Handling naxalism

Print edition : November 06, 2009

Kobad Ghandy, CPI (Maoist) ideologue, being taken to hospital in New Delhi for a check-up on September 30.-R.V. MOORTHY Kobad Ghandy, CPI (Maoist) ideologue, being taken to hospital in New Delhi for a check-up on September 30.

AN excerpt from the Communist Party of India-Maoist, or CPI (Maoist), document on Strategy & Tactics reads thus: However strong the enemys military power may be and however weak the peoples mil itary power, by basing ourselves on the vast backward countryside the weakest position of the enemy and relying on the vast masses of the peasantry, eager for agrarian revolution, and creatively following the flexible strategy and tactics of guerrilla struggle and the protracted peoples war following the policy and tactics of sudden attack and annihilation, it is absolutely possible to defeat the enemy forces and achieve victory for the people in single battles.

If this categorical statement does not adequately explain the recent escalation of Maoist violence, nothing else will. The CPI (Maoist) has left no one in doubt. It will increasingly concentrate on rural India and confound and terrorise an administration and law-enforcement machinery that is more comfortable handling urban chaos rather than the fallout of decades of neglect in the rest of India. It does not require extraordinary powers of comprehension to understand the Maoist when he goes on the rampage.

It is true that the average unlettered tribal person is being led by the nose and misguided by the more aware and educated Maoist leader. But to say that otherwise the former would have remained mute and soft forever is being somewhat naive, especially at a time when the divide between him/her and the rest of the lot is becoming more and more galling. The average tribal person believes he/she has nothing to lose in life, and the only way he/she could make himself/herself heard is by fighting an unjust social order. On the face of it, this may sound too simplistic an interpretation. In the absence of any other plausible theory, we have to be persuaded by the one that cites growing disparities in society as the propeller for Maoist violence.

Since the Telangana peasant movement in July 1948, which revealed that the poorest of agricultural workers would not take rural disparities lying down, there have been ups and downs in the fight against oppression by the rich and landlord classes. Periods of quiet in these years had lulled everyone in the administration into complacence until the Naxalbari revolt broke out in the late 1960s. It showed that there was verve in the movement for landlord-peasant parity, which was too dangerous to ignore. Once those difficult days were overcome with a degree of professionalism, there was unjustified optimism that agrarian unrest could be contained with a few carrots and the display of state power. The happenings thereafter were seen as an aberration that did not constitute a trend, and therefore, there was no threat to rural stability.

Events of the past five years or so have, however, transformed the scene, with happenings in Nepal providing the needed first inspiration. The so-called red corridor running down the Indian terrain from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh, and covering parts of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra, is a formidable geographical stretch that will become increasingly hard to govern. It is not that governance elsewhere in the country is on an even keel. It is only a shade better but has the potential to push the regions concerned towards the red corridor.

Another significant aspect of the scene is that it is no longer just a struggle against the landholder. It has become a fight against administrative oppression and corruption, both of which now act as the trigger to rural rebellion. There are accounts of horror showing how even lowly placed civil servants have been treating tribal people with the greatest contempt. When they show resentment, the police machinery is set upon them. The resultant anger often generates the kind of violence that we have been witnessing in most of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and parts of Maharashtra. There are no indications that this violent phase will end soon.

The indications are to the contrary. The situation is no doubt grim and is possibly going out of control. There is visible panic in the administration both at the Centre and in the States. There is, however, a welcome realisation that the current scene has tremendous implications for the future, and there is an immediate need for a carefully drawn strategy. The hope is that an integrated approach that combines rural development with firm law-and-order responses will pay dividends. Not that such an approach had not been tried earlier.

The truth is that the kind of anxiety displayed and the quantum of investment both rural development and police infrastructure now promised had not been seen earlier. This has won half the battle for the citizens of the country who are worried that what happened in Lalgarh or Gadchiroli could replicate itself in regions that now remain untouched by Maoist violence. The million-dollar question is how much of this integrated approach will translate itself on to the field.

There is undisputed cynicism across the country about whatever the government does. This is on two counts. One is the infusion of politics into the least controversial of measures, and the other is the seepage of funds for which the Indian administration is so notorious. All of us should be particularly concerned about the latter. It is no secret that corruption at the grass roots of administration and the allied miscarriage of justice are twin factors that ignite Maoist anger against the whole order.

The whole situation is nearly unprecedented for the scale of violence unleashed. The Indian police have many lessons to learn. Recent Maoist attacks on the police in Jharkhand (where an inspector was beheaded), Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra (where scores of policemen were lured into a trap and brutally murdered in Gadchiroli) portray a level of aggression that is most frightening.

The average police constable knows why the Maoist acts as recklessly and heartlessly as he does now. But he simply does not have a clue about correct response. His superiors are equally confused. The incidents have been far too many and the number of lives lost is enormous and the impact on the innocent police families that lost their breadwinners is so huge that there is a need for the police top brass to counsel the lower formations against inaction and depression.

Demoralisation in the ranks is inevitable. This has serious implications for the credibility of the police leadership. The fact that a majority of policemen killed in naxalite violence come from the lowest ranks and that the supervisory levels are relatively unharmed will not go unnoticed. Deliberate evasion of duty in the affected areas by sections of policemen is very much on the cards. This is going to cause personnel management problems that will have a long-term impact impinging on the credibility and reputation of police forces in the country.

Naxalism has been known for the aura built around its leaders. As in the case of many insurgency movements the world over, it has attracted men and women who are from the cream of society. The name that is now doing the rounds is Kobad Ghandy, a member of the CPI(Maoist) central committee, who looked after propaganda and publicity. An alumnus of the prestigious Doon School of Dehra Dun and a chartered accountant trained in London, Ghandy is a classic example of how the elite in society get drawn into leftist movements.

The sacrifices made by him and his late wife can bring tears to many of us. He is under treatment for cancer and possibly came for treatment to Delhi where he was nabbed. The Maoists allege that Ghandy was betrayed by a courier. They now put on a brave face saying that Ghandys arrest will hardly have any impact on the party. Even if this were true, I would expect more reprisals against the police and the intelligence agencies. This is unfortunate at a time when we want a highly motivated law enforcement machinery.

A question that nags me is how to prevent more people joining the Maoist ranks. This is where the efficacy of developmental work counts. But I am more concerned about how to transform the police forces into sleek organisations that will handle Maoist terror professionally and with greater restraint. The temptation is to meet violence with violence. This has, however, not worked. More focussed training programmes and greater incentives for discipline in handling violence could help. A new force dedicated to the task is also a logical response.

But then how many more forces are we going to raise? How are we going to train them in quick time and make them available to the administration? These are questions that should agitate Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and his team in the North Block. The silver lining to what is otherwise a nightmarish situation is that naxalite violence has ushered in a new era of Centre-State cooperation in the realm of policing. This is how it should be if we are to infuse more confidence into the minds of average citizens and enhance their faith in the States capacity to protect them.

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