Prime Minster’s Fellowship Programme, National Rural Livelihood Mission Programme, MNREGA etc. are aimed at ensuring the ‘presence of the state’ in Naxal-affected areas, and there must be at least bare minimum support for such presence.
However, the biggest challenge to these programmes is the class-neutral approach. The first priority of these programmes is to ensure that it will not lead to land struggle. Otherwise the state itself would be forced to withdraw these programmes. It seems that the larger issue remains unresolved. I wish to refer to some of the recent thinking on this issue, for instance Prof Nandini Sundar’s argument of three new States to resolve the Maoist problem. She has proposed three States: a) Dandakaranya State (Gadchiroli, Bastar, Koraput, Adilabad), b) Greater Jharkhand, and, c) Bhilistan.1 She has suggested these as part of the larger strategy to resolve the Maoist issue under the ‘conflict resolution theory’. She recommends “referendums on land use (whether for agriculture, forests, mining); all royalties from mining to go to the local people if they agree to mining in the first place; implementation of PESA; schooling in adivasi languages; community radio and media in adivasi languages”. These are not new to the Indian governing system; however, the problem is the larger attempt to thwart the implementation of these by the state itself. For instance, PESA has not been properly implemented and also the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution in tribal areas, that is, Tribal Gramasabha. If the Tribal Gramasabha had been introduced effectively, the Niyamgiri conflict would not have happened.

The larger environmental and economic interest of mining has also been neglected. The concept of profit sharing has also been recomm-ended in The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 2010. According the Act, “allot free shares equal to twentysix per cent in the company through the promoter’s quota in case the holder of the lease is a company, or, an annuity equal to 26 per cent of the profit after tax in case the holder of the lease is a person, on account of annual compensation”.

The fact is that these recommendations are already there; however, all of them have seemed technical in nature. The institutions to implement these recommendations also exist, but there is no political will.

There are many ‘deliberate absences’ in the implementations of developmental programmes in the tribal areas. These absences are getting reflected in problems like mining, forest diversion, and access to natural resources the tribal community. The fact is that solutions suggested by Prof Sundar and the government are not attempts for addressing the root cause of the problem; however, this article is not trying to de-value these solutions completely. The state is sidelining the basic issue and contextualising tribal issues in accordance with its conveniences. For example, education in the tribal language would not have come up at this point, if there had been moves to ensure proper access to education. This is in fact an ambiguous and outsider view. Language is power; however the power of the tribal language is limited only to that class which would not ensure partici-pation in the mainstream power structure. The cultural identity of the adivasi has to be protected, but this sort of education would undermine a resistance culture.

Maoists often claim that they are fighting for development. If they want development by the state, then they have to accept the fact that the state has no solutions except the above mentioned minimum programmes. Fighting with the state for larger social change has lost its due political importance in the mainstream discourse; so in that sense what the Maoists are claiming needs to be given proper attention to. No mainstream political force is engaging in mobilising the people for the larger social issue. However, too much militarisation also reduces the mobilisation capacity of the Maoists. The actual political solution lies somewhere in between.


1. In her keynote address in the international round table conducted by Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management, TISS from April 17 to 19.

S. Mohammed Irshad, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor, Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Mana-gement, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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