Tackling insurgency

Published : Jul 29, 2011 00:00 IST

Two books that weave a credible story of what actuates the insurgent movement and how it is being handled.

THE Indian republic is bedevilled by many intractable problems of governance, some of which go back to pre-Independence days. For instance, Hindu-Muslim conflict and clashes between landlords and tenants in the rural areas are two issues in the realm of public order that have dogged us for ages. Such issues have become exacerbated over the years and pose a great challenge to the law and order machinery and a major threat to national integrity. They are now part of a whole spectrum of sensitive conflicts ranging from insurgency in the north-eastern and eastern and central India to clashes between political parties during elections. Add to this, the growing propensity of individuals to settle personal scores through violence. Classic insurgency acquires a sharp edge against this disturbing scenario in which respect for law and authority is diminishing by the day.

Beneath a superficial similarity, each of the sources of insurgency is a class by itself, rendering a detailed comparison between them a pointless exercise. Against this complicated scenario, it is the sheer resilience of the people that has contributed hugely to the fundamental stability of the nation now. Administrative acumen built since the British days and a cultivated sense of patriotism have also helped keep the land together. But they have only been incidental to the process. They will not count for much when the forbearance and spirit of sacrifice of our citizens ultimately break down. The present upsurge against corruption in high places is an index of the fact that public patience is wearing thin. And this is what our foes across the border are hoping for.

Grave happenings in some regions of the country recently have pitted armed restive elements against the Central forces. The wanton and repeated stone throwing at Border Security Force personnel in Kashmir and the killing of unwary members of the Central Reserve Police Force in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are particularly painful. It is most appropriate here to reminisce about the early years of Independence which witnessed communist insurgency of considerable proportions. One saw a spirited peasant uprising against landlords in the then Presidency of Madras and the Nizam-governed Hyderabad region of Telengana, which was later to form part of Andhra Pradesh. There was violence in the air and the liberal use of the police which hitherto had been used by the foreign ruler mainly to quell freedom fighters led to loss of several lives.

The next landmark happening in the history of insurgency was nearly two decades later. This was the agrarian revolt of Naxalbari (West Bengal) in the late 1960s which was to lend the generic label of naxalism to all subsequent left extremist protests against the landed gentry and the state machinery. The term is now used rather loosely to cover any rural movement spearheaded by discontented youth fighting what they regard as exploitation of the poor by the rich.

This is notwithstanding the fact that the naxalite movement has been plagued by many divisions, some traceable to ideology and strategy and a few others to tactics, including the use of violence. The physical attacks unleashed by the People's War Group (PWG) in the 1980s in Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in the 1990s in Bihar led to the further hardening of an ideology that considered the state as a tool of repression which needed to be challenged ceaselessly and whose symbols had to be brutally attacked. The merger of the PWG and the MCC in 2004 was a tactical move that possibly gave teeth to a movement that was continually looking for greener pastures. The current numbers of cadre about 30,000, according to one official estimate may be small for a large nation like ours. It is their dedication and bitterness that determine the velocity of their campaign.

Literature on the history of insurgency is difficult to write. It requires monumental labour. Its authenticity again depends on the quality of interviews with personalities who have intimate knowledge of ground realities. More than this, such literature needs to be written with minimum bias and loss of accuracy if it has to sound credible.

The two books on hand generally pass this test of objectivity, and the authors need to be commended for this. They are valuable additions to the history of modern India. Their common approach to what is now a ballooning phenomenon is to examine how far the use of police in such situations is warranted and what its actual impact has been. This analysis centres on the national consensus that police deployment should go hand in hand with a huge investment in economic development in tribal areas.

There has no doubt been generous Central assistance to most of the affected areas. One can always crib that the financial allocation is either insufficient or lopsided. It is here that pragmatism would tell us that government resources are limited and no region can be allowed to hog attention. The problem thereafter is common to the whole country. Allotted funds do not reach the beneficiaries. Middlemen swallow most of the money. As a consequence, tribal peoples' discontent becomes sharper, and this is reflected in the unabated violence against whoever represents government or has even some remote links with it. How else would you explain the unremitting Maoist violence against civilians and police forces in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand?

A former senior police officer, B.L. Vohra writes about an eternally troubled area in his Tripura's Bravehearts: A Police Success Story of Counterinsurgency, and goes lyrical about his police force's achievements. Because of Tripura's propinquity to West Bengal there is the temptation to compare the State with its hoary neighbour. But there are huge differences, particularly the presence of substantial number of tribal people in Tripura whose relationship with the Bengali immigrants have always been delicate. This mixed population has its attendant problems and Vohra deals with them with great dexterity. I consider his script authentic because of his knowledge of the terrain and his widely known professionalism. His claim is that the State has come to near normality because of some good policing. His positive picture is heart-warming. His pontification to politicians and tribal leaders is well meant but a little too superficial and jarring. Barring this, Vohra impresses us with some deep insights of a State that the rest of the country knows very little about.

The second book on insurgency, The Absent State: Insurgency As An Excuse For Misgovernance by Neelesh Mishra and Rahul Pandita, two enterprising and adventurous journalists, covers a vaster canvas. It describes the events, in three regions, namely, eastern India, in the context of naxalism and its offshoot, the Maoist movement, Jammu and Kashmir and the Nagaland-Manipur belt.

The bulk of their attention goes to the first of the problems. A tour of Jharkhand and the impressions gathered by the authors give them more than an idea of the crux of the problem. The book is bitter about the lack of political will that marks all policy on handling Maoism. This is understandable against the backdrop of continued violence in the region. No one seems to be in charge. Both the Centre and the States are trading charges against each other, particularly when they are ruled by two rival political parties. Bureaucrats belonging to the elitist Indian Administrative Service have also thrown in the towel, a fact that justified the title of the volume.

There is no evidence of governance in most of Jharkhand. Those who are statutorily required to be in the field are not there because they are either indifferent or scared. This does not, however, deter them from misappropriating funds earmarked for development. This description of the state of affairs in Jharkhand matches with the accounts we hear from other sources. According to Mishra and Pandita, insurgency is less of a threat' than an opportunity' for petty officials and contractors to make money.

Vohra has rich field experience and therefore knows what he is talking about. Mishra and Pandita are also not talking in thin air because of their travels in the affected areas. Between them they weave a credible story of what actuates the insurgent movement and how it is being handled. The usual criticism against such analysts is that they are good at describing a grave problem but they seldom have the answers on how to solve it. This is true of the three authors as well. But then how many of us have a solution?

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