First Person | Left Scare

Even without the foreign hand, Naxalism has increased its reach in India

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

There has been hesitancy on the part of the Indian establishment to label Naxalism/Maoism as terrorism. At best it is labelled as Left-wing extremism, despite statistics showing that more security personnel have been killed in Maoist-related violence in the last three years than either in Kashmir or the Northeast. Moreover, Naxalism afflicts 14 states of central India (which forms the reservoir of India’s forest and mineral resources) and is not fuelled or directly supported by any foreign country. In a conference organised in February 2007 in Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, the state that has been bearing the maximum brunt of Maoist violence for the last year and a half, analysts and experts of various hues called it a national challenge and not a law and order problem as the Central government likes to see it as. One overenthusiastic panellist even drew an unnerving scenario of what may happen if the Maoists enter urban areas, like Mumbai, for instance.

Yet, government’s dilemma is understandable. For years, Maoists shared an emotional relationship with the mainstream communist parties of India. But more than that, all through the nearly 40 years of Naxal armed struggle, there has been a realisation that these dispossessed people have a genuine grievance which needed to be addressed. With the Forest Act of India, all forest land and its produce was nationalised and deemed as national property, rendering millions of forest dwellers and tribals homeless and robbed of their means of sustenance.

They were now criminals, poachers and traffickers, whose only fault was that they continued doing what they had done for generations and all that they ever knew as way of life. Over time, they certainly became offenders, as forest officers would ask for their share of the pie and future Naxalites discovered the art of bribery. Once they learnt the ways of modern, democratic and rising India, it wasn’t long before they also learnt the art of switching from being victimised to victimising. The cause was there, all they needed were firebrand leaders and resources. All this is not a state secret. The Naxal/Maoist movement’s past, present and future is discussed threadbare in various foras. Many research students have earned their doctorates on the subject. With so much work on this, it is really a wonder that no government has yet reached an understanding about how to address this issue. In September 2005, the Union home minister convened the first meeting of the standing committee of the state chief ministers to discuss the Maoist problem and how the states could cooperate with one another by sharing intelligence and probably even conducting joint operations. At the end of the brain-storming session, what emerged was predictable: hard economics and hard policing was the Central government’s advice to the states.

Anyhow, hard economics, which meant addressing the grievances of the affected people and working towards their socio-economic development somehow fell by the wayside and was completely replaced by hard policing. Andhra Pradesh showed the way by creating the deadly commando force called the Greyhounds and nearly crushing the movement within. Slipping through the state boundaries Naxals spread out to other states where the police have been less effective. Today, Chhattisgarh has emerged as the hub of Naxal activities and has seen the worst violence in the last few years. Because the Chhattisgarh government could not think of anything better, it hired the services of ‘supercop’ KPS Gill who wears the success of Punjab as a trophy and is now considered an expert on combating terrorism. Interestingly, since the state does not consider Naxalism terrorism, how much can a ‘terror expert’ help remains to be seen. Meanwhile, in another half-baked scheme, the Chhattisgarh government has been trying to field people against people. The much-touted Salva Judum movement which the state projects as people rising up against Maoist thugs is nothing but a rag-tag army created by the thoughtless state. Roping in poor tribals, who could have been potential Maoists, the state police gives them some rudimentary training in weapon handling and guns which may or may not work and present them as fodder to the Maoists. I am not aware of any statistics as yet which lists the number of Maoists Salva Judum has managed to neutralise so far, but the newspaper do report at least every alternative day how many Salva Judum activists have been killed by the Maoists. Even in the recent March 15 attack where nearly 55 police personnel were killed inside their camp by nearly 500 Maoists, a large number of the killed personnel were the Salva Judum activists.

Why exactly has the Chhattisgarh government created Salva Judum? To prove the Maoist that they are basically thugs and not all tribals want to be part of them? But is this cause worthy of the lives it is taking? The problem in India is that too much time is spent on discussing the issue with each expert trying to outdo the other by showing the depth of his analysis. One such expert, a former intelligence officer said during the aforementioned conference, “If you take away the cause, then Maoists are just a bunch of goondas.” Original. Why doesn’t the government just remove the cause for their grievances then?


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