Dialogue October-December, 2009 , Volume 11 No. 2
Naxalism – Perception and Reality
Addressing the senior police officers of the country on September 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated that left-wing extremism is perhaps “the gravest internal security threat our country faces”, and deplored that “we have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing this menace”.
The Naxal influence has indeed spread over a huge geographical area. According to the Home Minister’s own statement, various Naxal group have pockets of influence in 20 states across the country, and over 2000 police station areas in 223 districts of these states are partially or substantially affected by the menace. The states particularly affected are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, and Haryana.
Naxal violence has been on a high trajectory. There have been violent incidents in about 400 police station areas of 90 districts in 13 states. There were, in 2008, a total of 1591 incidents of Naxal violence resulting in 721 killings. This year, there have already been (till August 27) 1405 incidents of Naxal violence resulting in the death of 580 persons. Casualties among security forces personnel have been quite high. Altogether, 231 security forces personnel lost their lives in Naxal violence in 2008, while 270 (Oct 15) personnel have already lost their lives this year so far.
The Ninth Congress of the People’s War Group held in 2007 “reaffirmed the general line of New Democratic Revolution with agrarian revolution as its axis and protracted people’s war as the path of the Indian revolution”, and resolved to “advance the people’s war throughout the country, further strengthen the people’s army, deepen the mass base of the party and wage a broad-based militant mass movement against the neo-liberal policies of globalization, liberalization, privatization.” Naxal activities have since then been on a canter. The expansion of Naxal influence is also to be attributed to their plan to take the battle to new fields. This was spelled out by the party’s politbureau in one of its policy documents where it was mentioned that “..we have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas on the one hand and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas so as the disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area; hence the foremost task in every state is to intensify the war in their respective states while in areas of intense enemy repression there is need to expand the area of struggle by proper planning by the concerned committees; tactical counter-offensives should be stepped up and also taken up in new areas so as to divert a section of the enemy forces from attacking our guerrilla bases and organs of political power.”
While it is true that the Naxal movement is on a high trajectory and that its arc of violence is expanding, it is also true that there has been considerable dilution in its ideology. The present generation of Naxal leaders are obsessed with the idea of capturing power with the barrel of the gun, and the success of Maoists in Nepal seems to have turned their head. They do not realise that the accretion in their influence and support has not been so much due to the relevance or even appeal of their ideology as due to the inefficiency and corruption of the government which has generally failed to deliver, particularly in the far flung remote areas. An analysis of some of the basic concepts would bring this out.
Annihilation of class enemy was the cardinal principle of Charu Mazumdar’s ideology. The class enemies included the landlords, money-lenders, police informers and others oppressing the poor. Annihilations implied not only the physical liquidation of certain class of people but the “overthrow of the feudal class in an area economically, politically and militarily”. It was explained that after the class enemies were annihilated, others of his ilk would also flee in utter panic and the area would be freed of the class enemies and their agents. This would raise the armed struggle to a higher plane. Annihilation of class enemies was thus a “higher form of class struggle and the beginning of guerrilla war”.
The present campaign of Naxal killings does not seem to follow any pattern or ideology. The Naxals claim to be champions of the poor, and yet more than 80% of the people being killed by them belong to these very sections. They pretend to be great protagonists of the tribals, but they decapitated Francis Indwar, a tribal, because government was holding on to Maoists leaders Kobad Ghandy, Chhatradhar Mahato and Chandrabhushan Yadav, all of them non-tribals. The rhetoric of the human rights groups apart, the fact remains that the tribals of Bastar got disillusioned with the Naxals’ interference with their social customs and cultural practices. They resented that the Naxals closed their Ghotuls, disrupted their weekly bazaars and mocked at the traditional marriage celebrations. All this hurt the tribals and there was a feeling of acute resentment which erupted into the Salwa Judum movement.
Anti - Development
The Naxals blame the government for poverty, for poor development, and for the absence of basic amenities in the interior areas. And yet, ironically they have adopted an anti-development posture. According to a report, the Naxals have, during the period January 2006 to June 2009, attacked 316 economic targets which gave employment to thousands of people including the tribals in different states, particularly those falling in the so-called Red Corridor. Home Ministry statistics show the following numbers of attacks on economic targets during the last few years:
2009 56 (till June)
The following establishments were particularly targeted:
Mines, Steel Plants 59
Transmission lines 42
In a document Tasks Ahead, the party says that “the people should be educated as to how the entire region is being handed over to the comprador big business houses like the Tatas in Lohandiguda, Essar in Dhurli, NMDC’s proposed steel plants in Nagarnaar and Dilimili, Raoghat mines and the Bodhghat projects. The conspiracy..should be exposed and a broad-based movement built against displacement.” The land acquisition for Tata’s five million tonne steel project at Jagdalpur has been hampered by the Maoists who have infiltrated the farmers’ outfit seeking better payment and resisting land acquisition. Officials allege that the Naxals do not want of any economic activity in the areas of their influence because they feel that once the administration fills up the gaps in infrastructure, their relevance and appeal would diminish.
Some intellectuals argue that the Naxal opposition stems from the fact that they want more inclusive development. They accuse the government of usurping land in tribal areas with a view to obliging big business houses, who are encouraged to set up economic zones and given concessions for the purpose. There may be some truth in the argument, but it is difficult to imagine how the development process could be accelerated without acquiring land somewhere. There could be difference of opinion about the selection of site, but places for setting up big plants will have to be earmarked.
The CPI Maoists recently gave a call for a two-day bandh on October 13 and 14 2009 in Jharkhand, Bihar and six districts of West Bengal. During the period, they indulged in wanton killings and inflicted heavy damage on private and government-owned infrastructural assets in 21 incidents. In Jharkhand, they blew up three telecom towers, blew up a school building in Chatra district, blew up portion of a railway track near Daniya in Dhanbad Division, leading to the derailment of 12 wagons of a goods train, and damaged another goods train engine at Dhalmumgarh. In Bihar, the Bansipur railway station was ransacked and portion of a railway track near the Ghodparan station in Jamui district and a block office building in Munger district were blown up. In West Bengal, the house of a local CPI (M) leader was torched in Purulia district and a member of the Maoist Pratirodh Committee was killed. The government, in a press statement, called upon the civil society to “reflect on the consequences of the path of mindless violence chosen by the CPI (Maoist) and how their actions actually hurt the poor and disadvantaged sections of the people”.
Nexus with Insurgents
The Naxals’ nexus with the insurgent organizations has further exposed them. There are indications that the PW cadres received training in the handling of weapons and IEDs from some ex-LTTE cadres. Besides, they have entente cordiale with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM). Some batches of Naxals have also received arms training from the United Liberation Front of Assam. Besides, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has fraternal relations with the Communist Party of Nepal.
According to a recent report, the ISI is trying to reach out to the Naxals. The Lashkar-e-Toiba had directed its operative, Mohammed Umer Madani, to recruit Maoists and help them with money and firearms. Madani admitted before the police that his plan included giving preliminary training to the jehadis recruited from different parts of India in Maoist strongholds and then sending them to Pakistan for further training.
Extortion is the biggest source of revenue for the Naxals. They extort money from industrialists, businessmen, contractors, government officers and any other functionaries operating in the areas where they operate. A major steel company is reported to have been making regular payments to the Naxals, though recently the Naxals attacked it and torched their vehicles when they refused to ferry arms on their planes. According to a confessional statement, the Naxals are extorting Rs. 2 crore from the NMDC every year.
There are reports that Naxals have started encouraging the cultivation of poppy in certain areas of Bihar and Jharkhand. This is a very ominous development. The greatest source of revenue for the Taliban, as is known, is the cultivation of poppy and the subsequent sale of heroin which ultimately finds its way into the markets of Europe and USA.
Boycott of Elections
The Naxals’ objective is to bring about a Democratic Revolution in the country. India, according to them is a “semi-colonial and semi-feudal country” and the Indian State is completely in the hands of “big landlords and comprador-bureaucrat capitalists”. The Naxals’ methods are however most undemocratic. They always call upon the people to boycott the elections. There are instances of people having their fingers chopped off for having exercised their franchise. Polling parties are attacked and occasionally the ballot boxes are looted. It is another matter that people still vote; Gadchiroli recorded over 70% turnout in the recent Assembly elections despite the Maoists’ threats.
The Naxals have the support of a section of the intelligentsia. These mostly include teachers, students and writers. Chhatradhar Mahto, the tribal leader of Lalgarh who was arrested by the West Bengal police, reportedly disclosed the names of 20 Kolkata based University students and three of their professors who have links with the Naxals. According to Mahto, the Naxals occasionally consulted the professors and even took their assistance in drafting policy documents.
Human Rights groups have a soft corner for the Naxals. There could be no objection to that. But the problem is their blinkered view of the total picture. They project police actions in the most lurid colours but are blind to the excesses and atrocities of the Naxals. It has been rightly said that “our civil society must give up this dangerous flirtation with the ideologies of hatred and murder.”
Option before the Government
The trajectory of Naxal violence has left the government with no option but to undertake comprehensive police operations against them. Unfortunately, certain sections, in their keenness to sensationalise the developments, are painting the government response in gory colours. The proposed action is being described as “war” on the Naxals while some say that it is the beginning of a “civil war” in the country. There is no question of a war being waged. The point to be understood is that no government worth the name can remain a mute spectator to its authority and writ over a territorial area being challenged. It has to take action against the elements challenging its authority. Besides, how can you tolerate a group which is attacking police stations, ambushing patrols, extorting money, blowing up schools, disrupting the construction of roads, demolishing communication towers, etc. The activities of such a group have to be put down. There is no question of a civil war either. It is not that two groups of the civilian population are fighting against each other. It is a confrontation between the forces of law and order on the one hand and the People’s Guerrilla Liberation Army on the other.
This is, however, not to absolve the government of its blame – its inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, and failure to alleviate poverty, provide gainful employment and minimise the alienation of land from the tribals. It is a sad commentary on our planning process that, as admitted by the Planning Commission in the Eleventh Five Year Plan document, “sixty years after independence, over a quarter of our population still remains poor”. It is distressing that the progress on land reforms has been “dismal”. It is also a matter of shame that, as observed by an Expert Group, the tribals of the country are feeling “totally exhausted, impoverished, and traumatised”.
We have one of the worst bureaucracies of Asia and a police which is corrupt and does not enjoy the confidence of the people. There is talk of reform and we have valuable reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission, but is anyone bothered? The Supreme Court issued comprehensive directions on police reforms, but the majority of states continue to drag their feet in the matter of implementation. What is worse, the delinquent states think they can get away with their defiance. No wonder, the aam admi does not get a fair deal from either the callous bureaucracy or the insensitive police. A significant section of the population gets alienated in the process and then, in the absence of any other alternative, gravitates to the Naxals, who welcome them with promises of social equality and economic justice.
Poor governance, it must be acknowledged, is at the root of the Naxal problem, and the government is entirely to blame for this. There is adequate justification for the planned police offensive against the Naxals. However, there is no justification for the socio-economic malaise which still afflicts the country. Unless these factors - of poverty, land reforms, unemployment, corruption and alienation of tribals - are addressed, police action would prove to be a temporary palliative only.
In any case, it is time that the Naxals are exposed for what they are. They claim to be champions of the poor and yet have no compunctions in annihilating people from that section of society. They claim to be protagonists of the tribals and yet they antagonised the tribals of Bastar by interfering with their social customs and cultural practices. They shed tears for the poorest of the poor and yet sabotage the schemes to alleviate their poverty. They want to bring about a democratic revolution in the country and yet try to disrupt every election. They claim to be patriots and yet have a nexus with the anti-national forces. The intellectuals’ support for the Naxals has a romantic touch about it. The reality is quite different.