Each state cannot fight and win the war against Left-Wing Extremism
I do not want to use the word prescient to explain what I wrote last month. All I can say is that the inspired articles in the media suggesting the crumbling Maoist’s edifice made me queasy. While it is possible that the whole Maoist movement may implode at some point, for the moment it seems unlikely. Even more unlikely is State’s victory against it. I say this for two reasons.
One, the Maoists (not the hapless Tribal) — unlike insurgent groups in other parts of India — do not have any particular grievance against the State. In various Indian districts and states where they operate, they have tapped into the local grievances. From landlord-tiller injustice, caste prejudice, urban-rural divide, tribal-non-tribal conflict to the exploitative corporate mining, they straddle all these issues. They do not seek ‘resolution/ redressal’ on any of the issues they appear to be representing, because they do not believe in the existing system. There can be no talks because there is nothing they want to achieve through talks. Hence, their struggle will continue till the system has been turned upside down. Since the system does not show much propensity of being turned upside down, the conflict and the ensuing violence will continue.
Two, by aligning themselves with the poorest and the most marginalised people of the country, the Maoists have created a moral landscape for themselves to operate from, which they project as completely defensive.This automatically puts the State and instruments of the State in an amoral position, representative of oppression, avarice, inequality and injustice. This is the reason the Maoist movement in India has an intellectual and social context.
Faced with this two-pronged narrative, what does the State have? Opportunistic politicians, unimaginative bureaucracy and hamstrung Paramilitary forces. It is not that I don’t think Maoists can be defeated, only that we do not have a war-winning strategy against them. For the last 10 years that FORCE has been around, one phrase, ‘hard economics and hard policing’ has been bandied about to sum up government’s approach to tackle the Maoist challenge. No, officially, it is still not called an insurgency, though raging Congressmen these days do not hesitate to call Maoists, terrorists.
It’s a catchy phrase, but on the ground it does not really amount to much. Take for instance the economics side. By government’s own admission, more than half the funds allocated for the Maoist-infested districts have not been spent. And a substantial part of that which was spent has gone to fill the Maoist coffers.Infrastructural development has not kept to the deadlines, primarily because there are no contractors to bid for the government projects. In some areas, the Union government has sought the help of the Border Roads Organisation, but these are the highways and the bypass roads. And after hiding behind the bureaucratic procedures for the last two years, the government has decided now to fast-track issuing of Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards to the families in the 82 Maoist-affected districts.
But these are ameliorative measures which will have some utility, not much.The biggest reason for distress in middle India is the absolute marginalisation of the people — socially, politically and economically. On top of that, the vision of development that they are being shown is scary to say the least. It threatens to completely change their way of life by taking away their independence and reducing them to the state of serfs.It mocks their beliefs, it kicks their religious totems and it shreds their social fabric. It is a no-brainer that development is distressing, because the process is slow and painful; the benefits take a long time to come. Hence, as the first step, the Centre should prevail upon the state governments to rein in their greed and go slow in the exploitation of natural resources like minerals and forest produce.It is understandable that as economically laggard states, they are in a hurry to grow, but this growth will come at a huge cost.
On the policing front, the situation is no better. A substantial number of troops, about 80,000, have been inducted without corresponding equipment support to fight about 5,000-6,000 (MHA figures) Maoists. Operations are conducted in a unilateral and ad hoc manner with no clear end-game. If the end-game is to finish the Maoist menace, what does ‘finish’ imply? Or as the leaks from the MHA say, ‘flushing them out of their hideouts’, what will happen after they are flushed out? What if thousands of hapless tribal are flushed out as well along with the Maoists?What will happen to them?What if they are not part of the dallam (armed militia), only members of the sanghams(people’s militia)? Will they be collateral damage? For clarity on both ‘economics’ and ‘policing’ front, I believe the government must engage with the very people it vilifies; the grass-roots activists. Let them be the face of the government that the tribal see and work with. But for that, the State will have to be magnanimous and shun opportunism. Winning the war against the Maoists will be a long haul, but it is possible if we do it together and honestly.