Political vacillation has assisted Maoist consolidation in Andhra Pradesh over several decades. The advocates of a `soft' approach to the naxalite problem underestimate the motivation and commitment of the extremist movement.
SHAKEN by the killing of Congress legislator C. Narsi Reddy, his son and nine others, in an explosion engineered by the Maoists at Narayanpet on August 15, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy imposed a belated ban on left extremism in his State. He set about blaming the rebels for the failure of peace talks initiated by his government last year, and observed that "as long as private individuals and groups carry around weapons, there would be no peace".
Was this not obvious when he announced his intention to revive the dialogue process with the naxalites on the very day he was sworn in, on May 14, 2004, well before he received any objective assessments from the State police and the intelligence apparatus? It is evident that the new government had not based its decision on any objective assessment of the ground situation, of the trajectory of naxalite violence, or of the motives, intentions and mindset of the Maoist leadership. The decision fuelled rumours that there had been a pre-election deal between the Congress and the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, with a ceasefire and peace process essentially emerging as a quid pro quo for unnamed services rendered by the rebels during the Assembly elections. It is useful, in this context, to recall that the Intelligence Bureau had disclosed details of a nexus between prominent members of political parties, including the Congress and its then ally, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), and the naxalites1.
To any objective observer, the peace process was destined to fail not because of disagreements over the details of policy but because it was based on utter falsehood and a tactical alliance. The peace process collapsed because it was meant to collapse2.
It was not difficult to see that naxalite violence had been mounting steadily in the months preceding the dialogue process and this hardly suggested a particular passion for non-violent resolution of grievances. The year 2003 saw 280 fatalities, including 99 civilians and 17 security force personnel, as against 191 fatalities, including 88 civilians and 16 security personnel, in 2002. The first four months of 2004 witnessed patterns consistent with these trends, with 71 fatalities, which included 35 civilians and two securitymen3.
It is now generally conceded that the Maoists did use the interregnum of peace to consolidate and expand their activities, not only within the State but well beyond its boundaries, in hitherto virgin territory, particularly in neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Such consolidation was evident within Andhra Pradesh as well, and manifested itself after the breakdown of the peace process. Between January and September, 249 persons, of whom 112 were civilians, were killed in naxalite-related violence.
The Chief Minister was not alone in his lack of sagacity. He was encouraged by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to invite the extremists to join a process aimed at finding a negotiated solution to the protracted violence4. In fact, he even advised other States affected by naxalite violence to emulate the Andhra Pradesh initiative.
Once again, Shivraj Patil's reasoning was not based on any objective assessment of the ground situation or on the imperatives of national security. It was sentimental. He declared: "They are our children. They are angry and we have to show them the right path with affection. We have the forces to deal with violence but that is not the only approach."5 It did not occur to the Minister charged with defending India's internal security that the people naxalites' were killing and intimidating were also "our children", and that it was his primary duty to protect their lives and properties. Nor, indeed, did it occur to him that many of these "children" were well into their 60s and 70s, and had, in many cases, been waging relentless war against the Indian state for decades.
Moreover, there was no indication in their public pronouncements that they were willing to relinquish their ideological positions, which even the most casual sympathiser of Maoism knows, is an irreconcilable opposition to India's constitutional order, which is characterised by naxalites as a "comprador bourgeois democracy".
There is a Maoist aphorism: "... any thinking that relaxes the will to fight and belittles the enemy is wrong."6 India's policymakers would do well to heed this wisdom, before they dismiss naxalites as "children" or "misguided youth", who can be beguiled from their purpose with soft words and political candy.
It is amazing that such ideas can take root in a regime led by a Prime Minister who has declared that Maoists constituted "an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast"7; and that "the challenge of terrorism must be faced squarely and resolutely by all shades of political opinion. There can be no political compromise with terror. No inch conceded. No compassion shown... There are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. There is no cause, root or branch that can ever justify the killing of innocent people. No democratic government can tolerate the use of violence against innocent people and against the functionaries of a duly established democratic government... "8
RAJASEKHARA REDDY and Shivraj Patil are only the most recent players in a long chain of political immaturity that has assisted Maoist consolidation over the decades. The internal security apparatus at the Centre and successive Chief Ministers in Andhra Pradesh are guilty of pursuing a policy that vacillates wildly between the military solution and a negotiated settlement, even as there has been a tendency to underplay the gravity of the menace.
There is a pattern here, with peaceful and political resolution, passionately advocated in the early days of incumbency, yielding gradually to an eventual return to the use of force as naxalite attacks mount. Successive Chief Ministers in Andhra Pradesh have advocated sympathy and understanding for varying periods, and then lapsed into a strategy of reliance on the police and paramilitary forces, rushing constantly to the Centre for more funds and more men to strengthen their counter operations.
A brief overview of this pattern is edifying. In 1982, two years into the hectic revival of the naxalite movement under the umbrella of Kondapalli Seetharamaiah's PWG, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N.T. Rama Rao described naxalites as "true patriots, who have been misunderstood by ruling classes", and sought and secured their support in the Assembly elections the following year. Elected to power, the TDP gave free rein to naxalites. By 1985, the movement consumed eight of the 10 districts in the volatile Telangana region, and spread beyond the State's boundaries as well. A series of ambushes on police parties during this period forced Rama Rao to rely increasingly on the police and paramilitary forces to re-establish law and order. In 1987, the PWG was banned, and by mid-1989 naxalites were in flight until electoral considerations intervened later that year.
This time around it was the Congress, under the leadership of Marri Chenna Reddy, which sought and benefitted from naxalite support in the Assembly elections. The ban on the group was lifted and 190 `hardcore' naxalites were released from jail. But for the first two years of Chenna Reddy's chief ministership, naxalites went on the rampage.
His policy of indulgence was reversed by his successor N. Janardhan Reddy towards the latter half of 1991, after the murder of a former Minister and escalation of incidents of murders, extortion and destruction. In May 1992, the ban on the PWG and its front organisations was re-imposed. The ban continued until 1994, when another election returned Rama Rao to power.
Rama Rao lifted the ban and the old policies of conciliation and complicity gave naxalites another opportunity to revive and strengthen their activities. His successor, N. Chandrababu Naidu restored the ban on July 23, 1996, and reverted to the policy of confronting extremist violence with force. Nevertheless, he also succumbed to the idea of a "political solution" in 2002. Naxalites declared a unilateral ceasefire in May 2002, following which the government invited the naxalite leaders for talks. The talks collapsed after three months, and it was more than apparent that the interlude was fully exploited by the naxalites, taking advantage of the executive's command to the forces not to act against PWG cadre. Chandrababu Naidu continues to maintain that he was betrayed by the naxalite leaders. Now Rajasekhara Reddy is complaining of such betrayal.
Advocates of the sympathy and affection approach to the resolution of the "naxalite problem" underestimate the dynamic ideological motivation and the commitment of the Maoist movement in South Asia, even as they belittle its enormous and cumulative successes.
They undervalue naxalites' mobilisation capacity, particularly among the marginalised millions. To believe that we can talk our way out of this problem is just a delusion.
Ajai Sahni is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.The Hindu
2. "Talks a ruse to regroup, says naxal convert", Deccan Chronicle, July 6, 2004.
4. At the meeting of the Central Coordination Committee of naxalite-affected States in Bhubaneswar on November 21, 2003, the Union Home Secretary had disclosed that a total of 55 districts in nine States were affected by varying degrees of naxalite violence. Just 10 months later, on September 21, 2004, an official note circulated at the meeting of Chief Ministers of naxalite-affected States indicated that this number had gone up to 125 districts in 12 States, with another 24 districts being targeted by the left-wing extremists under their current agenda of expansion.The Hindu
6. Mao Zedong, "Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China", March 5, 1949.
7. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the annual conference of the Directors-General of Police/Inspectors-General of Police and heads of CPOs, New Delhi, November 4, 2004, Prime Minister's Office, https://pmindia.nic.in/speeches.htm
8. Prime Minister's address at the Chief Ministers' conference, New Delhi, April 15, 2005, Prime Minister's Office, https://pmindia.nic.in/speeches.htm